On alternative medicine and its appeal

Guys, I get it. I really do.
Science and medicine are not comforting. Interacting with medicine is often emotionally cold and physically unpleasant.

I was thinking about the appeal of all those “alternative medicine” and “holistic treatments” and how often I’ve been suckered into trying them because the trappings are so cozy and appealing.

I have some dry feet and over the years I have amassed a collection of attractive tins full of sweet-smelling salves. They’re pretty on the bathroom counter and they have a lovely odor and feel soothing.

However, they don’t work. They’re pleasant to use and not a huge waste of funds in the long run, but they don’t work.

I did end up seeing a podiatrist. He was curt. I thought perhaps I was having recurring tinea pedis but he told me I merely have dry skin and that my shoes were bad. He didn’t comment that they were cute or useful on a hot day or maybe the only pair I have that are easy to slip off for a podiatrist appointment — just, “Those shoes are bad.” His office was as cold and clinical as you might imagine with big charts depicting unattractive foot problems all under unlovely lighting. In a word: harsh.

He gave me this bad-smelling cream. The main ingredient is urea — that’s the crystal you get from pee. The label is uninspiring and the texture is gross. I do not enjoy applying this cream.


It works. Even though I hate using it. Much like going to see a curt doctor. I mean, of course I’d rather go to a bullshit spa where someone burns sage and tells me how lovely my chakras look today. Any reiki studio is likely to be more pleasant and gentle than any given podiatrist office. And I do wish actual medicine would catch on to this divide and understand that people want care as well as healing. They’re even willing to pay for bullshit treatment just to feel like someone is listening to their needs and helping them feel more calm.

I’ll even contend that the the popularity of the mani/pedi as a mini-break for busy women (regardless of the socio-political implications of the underpaid workforce at these places) is an extension of this desire to be taken care of. When we say pampered what we actually mean is we want someone to take care of us for a while. The pedicure place is a semi-medical space where items are supposed to be sterilized and feet are treated in a pseudo-medical way. But at the same time there is soothing music and a massage chair and a nice lady tending to you and getting you a cup of tea.

Yes, we’re susceptible to snake oil but particularly when the snake oil smells, looks, feels, and is presented in a much more attractive way than the actual evidence-based medicine. It even turns out that all of my pretty lotions were contributing to the problem of dry skin as the essential oil in it was too harsh. So some things that feel nice are actually hurting us. But still…

This looks like more fun…

Than this.

The acupuncturist I used to see served an amazing tea that made her studio smell fantastic and it was full of potted plants and pretty pictures and salt lamps casting soft glows with gentle music playing in the background and we sat on silk cushions and people smiled at me when I arrived. Doctors too often work in depressing spaces full of stressed out people who only get ten minutes with their patients and exam rooms rarely get natural light.

It’s really not a fair comparison, but only one of them works to solve your health problems. Unfortunately, it’s not the one that’s enjoyable.

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