Just what the doctor ordered

September 30, 1994|By JAMES M. MERRITT

WHEN University of Maryland doctors recently announced that they plan to add homeopathy to their arsenal of disease fighting weapons, I had just one response: It's about time.

As in most major U.S. cities, there were hundreds of homeopathic doctors practicing in Baltimore when I and the century were young.They operated their own hospital -- offering complete medical and surgical services -- and pharmacies downtown stocked with thousands of generic drugs of plant, animal and mineral origin. A third of such practitioners held conventional medical degrees. However, their subsequent studies at homeopathic schools had convinced them that the system of treatment based on the rule "like cures like" -- founded by Dr. Samuel Christian Hahnemann in Germany in 1810 -- was the best way to go. They believed that certain diseases could be cured by giving tiny doses of drugs that in a healthy person would produced symptoms of the disease.

My homeopathic doctor brought me through all the ailments, from pink eye to whooping cough, that afflict the young in a close-knit rowhouse neighborhood.

When I was 9 years old, I contracted diphtheria. All during the critical night I was barely conscious of him at the bedside, occasionally snapping open his bag, until at 6 a.m., he was able to report the fever broken and the membrane that had partly obstructed my breathing had dissolved.

A few years later my father developed erysipelas, or St. Anthony's fire, a brilliant red swelling, shaped like a butterfly, that covered his face. Soon his eyes were slits and his nose barely visible. We knew that if the swelling penetrated the scalp we could begin digging out the insurance papers. But Doc stopped it at the hairline on the sixth day.

Here are some of the homeopathic doctors, known city-wide, names still familiar to their old patients who may still be benefiting from their ministrations: Fetterhoff, Wegafarth, Ewalt, Bowman Hood, senior and junior, Condon, Gilroy, Pannebaker, Shamer. They charged $1 for an office visit, $2 for a house call and, remember, they brought their own medicine. In good weather their waiting evening patients overflowed, onto their front steps. House calls were a must.

I am sure the University of Maryland doctors will find that homeopathy deserves an important role in their future or, for that matter, in any health reform plan that Congress finally adopts.

Homeopathy is still widely practiced in England and the American Institute of Homeopathy, headquartered in Denver, and its affiliate the National Center for Homeopathy in Alexandria, Va., stand ready to facilitate the study of the doctrine medical professionals.

Proponents of the various health plans that were debated in Congress are agreed on one thing, the cost of medical care has grown way out of line and must be brought down to reality. If restored to its former prominent place in the practice of family medicine, homeopathy will be of immense help in achieving that goal.

9- James M. Merritt writes from Catonsville.

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