This article was published in Veterinary Times on 28th March 2005 (volume 35, issue 10, p. 38).

Time for profession to heal thyself?



MARK CARPENTER
BVetMed, MRCVS
speaks passionately about homoeopathy in the latest of our occasional Your Shout series



WHEN I was seven-years-old, my then five-year-old brother was playing in our back garden with a newly-purchased toy bow and arrow.

I was enjoying time with my much-loved pet hamster, who was running around the lawn and requiring constant watching to avoid him disappearing into the nearest flower bed.

As a joke, my brother aimed his arrow at my hamster.  I was horrified, grabbed at it, and threw it away.  He ran after it, not noticing that there was a little furry creature between him and his desired object.

In a moment, he had trodden on my dear little friend, who was left running around the grass with his front end intact, but a severely flattened back half dragging behind him.

Single purpose

The vet told my mum that he would keep him overnight and try what he could - at least, that's what I was told at the time - but a tearful boy was told next day that his dear companion had been put to sleep.

I reportedly said "I bet if I was a vet, I could have mended it," and from that day I had a single purpose in life: to become a vet, and to care for sick and suffering animals.

In April 1978, my dream was realised and I said goodbye to the RVC.  After a 19 month stint in Cornwall, I ended up in my current practice in Beaconsfield, where I have been for 26 years this year.

It was there, in 1986, that I was presented with a severely arthritic, old black Labrador.

I was the third local practice to have been consulted, as this poor dog was unable to tolerate the drugs then available, i.e.  PLT and phenylbutasone [sic], and had twice been seen as an emergency at the RVC in Potters Bar for blood transfusions, because of a bleeding stomach ulcer.  The owner had been advised that there was no further treatment available, and he would have to be put to sleep, which the owner was unhappy to accept.

Coincidentally, I had noticed in the Veterinary Record a two-­day course in veterinary acupuncture being held the following weekend, but had not really thought too seriously about doing it.  When asked by this despairing owner if I could offer anything to help his poor companion, I was saddened to have to say no: after all, if the RVC had no answers, what chance did I have!  Then I remembered the course, got myself a place, and told the owner to come back on the following Monday to try some acupuncture!

This was no burning desire to get involved in alternative treatments, more a case of recognising that here was a patient that conventional therapy could no longer help.  The following week, I nervously placed the needles as best I could, and waited the response with no great expectation.

Well, we kept this dear old dog going for more than six months without the need for drugs, before his age finally caught up with him, much to my amazement, and I have been using acupuncture ever since.  Times have changed, but in those days, acupuncture was very much a quack medicine only carried out by cranks, and totally unscientific.

This was of no concern to me; I had tried it myself, it had worked, and I was very happy to be able to add this therapy to those others available to me.

Expecting

In 1991, my German wife, Monika, was expecting our son, Alexander, and was attending ante-natal checks at the local hospital.  One day, after such a visit, she came home to say she had been seen by a Dr Christian Blatt, another German, who was filling-in for her regular consultant while he was on holiday.  They understandably struck up a rapport, and it did not take long before he had been invited back for dinner.  We, too, soon became friends, helped by our shared passion for football.

After a few more visits he told me he was a homoeopathic doctor, and was going to be at the Royal Homoeopathic Hospital in London for the next year.  I told him what I thought of his chosen speciality in no uncertain terms; there is nothing in the tablets, it was all a big con, and he must be mad to be involved in it.

He persevered, however, and when he finally went to London, he told me that, if I wanted to rubbish homoeopathy, then the least I should do was to go to an introductory course at the hospital where I could at least find out about it and offer a more reasoned argument.  He offered for me to stay with him for free, so the idea of a few nights away from a hectic practice, and a crying baby, with a mate in the West End of London on a course which I didn't have to concentrate on, because it was all nonsense anyway, was too strong an attraction.  I went for four days in October 1991.

I arrived back at my practice armed with a free remedy kit given on the course, bursting with useless knowledge!  Okay, I thought, let's put this junk to the test.  We had been told about the 10 remedies in the box; the only things I could remember was that one of them was meant to be good for anticipatory anxiety, and one was for panic and shock.  We were heading for bonfire night, and the annual drugging of anxious dogs which I was convinced made the anxiety worse, not better, and which I hated doing.

So I decided to run my own mini trial, and around 10 willing owners opted to give their dogs argentum nitricum 30c pre-5th November, and aconite 30c if they started to get into their expected state of panic during any fireworks.  I waited to get my proof that these were nothing more than sugar pills, convinced that I would see no response.  I felt sure I would never attend another homoeopathic course in my life and would, therefore, be able to continue to study for the Certificate in Small Animal Dermatology, for which I was registered, and which was my love at the time.

Improvement

When I saw the results, my heart sank.  I cannot remember the exact figures, so excuse me for this, but around seven out of 10 dogs had shown improvement on previous years, some marked, and a couple had not even needed any of the panic remedy on the night as they seemed totally unconcerned.

This was not meant to happen!  I did not want to have to learn any more about this stuff, but this was too unexpected to be ignored!  I decided that I owed it to my curiosity to find out more, so enrolled for the first year of the course.  After all, if nothing else, it got me a regular London break, paid for by the practice, and with nights uninterrupted by my baby's nocturnal activities.

The more I discovered and experimented, the more it seemed that my earlier prejudices may have been ill-judged, although I was still not prepared to be fully convinced.  Then came spring 1994.  I had reluctantly left for another course in London, leaving my unwell wife (unbeknown to us, she was in very early pregnancy with our second child, Luisa) and my son, who had had a couple of weeks of sleepless nights with coughing and a bit of breathing trouble.  He was on antibiotics, but was making no progress.  By the Friday of the course, he was much worse, and had been up all light, unable to lie down without coughing, and with loudly rattling breathing.

He was taken back to the doctor, who decided that it was asthma and had given him steroids.  I was very uncertain about his, and asked my wife not to give them, but she said he was so bad that she wanted to try anything.  By the time I arrived home on the Sunday, not only was the poor little chap rattling, coughing, and having difficulty breathing, but had also suffered an allergic reaction to the steroids, with widespread erythema, oedema and itching.  The doctor had simply said to stop he steroids and continue the antibiotics.  By now we were really worried.

I had asked my course tutor, Chris Day, if he had any suggestions for remedies when I heard Alexander was getting worse; I was getting desperate by now!  He suggested antiminium tartaricum, and I duly went to the hospital pharmacy and got some.  We started to give it to Alexander that Sunday evening.  By Tuesday, after being so ill for a long time, he started improving; by about the Thursday he appeared pretty well back to normal.  I was more astounded than I had been following my first acupuncture patient; this was just amazing, as, believe me, he had been really sick.  The doctors later decided that he had had pneumonia.  I needed no more proof; I had to take this seriously, and learn how to apply this therapy to patients.

Teaching

I took my VetMFHom (Faculty of Homoeopathy exam) in 1997 and have even been involved in the HPTG course, teaching homoeopathy to doctors and vets.  I see referral cases from many local practices and offer it to clients of my own practice; all this from someone who was very happy to voice very negative opinions on this unscientific nonsense for 13 years before I stumbled into it, both accidentally and reluctantly.

I still use conventional medicine, I still do full diagnostic work-ups and I work alongside four conventional colleagues, each of whom has their own special interests, enabling us as a practice to offer a variety of options to our clients.

And now there are vets out there who would take away my right to use this medicine.  I cannot express in words how deep my sadness is at the continual, malicious correspondence coming from some quarters.  I have outlined my background fairly fully so it can be seen how long it took me to become involved in homoeopathy, and the roundabout route through which I got involved.  But, I am so grateful that it found me, as are so many of my patients that have benefited from its use.

And yet a number of correspondents would like to see the use of homoeopathic remedies banned, and who knows what done to those of us who chose to use it.

Surely we all have to work on the assumption that everyone of us is working to the best of our ability, using whatever tools we find most useful to help those patients we are privileged to be able to treat.

I fully understand and respect the views of those who would question my choices - after all, I did so for a very long time.  But I am happy to accept that those of you who chose to recommend dog foods that I may consider to be less than ideal are doing so because it is your genuine belief that it really is the best thing to feed.

Those who continue to recommend annual vaccinations are not purely profit-driven, as has been suggested by some, but are doing so because they are convinced that it is the right thing to do.  Those who choose to give such treatments as long-­acting steroid injections as a treatment for allergies are doing so because it is their honest opinion that it is the best interests of the patient to do so.  Trust.  Honesty.  Respect.

I became a vet all those years ago because of a deep desire to help those animals who fall into my care, I do so from a position, I hope, of caring compassion, of love, and of sympathy.  I believe strongly that this is the motivation of the vast majority of those fortunate enough to be working in veterinary practice, whatever the final tools chosen.

Poisonous tone

The vindictive, poisonous tone of recent letters to Veterinary Times are doing our profession a major disservice, and are only leading to greater negativity and suspicion, which is in the interests of no one.

It is difficult though, for one such as myself, to stand quietly by while accused of lying to the pet-owning public; of knowingly giving suffering creatures treatments that will not work.

There is vastly more profit to be made in the sale and repeat prescriptions of conventional drugs, dog food, and vaccines than there ever is from homoeopathic medicines.

This is stated as a matter of fact, with no intention whatsoever to be a matter of divide.  I hope no one could ever be so callous.

I believe that the oft-mentioned "silent majority" of vets of all persuasions are, like me, sick and tired of all the malicious accusations and hostile allegations being made against a small group of fellow veterinary surgeons.  I propose that a new group be formed, who will battle - by all means possible - to preserve the true heart of our great profession before it is ripped apart by the few.

The basic respect of our fellow veterinary surgeon, and trust in his or her good intentions, is absolutely paramount if we are to retain the respect and trust of the animal-owning public.  I propose that the silent majority stand up and get behind a new movement, VET (Vets Encouraging Tolerance).  The warmth at the soul of our profession needs to be nurtured and protected, not destroyed.

We are not looking at the fight for alternative therapies here; we are looking at the whole future of the profession and its freedom of choice against bullying Big Brothers who would impose their views onto all, whether on a small-scale, such as the recent tirade of negative correspondence, or on a larger one, such as the heavily-flawed proposals for the Medicines Act.

We have to defend the good name of our caring profession and create an atmosphere of respect to all who are fortunate enough to care for those defenceless creatures who come our way; and a tolerance, if not an absolute understanding, of those who try to look beyond the obvious to try to help those who, perhaps, are not able to be fully-served by the more accepted modalities of treatment.

If we allow ourselves to believe what some would have us believe - that love of our patients is of no concern to some, and relief of suffering is but a minor consideration - and continue down this cycle of mistrust, suspicion and outright hatred, then our profession as I know it, of which I am proud to be a part, will die.

The vocation which I joined so long ago will be permanently soured by a few, to the great harm of both our patients, present and future, and the veterinary profession as a whole.

I am passionate about my work and feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to realise the ambition I held from childhood.  I feel, too, that the vast "silent majority" of practising vets have the same view and are weary of the increasingly vindictive and malicious comments being written about fellow professionals.  I feel they would wish to see a return of tolerance and respect.


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