Angry Doctor

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No labs please, we're homeopaths

While googling about homeopathy in Singapore, angry doc came across a site that advertised as one of homeopathy's benefits the fact that:

"the system does not require expensive tests and reports."

Of course. Why wouldn't that be a benefit? Everybody hates lab tests, X-rays, and biopsies, right?

Patients certainly hate them most of the time.

Practitioners of alternative medicine can often make a diagnosis just by looking at you or feeling your pulse. In fact, some can even feel your energy field without actually having to physically touch you. Who needs tests and reports to know what's wrong with you, or if you are getting better?

Western doctors, with their inability to make decisions without time-consuming and expensive tests which often puts the patient at much inconveniece, discomfort, and not to mention risks, seem by contrast primitive and unsophisticated.

As a medical student, angry doc certainly hated "lab".

Much of the first two years of medical school, the "pre-clinical" years, were spent in stuffy laboratories, where we had to conduct repetitive experiments.

The subject of the week's experiment would vary (this week it would be sugars, the next week proteins, and the week after bilirubin or something), but the physical tasks always consisted of measuring minute quantities of chemicals, diluting them with deionised water from a large plastic vat, then placing the resultant solutions into small glass or plastic containers, which would then be placed inside a spectrometer. The result of each reading would be plotted on a graph, which seemed to be the point of the whole afternoon's labour.

It seemed a sadistic way of wasting our time, making us do the same thing with the same spectrometer week after week just to show something which they already knew was true. Yes, the spectrometer works, the values change with different concentrations of the chemical, in a linear fashion which can be represented graphically. We get it! Can we do something else please?

(OK, we did do something else. Occasionally we were required to supply bodily fluids as raw material for the week's experiment. angry doc will not elaborate further.)

Unlike 'A' level chemistry, lab-work in medical school was not an examinable subject, so angry doc never paid attention and had already forgotten almost all of what happened before the second year ended.

To angry doc's disappointment, "lab" did not end with the end of second year, as Pathology involved hours of eye-straining, vertigo-inducing work in the purple-and-pink topsy-turvy world of light microscopy, where moving a slide left shifted the field of view right, and moving it down shifted the field of view up. angry doc had difficulty using a computer mouse afterwards.

angry doc resolved to not choose a specialty that required any vision-enhancing aid more sophisticated than a pair of spectacles.

angry doc is also vaguely aware of the Radiology module, which he had skipped completely, because they seemed more interested in teaching him about how an X-ray machine worked than how to read an X-ray.

The only bit of lab angry doc didn't mind, and indeed enjoyed, was anatomy. Ah, sweet, gross anatomy!

It was with little regret that angry doc left the sterile world of lab and entered the wards, where finally! he could get his hands on some patients. When he heard that a classmate was interested in pursuing a career in lab medicine, angry doc thought the fellow was mad.

For the next few years angry doc didn't think much about labs. Lab was that mysterious but boring place where he sent his patients, their bodily fluids or some bits of their bodies, in return for which he received reports which allowed him to get on with the business of treating their illness.

But now that he has taken on the task of fighting alternative medicine, angry doc appreciates the purpose of all those lab hours.

Unbeknowst to him, the boring work in those foundation years demonstrated to angry doc that our work is based on real, quantifiable things which can be objectively and independently measured, and not on the postulation of some wise men, or abstract speculation about invisible life energies that seem to be only palpable to those who believe they exist.

Going through the science behind the investigation modalities and performing all those experiments ourselves taught us that we did not have to take anyone's word as authority, but could verify and find out first-hand if something was true, if we understood the scientific principles and had the knowledge.

Lab work was an innoculation against the magical thinking and dogma that characterise some of the more absurd forms of alternative medicine.

angry doc wishes he had paid more attention in medical school.

(If you are a medical student, angry doc is interested in knowing how much lab work you are required to do these days, and also how much exposure to alternative medicine you have in your course. Do share with him in the comments section. Thank you.)

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  • we hardly do lab for biochem and physiology any more


    instead, we get some PBL, and MASSIVE dollops of research (an exercise in paperwork, really)

    as for alternative medicine, what we learn is, if it's harmless, then let it be, if it's harmful, stop it

    the actual details of various alternative modalities, we don't get taught.

    but we sure get loads of evidence-based medicine teaching - i.e. we know better than to recommend many of those alternative treatments

    however, i still have some classmates who believe in very strange things......

    By Blogger kc, At June 24, 2008 7:07 pm  

  • Thanks for the info.

    EBM was not big in my days, and we were mainly required to cram facts and not think.

    Or maybe it was just me.

    By Blogger angry doc, At June 24, 2008 10:21 pm  

  • The most outstanding memory of labwork for me was for Physiology - having to knock a white mouse senseless by holding its tail & whacking its head against the side of the counter. this was supposed to render it unconscious so that we could remove its heart for some kind of experiment. Why we couldn't have used a more humane method of doing so, I still don't understand. I could never do this dastardly deed, & had to ask a kind group mate to do it for me.


    By Blogger aliendoc, At June 25, 2008 6:12 am  

  • Actually, the Beer-Lambert law is only applicable for small ranges. In larger ranges, deviations from perfect linearity are observed. You could try a calibration *curve* instead of a calibration *line*...

    By Anonymous a chemist, At June 27, 2008 10:12 am  

  • Hey, I told you I already forgot almost all of it...

    By Blogger angry doc, At June 27, 2008 5:40 pm  

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