Last month, I got hit with a nasty combination of the flu and tonsillitis, which left me barely able to swallow or speak. A cocktail of antibiotics and steroids, prescribed by my physician, got me well enough to return to work and the speaking life. But while my acute symptoms are gone, I've continued to feel under the weather — tired all the time, a lingering dull throat pain — for a month. My solution until this week was taking disturbingly large quantities of Advil and Tylenol. But popping over-the-counter painkillers for the foreseeable future is less than ideal. It's not healthy, natural, or especially green. And so, at the suggestion of friends and co-workers, I decided to try a different solution: homeopathy, which presented another sort of strange remedy.
I ended up in the Oxford Street office of Dr. Wendy Pollock, who's practiced homeopathy and chiropractic in Portland for more than 20 years. It was my first real foray into alternative medicine, and while I remain somewhat skeptical, there are parts that ring true. Specifically, it's hard not to appreciate the inherent message that "medicine" should address our bodies as whole beings, not as composite parts.
"[A] true homeopathic cure is systemic," practitioner Amy Lansky says in her well-regarded tome, Impossible Cure: The Promise of Homeopathy (which Pollock let me borrow so that I could better understand the discipline). "Rather than patching or repairing a part of the body, a curative remedy can bring about a widespread restoration of health to the entire organism — a fundamental change of state that addresses the true root of a patient's disease."
Choosing the right remedy requires the homeopath to take inventory of a patient's physical and mental health. In my initial consultation with Pollock, the case-taking took a full hour (and we zipped through ours; usually it's a two-hour process), in which I briefed Pollock on my health history — what medications I've taken, what illnesses I've had, what mental issues I've struggled with. I told her about my current complaints. At times, it felt a bit like a psychological intake, which makes sense, given the holistic mental-emotional-physical nature of homeopathy. Pollock was non-judgmental and her office felt like a safe space.
Using that information, homeopaths identify important symptoms that might point to underlying problems, or as Lansky puts it, "the center of the case." Then they use an index of symptoms — called a repertory — to find the most appropriate remedy. Homeopathic remedies are made from animal, plant, and mineral substances; mine are tiny tablets of carcinosinum (made from cancerous tissue) meant in part to address my burn-the-candle-at-both-ends lifestyle. Who knows what effect this remedy will have. (I'm supposed to check in with Pollock toward the end of the week.)
The lack of scientific evidence of the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is one of Pollock's biggest frustrations, and it's one of the reasons that she's spearheading a new effort called "Turn the Tide." The program is aimed at providing homeopathy, acupuncture, attunement, massage, and alternative healing methods to everyone, regardless of income. Part of her goal for Turn the Tide, which she says has "been percolating in my mind forever," is to "give away" alternative healthcare, "and at the same time, track it," and its benefits.