Complementary medicine used to be known as ‘alternative medicine’ – an alternative option to conventional medicine and by inference, not scientifically researched and endorsed. Thankfully nowadays many medics are becoming increasingly open to the benefits of ‘alternative’ treatments and recommending them to their patients.
Even so, there is still much to be done to change the medical profession’s perception of complementary therapies – given that the line between the two is unclear and continually changing. Take osteopathy and chiropractic: they are generally categorised as complementary treatments, while at the same time accepted by the Royal College of General Practitioners as part of standard health care.
The detrimental consequences of the clash between conventional medical practices and more progressive treatment can be seen poignantly in Jim Abraham’s 1997 film ‘First Do No Harm’ - based on the director's own son's experience. Robbie, a boy suffering from severe epilepsy, is frequently admitted into hospital. Robbie undergoes conventional medical treatment, which includes a cocktail of anti-epilepsy drugs. The medication, instead of reducing the seizures, produces some nasty side-effects, including aggressive behaviour and cognitive impairment. When Robbie goes into ‘status epilepticus’ (continuous seizures that if not stopped can lead to brain damage or death) the doctors announce that the only next step for him is brain surgery.
Robbie’s mother, determined to spare her son the ordeal of risky surgery, begins to research for herself alternative cures for epilepsy. Much to her amazement, she discovers a treatment called the ketogenic diet, which is found to work for a significant percentage of children with epilepsy. After considerable obstacles, Robbie, under medical supervision, is put on the ketogenic diet and taken off his anti-convulsants. Within weeks his seizures have stopped completely and his mental faculties restored. At the end of the film we are told that after two years on the diet, Robbie was able to discontinue it and is epilepsy-free (and drug-free) to this day.
Conventional versus complementary epilepsy treatment is just one of many areas of conflict in health care – but where medics are enlightened, there need be no such clash.
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