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A Scalpel, a Lead Apron and Latex

Page created: 12 March 2007

Warning - this post contains graphic descriptions of medical procedures. Not for the squeamish.

Doctor knows best. Well, not always. So this grizzly little tale took place a few decades ago, and some of these practices are thankfully something you will only read about in medical history books (or blog posts), but people are still mutilated, irradiated and poisoned even today, and some of it may not be necessary.

The tale I have to tell is one that happened to me back in 1968, and is one of a bazooka being used to kill a mosquito, and how a simple weed could have saved me all the agony back then, and the worry I have carried for the best part of forty years.

It all started in a public swimming pool, you know the type, where you inadvertently pick up a verruca or two. That is what I got on the ball of my right foot, a small cluster, to be precise. Verrucae come and go by themselves, eventually. They can cause a little discomfort if they are in a place where you put weight on them, and they did with me. I was taken to the family doctor, who sent me to the out-patient's department of the local hospital to have it "seen to". We had heard of things like using ice to remove them, and similar methods of killing off the verruca, which would then just fall off eventually, so I believed that was the treatment that was in store for me.

This was in the days when doctors didn't need authorization in triplicate, in the days when kids could just walk into the out patient's department on their own and place themselves into the hands of the doctor, or to be more precise, at their mercy. So I walked across town to the hospital - it was also in the days when most people walked to places - and was there taken to what I would now describe as an operating theatre. The surgeon told me to lie on the operating table and then proceeded to fill a syringe. Ahhh, you need an injection for icing? As a kid I was a little squeamish about needles, I shut my eyes, hoping it would not hurt too much, so I had no idea what he was about to do. At first I just guessed. I guessed he put the needle straight into the verruca, I guessed he wiggled it about and gave many more of these excruciating injections. I dared not open my eyes, and I dared not say anything. I just silently screamed. Then he bandaged my foot. All this took place within a few minutes. You may have guessed by now, that the injection was supposed to be a local anaesthetic, and he obviously did not wait for it to take effect, and that the digging about was actually a scalpel, which cut the away the ball of my foot, and the resulting crater was pulled together and stitched up. You would be correct for guessing that. They were at least kind enough to send me home with an ambulance.

I would like to point out, that I don't believe that all surgeons are as barbaric as he was, to not even wait for the anaesthetic to work, but such butchery is nevertheless totally unnecessary and, well, butchery. I suspect this particular surgeon probably evaded the Nuremberg trials. I grew up in Germany, you see.

And the verrucae returned in the scar.

My family doctor said we must try something else, so she sent me to another clinic. This time, accompanied by my mother, I once again put myself at the mercy of some doctors who knew best. Indeed, the doctor who examined my scarred foot shook her head, and said, what butchery. She then sent everyone out of the room and put on what I believe to have been a lead-lined apron, heavy, thick rubbery thing. I lay on a treatment couch, she placed what looked like a tin can filled with concrete with a rod sticking out next to my foot, with it pointing to the verruca. If I remember rightly, she then went behind a screen for a while. She mentioned gamma radiation. What do I know? I am twelve. Mum is probably not much better informed either. This is 1968. This is shortly after the era, when naughty little boys might get a lobotomy performed with local anaesthetic (or electroshock anaesthetic) and ice picks through the eye socket. But you know what, the verrucae never returned after that. Not in that spot anyway. Well, how could they, the tissue had been irradiated to a hard, impenetrable shell. The next verruca, in a different spot, just vanished one day, all by itself. Since then I have not been to public pools, and not had any more verrucae as a result.

Witchcraft and Warts

Today's pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of warts may be less barbaric than those two methods I experienced back then, but are not without their own drawbacks, including the wider ethical and political issues involved, and can be barbaric in more hidden ways. After all, all preparations are tested on animals, and therefore the barbarism is just shifted to the laboratory.

There are benign ways of ridding yourself of warts and verrucae (a verruca is just a wart which is forced to grow inward, because of external pressure, e.g. on the sole of the foot), which go back to ancient lore. Any wise woman of the past would have simply picked a dandelion and dabbed the white latex exuded from the broken stem onto the wart, and repeated it for as long as needed, depending on the size of the wart. In more recent years I have had a couple of little warts on my hand, which I treated with dandelion latex (the flower stem has more latex than a leaf stem) as soon as discovered, and got rid of them successfully, with no, or very little discomfort and in a fairly short time. I just dabbed the latex on a few times a day. That's it. Quite an anticlimax after scalpels and gamma rays, isn't it?

There are many instances, where a natural remedy can be at least as effective as conventional treatment, and often far less invasive or damaging in some way. Conventional medicine has its place, but in many instances, it should be used for diagnostic purposes and perhaps as a last resort, or when a broken body needs patching up. The distinction should perhaps be appropriate medicine, rather than alternative, complementary and conventional. Every malaise will respond best to the most appropriate treatment, which could be herbal, homeopathic, acupuncture, osteopathy, so-called conventional - whatever is most appropriate, depending on what needs treating. There is no one type of practice which can treat all types of disease or injury. A herbalist won't treat a dislocated joint like an osteopath will, and for goodness sake, don't let a conventional physician near your warts. Perhaps the best choice would be a naturopath who looks at the person in a holistic way, and can advise on what form of treatment is best suited, and one who is willing to recommend a different practitioner if appropriate. In medicine, as anywhere else, the old saying holds true - if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Pharma trained physicians will use pharma in most cases, when herbs would do the trick, or a healthy diet. Surgeons will use the scalpel, and radiologists use their God-damned gamma rays. I still wonder, if that radiation may one day lead to cancer. So that glib slight of hand with a canister has caused years of worry of top of the physical damage.

Most important, however, is prevention, wherever possible, and if a problem arises, in many instances one should look at the possible root, and strike at the root, rather than continuously patching up things. This post is not about medical advice but about empowerment. Inform yourself, know your options, and don't place yourself blindly in the hands of someone else, who has less interest in your well-being than you have. In many cases there is even a conflict of interest. And there are plenty of things you can do for yourself.

Warning - Dandelion latex works because it is somewhat corrosive, so it should not be applied to healthy skin - try to apply it strictly to the wart only - and make sure you are treating a wart and not a mole or some other growth, which could be dangerous. If in doubt, seek at least a professional diagnosis. For home treatment it is best to treat only those warts which appear on hands and feet.

dandelion leaf

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