Most people (except the rare few, including me and you…) want to make an impression. There’s nothing wrong with this. Except in the homoeopath’s clinic.
I was called in to see a woman who was suffering from severe abdominal pain and had decided to go through an operation. She lay on her couch, unable to move, in tears from the pain, paralyzed by fear at the thought of the operation. And yet…
I had more or less decided on a remedy, but wanted to check whether there had been any change in her eating habits when her condition had worsened.
“What’s your favourite food?” I asked.
“Oh, salad,” she answered, most definitively.
“Really?” I queried. I have difficulty believing that salad could be a favourite food for anyone. Perhaps a close second – but first place? I met someone who preferred carrots to chocolate a long time ago, which shocked me to the core, but haven’t met anyone quite like that since.
“Oh yes,” she breathed, clearly enraptured by memories of lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and a touch of avocado. “Just ask my children,” she continued, “they will tell you that if they want to surprise me, they prepare a large bowl of salad with as many different colours as possible.”
“Even on your birthday?”
“Oh yes..” affirmed this lady, amidst her intense pain, suffering and fear, delivering a beautific smile at the very thought of varicoloured vegetables.
I prescribed, the remedy helped to the extent it could – the patient could not be shifted from her decision to go under the knife – but this whole incident made me nervous. Something was wrong here, but I couldn’t define it. Fortunately for my peace of mind, it presented itself to me several months later.
The same patient had been abroad, and came back with various health problems which she wanted me to address. She sat down in my clinic, gazed at me woefully and asked (sadly as many women do) “do you have anything to help me lose weight”? As I answered in the negative, I wondered to myself how it was possible that a person with such a deep, enduring love of salad could suffer from excessive weight gain – but it was there, definitely not imaginary.
“What caused the weight gain?” I asked, tentatively, not quite sure what I was getting into.
Baked goods, is what I was getting into. Breads, muffins, brioches, cookies, cakes, scones, you name it. This was the patient’s true food preference. The rest was smoke and mirrors, much like the image conscious girl’s refusal to eat dessert on a first date, with an “oh, I couldn’t possibly…” Even in the midst of fear, pain, confusion, an impending operation, this patient wanted to make a certain impression.
This is only one example of many, something I think all homoeopaths go through at some stage. Subjective descriptions that lead us astray, that capture our imaginations. In the best case scenarios, we just find ourselves hunting manically for salad rubrics. But in the worst time-wasting scenarios, we find ourselves contacting colleagues and teachers, hunting for that rubric of “felt like heart was hanging from a string”, felt “as if a sack of potatoes had landed on the abdomen”.
Sometimes the patient wants to make an impression. Sometimes the patient is so creative with language the homoeopath gets tied in knots trying to follow a complex symptom description which could probably be boiled down to “headache better for pressure” but goes through a descriptive process that could fill two volumes of a large-size Synthesis.
And there’s worse to come. As others have pointed out before me – in provings the subjective descriptions of pain sensations are, not to put too fine a point on it, subjective, and also subject to differences in use of language and expressions. One man’s pressing pain could be another’s constricting pain, one person’s sensation of internal jerking could be another’s feeling that something is alive in the abdomen. They could be close, but they reduce our ability to be certain when we’re trying to pick one or the other.
As a homoeopath I crave certainty. Complete certainty is not available to me, as I can’t know exactly the inner workings of each patient, I can’t always know the direction that cure will take in each case, the exact nature of the impact the remedy will have on the patient’s condition. All I can know for sure is that if the prescription is based on the Law of Similars, it will do the work of healing, in part or in full.
But my job is to narrow down my prescription to those remedies appearing in rubrics that are as clear and certain as possible in the case. Symptoms that are there whether the patient wants to make an impression or not. Symptoms that are absolutely certain, if possible even viewed in the clinic or sickroom. There is no certainty otherwise, and treatment is reduced to pendulum diagnoses and hunch prescriptions. Certainly far from the sweet feeling when you give a remedy you know you have prescribed based on certain, clear symptoms, and you know it will ease the patient’s suffering and set them on the road towards cure.
The subjective and the uncertain symptoms do have their place, they are part of who the patient is. But that place is closer to the end of the prescribing process, or even within the framework of case management – not in the preliminary narrowing down of remedies through repertorisation.
And now, as I believe the French say, let us all get back to our onions…