Healing: Hooked on homeopathy
In April 1986, I graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia with a degree in pharmacy. I was somewhat arrogant about my abilities as a pharmacist — the so-called "drug expert" and was fascinated by drugs — how and why they worked.
My four years of training did alert me to their side effects but I was convinced of the therapeutic potential of these complex chemicals.
I chose to go into clinical pharmacy — the most exciting application of pharmaceutical knowledge — helping patients in hospital maximise the effects of the drugs they are prescribed while minimising the potential side effects. I did my internship in Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.
Then, something happened to me that would forever change my perception of modern medicine. I started having a strange rash on my back which reappeared every three weeks or so. The rashes were not itchy. However, they would sometimes bleed, causing embarrassing bloodstains on my shirt. The rashes would be there for a week or so and then disappear.
Being the "drug expert" that I was, I started to self-medicate. I tried creams, ointments, shampoos, and scrubs. When that did not work, I resorted to anti-histamines, antibiotics, anti-fungals, and even steroids. I did this alone initially but then in consultation with some of the brilliant doctors with whom I had the good fortune of working with. This went on for about two years. Nothing worked.
Finally, I was put on a powerful new anti-fungal. It worked minimally. However, the fine print in the package insert warned about liver failure and the need to go for biannual liver tests. Clearly, this was not a long term solution.
Desperate and at the urging of my mother, I decided to call on a homeopath. At that time, it was for me an act of blasphemy, given my faith in my medical training and in pharmaceuticals. Alternative medicine was, in my mind, spooky stuff. It was unscientific. I considered the practitioners to be charlatans and con artists.
The homeopath I consulted did nothing to reverse my negative perceptions. In fact, he reinforced them. He sat in a dark and dingy room. He was poorly dressed and appeared to be half-listening as I poured out the story of my two years of agony. He prescribed two "medicines". I was aghast. The "pills" that he gave me looked like lizard eggs. "Put them under your tongue," he said. "Let them stay there for a while. And no coffee or tea."
I did not believe him, or his lizard eggs. Nevertheless, I took them and his advice because I was desperate and had already paid him. Little did I know then that my life was going to change forever. After taking the pills I had very bad diarrhoea that night. I continued taking them, and nothing else seemed to happen. Three weeks later, the rashes did come back, but just 10 per cent of what they had been in the past. I was stunned.
Almost nothing had happened in my two years of trying the best of what modern medicine and the pharmaceutical industry had to offer. Suddenly, one attempt by a homeopath and I was half better.
I went back to the homeopath with renewed faith, amazement, and even admiration. I thanked him for my rapid improvement. He seemed disappointed that I was not completely cured. He prescribed another dose of the pills. "It will never come back," he promised me. True enough, it never did.
The following month, I went back to him to try and understand what had happened. How was it that I had been cured in two sessions with such an unorthodox method?
He explained, using terms such as "energy", "vibration" and "electromagnetic field". I was astounded. My four years of pharmacy education and two years of pre-university biology and chemistry had not prepared me for this.
My curiosity was aroused. I plunged into the world of alternative medicine. I read whatever I could grab my hands on and spoke about it with whoever I came in contact with.
I devoured whatever I could read on homeopathy. Being a pharmacist, I wanted to know if my "cure" was merely a "one off" thing. Could it have had a placebo effect? That means that some medication works simply because the patients believes that something is being done and want it to work.
However, there were many trials in medical literature that were very scientifically done. Furthermore, homeopathy worked on babies and even on pets. Clearly, there were no effects of the drug recipient’s belief system at work here.
The more I discovered, the more interested I became in the quiet power of herbs, Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, chiropractics, osteopathy and a host of other therapies normally associated with "the lunatic fringe". I began to understand that some of these healing arts had been around long before the modern medicine that I had been trained to worship. Ayurveda, for example, has been practised for 4,000 years. Interestingly, these arts have survived the powerful dictates and lobbies of modern medicine.
I realised that these therapies are not only gentle but also powerful. Unlike synthetic drugs, these ancient therapies work with the body systems, yielding almost no side-effects. Indeed, they are more preventive than curative and are more in line with the two tenets of Hippocrates: First do no harm, and let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food.
I left the pharmaceutical industry and world of modern medicine to pursue my new- found fascination with not medicine but healing itself. The more I dug, the more I was awed. I signed up to do my doctorate in holistic medicine, a healing system that aims to merge the best of modern and ancient medicine with the patient’s interest in mind.
While we are still a little behind North America and Europe, interest in alternative and complementary medicine is growing exponentially.
To my pleasant surprise, the local alternative medicine industry welcomed me with open arms. My pharmaceutical credentials were welcomed. I was invited to sit on committees that worked with both the minister of health and the prime minister. I was asked to head the team that drew up the National Herbal Blueprint that was tabled to the Cabinet.
Journal and Conference
I also noticed that little research on tropical herbs was being done and recorded. So working with a prominent professor of botany and plant physiology, we set up the Journal of Tropical Medicinal Plants, the first journal of its kind in the world focusing on the tropical medicinal plant industry. The journal is now in its eighth year.
How amazing that a journey that started with a desperate visit to a homeopath has changed my life in a way I could have never have imagined.
* Datuk Dr Rajen M. is a pharmacist with a doctorate in Holistic Medicine.