By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
Last Friday I wrote about the carefree ‘medical practice’ of some of our roadside native healers who do not have to worry about adhering to any of the Government imposed rules and restrictions that bind all qualified practitioners of medicine. Surprised and even startled city-dwelling readers wrote or called back to ask me whether such healers still exist. I feel very surprised that most people who rush about their daily lives do so exactly like blinkered horses without looking to their left or to their right.
If they only had the time and perhaps a tiny bit of inclination they would have seen the sights that I see as I go along my leisurely pace of life! Yes, practitioners of medicine like the ones I have written about do exist still and they may be found eking their living in their make-shift homes. They go about their jobs without degrees and diplomas and dispense medicines that have not seen the inside of any labs to determine whether the ingredients they contain are harmful or harmless, let alone being useful. They also pry and probe into people’s ears and noses and instil drops and also extract crusts and globs of wax with rusty, unwashed and unsterilised instruments.
I have seen them removing foreign bodies from people’s eyes with hairpins which they pluck straight from their own hair. I have also seen them plucking out people’s painful teeth with forceps that look like cobblers’ pincers and packing the sockets with cotton wool plucked out of grimy cloth pouches. You too can see them doing all this and much more without leaving the comfort of your arm chairs on YouTube. They collect a few rupees as their fee and continue to lead their lives on the roadside where they have remained for generations.
They lead their lives in abject poverty and because they happen to be migrants their children do not get any kind of schooling. So the only knowledge that helps them to earn their daily bread when they grow up is what they pick up while seeing their parents at work. These gypsy healers perhaps do no greater harm than just giving false solace to the believers in their art.
But there is a thriving and flourishing breed of another kind of medical practitioners who are today fleecing people across the length and breadth of our country in the guise of curing them of the chronic diseases that torment them and for which cures are rather elusive. There are many things, both real and imaginary, like pimples, hair-fall, chronic constipation, flatulence, dark complexion, low blood pressure, palpitation, body odour, bad breath and excessive sweating, to name just a few, that bother people. These problems may not be dangerous but they do bother all those who are afflicted by them. But there are some very common real ailments like asthma, arthritis, dust allergy and low energy levels which torment people for which modern medicine has not yet found a cure.
As a practising physician I always tell my patients who suffer from these problems that if someone tells them that he or she can cure them of these problems completely he or she is a crook ! Yes, that is the absolute truth as things stand today and there can be no second opinion on that. This is exactly the situation which has given rise to this new breed of crooks I am talking about who masquerade as healers and medical practitioners who actually make a life out of dispensing death! They come in many disguises.
One may be a Vaid who claims to be a dispenser of pure Ayurvedic or Siddha medicine which originates from the Vedic age. Another may be a Hakim who claims to be practising Unani Medicine that came from ancient Greece through the Arabian route. Some may possess qualifications and some may not. But the worst among all of them are the properly qualified allopathic practitioners who somewhere down the lane decide that straightforward and honest medical practice brings them no quick rewards and therefore transform themselves into despicable quacks. All these charlatans invariably take the help of a single group of drugs called steroids that have very potent powers to counter a process called inflammation that is very common in both humans and animals and which is one of the first topics that are taught in any medical college.
I’ll first tell you in very simple words what this high sounding word is all about before telling you how steroids help dishonest doctors to make their dirty money. Whenever something like an injury or a fall or even a simple thorn prick irritates a part of our body it causes the body to release some substances that cause that part to become, hot, swollen, red and painful. This is nature’s way of first giving rest to the afflicted part before starting the healing process. This also draws attention of the person to the problem who would otherwise have ignored it and continued to use that part causing it greater harm. Nature can always do this job unassisted but sometimes when the injury is severe it can take much time which can be rather uncomfortable for us. That is where medicine steps in and doctors advise a class of drugs called pain-killers and anti-inflammatories which can considerably hasten the healing process and also make the waiting period relatively painless.
Among these drugs are the group of drugs called steroids which are the most potent in their action. That is the property that makes them ideal for misuse. Unlike acute injuries there are many medical conditions like Asthma, Dust Allergy and Arthritis where persistent inflammation plays a very important role for no apparent reason. These too can be controlled by giving steroids and good doctors do use them but only on a short term basis to give quick relief to patients during flare ups of their problems. But the injudicious use of steroids over long periods of time, disregarding their side-effects is what makes doctors bad and rich too !
The patients think that the steroid-armed, quick-curing doctor has great treating prowess which they call divine ‘Kaiguna’ and flock to him or her for much needed succour. All their itching and twitching and wheezing and sneezing stops in a jiffy. Their aching and creaking joints stop hurting in just two weeks. All this magic lasts as long as they go to that ever-smiling and sweet talking ‘gem of a human being’ once a week for the magic herbal pills or bitter powder which they have to take with a dash of sweet honey. As they become symptom-free their faith in their healer only increases and they thus never bother to ask if their magically effective treatment can do them any harm.
Yes, steroids are indeed magic and they can also do much harm too. More harm than they can ever imagine and it is harm that can be permanent and often fatal. They can cause weight gain, pimples and increased hair growth all over the body. In women they can lead to irregular menstrual periods and infertility. They can give you diabetes and high blood pressure even if you were not destined to get them. They can give you a puffed up mongoloid face and a hump on your back in just a few months. They can give you cataracts and glaucoma and they can cause sleeplessness and severe gastritis and heartburn. They can cause severe mood swings and intense depression too. But most of all, they can cripple your immune system that protects you from getting infections.
So if you happen to catch a simple respiratory infection while you are on steroids they can cause it to rapidly progress into a fatal pneumonia. So beware of the good old soul who gives you pills, powders, potions or injections whose names and ingredients you do not know. Make sure that whatever medicine you ingest or even apply on your body comes in a sealed packing with all the ingredients listed on it. It does not matter who gives it to you and how kind a soul and heart he or she may seem to have! Mind you, death too comes with a smile these days and it may be lurking around the nearest corner !
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