Monday, February 28, 2011

Unsolicited Medical Advice

What is it about illness that opens a person up as a free-for-all repository of the worst, most condescending advice imaginable? You find out you have cancer, and you go to work the next day and tell your co-workers about it, and suddenly, you are getting “drop-bys” from people you hardly know and e-mails with links to every type of “alternative” medicine that you could possibly imagine, all of them breathlessly guaranteeing you that if you don’t do it this, that, or the other way, you are surely going to die – oh, and don’t listen to those “medical professionals” that say you need “medicine” or “radiation therapy” because those don’t work, but if you change your diet to only nuts and raw meat, then your cancer will miraculously and spontaneously die. Oh, and don’t ask why the actual “medical professionals” don’t know about this, because they are in the pockets of “big pharmacy” who apparently single-handedly have decided that we will not do things that actually work and save lives because it doesn’t sell as much drugs because these are evil companies without question because, well, you know… profit.

My favorite thing to do is point out that no drug company has a patent on the drug “radiation”, so if it is the case that “big pharmacy” is killing us all (because, well, profit) then how does a technique like radiation therapy, which makes them no money, slip through the cracks, but nuts and raw meat didn’t?

I do not believe that this is coming from any attempt to help (for the most part, anyway). I’ve paid attention to the types of people that provide this type of unsolicited advice, and have found in general that they are the same people bragging about the things they’ve owned, done, or how many people they’ve outsmarted. It is an ego trip. It is them assuming that you are not smart enough to have done all the research yourself. It is an opportunity to stand in front of someone and say that you are smarter than not just them, but the entire medical establishment, and that your way is better because their way… well… profit!

Take my friend Jack. I love Jack like a brother. I enjoy my time with him and we have great times. I see past Jack’s faults, just as he sees past mine, and we accept each other for who we are, as-is.

That being said, Jack is a braggart. He loves to brag about things he’s done, things he owns, and things he knows, and hates to be in a situation where he might be “one-upped.” This personality has lead Jack to be a very successful, highly driven person who simply refuses to come in second. It has also lead him to become the type of person who gives out unsolicited medical advice.

Jack has minor psoriasis on his scalp. It is something he’s dealt with for most of his life, and believe you me, I feel for him. He has been able to control his psoriasis, and even get it to go away, by using a special type of shampoo, which he swears by. He recommended it to me when I was having my very severe problems a few years back. Being as I was 80-some-odd percent covered in the stuff, it was only going to work on my scalp, if it worked at all, but what the heck, I was willing to try anything.

Problem was, I had already tried it. I had tried everything. None of it was working. Jack continued to insist that I try his special shampoo, and told me it would solve all my problems. I told him that I’d tried it and it hadn’t worked. In a display of cognitive dissonance that was startling coming from a guy as smart as Jack, he continued to nag me about it every time I saw him, despite the fact that I’d told him clearly that it didn’t work. He insisted that it did, and that I was either using it wrong or not enough or, or, or…

Yeah, he was so stuck on being right that he was actually accusing me of not being able to use shampoo properly. It was an ego thing, and had nothing (or very little) to do with Jack actually wanting me to get better. He wanted the shampoo to work because it would mean that he was right.

Another person that I know came to me insisting that I try UV therapy. Despite the fact that I told him that I did try it and it hadn’t worked, and that the side-effects were untenable and that a goodly portion of my problem was in body areas where you can’t do UV because of radiation damage issues, he seemed to not hear me at all and insisted that his aunt’s roommate’s brother’s cousin’s psoriasis had been cured completely with only two UV treatments, and went on to tell me that I really ought to try it. I explained again, almost in the same breath as the last, that I had tried it and found it lacking, and he went into his tirade again about how it would cure me and I should give it a shot. At that point, I walked away, shaking my head.

Finally, I had another person insisting that they’d read somewhere that turmeric would cure eczema, and that I should try turmeric because, hey, if it fixes one rash, it would fix another, right? I tried to nicely explain his logical fallacy to him, by telling him that psoriasis is an auto-immune condition, of which one symptom is a rash, whereas eczema is (to the best of my knowledge) an allergic response to a topical irritant, and that there is no cure for an auto-immune condition, and that to make the rash go away, you either suppress the immune system, or use an anti-inflammatory to reduce the effect. It seemed to go nowhere, and the next words out of his mouth were “yeah, but they are both rashes…” Again, walking away.

Like parenting, dieting, and many other things, medical problems will get you a massive ration of unsolicited, condescending advice. It would do everyone some good if maybe you thought about that before proffering your own.

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