Monday, May 21, 2007

Hahnemann's Homoeopathy

[This picture of Hahnemann was painted by his wife Melanie when he was 83. The original painting is hanging at the Bosch Institute in Stuttgart, Germany]

Hahnemann's homoeopathy

DISturbance of EASE is disease. Hurry, worry and curry often causes a disturbance and results in illness. We often come across patients who have nothing wrong with them and are yet ill, even after being mollified by clinical procedures, investigations, et al, and no proper diagnosis. This is where Homoeopathy has often arrived like an angel to record its glorious triumphs and revived such desperate people. Owe they must, for the relief of their sufferings to one great man who founded this system of medicine called Homoeopathy. That man was Dr. Christian Freidrich Samuel Hahnemann, who had entered this world on April 10, 1755.

Hahnemann was a genius, skilled in many fields. He was a master pharmacist, a skilled linguist and a translator with a fluency in 14 languages. He could also be called as the first psychiatrist because he was the first person in modern times to promote the humane treatment of the mentally ill as well as curing them with remedies coupled with gentleness and compassion instead of the prevalent coercive methods. Much before Koch and Pasteur, he understood the deadly epidemics which ravaged Europe in the first half of the 19th century were caused by tiny organisms. He was a pioneer of modern public health and sanitation measures. He was perhaps one of the early persons to have advocated the consumption of as little meat as possible and encouraging goat or sheep's milk rather than cow's milk.

His greatest contribution and accomplishment, in fact, is the founding of homoeopathy, a system of rational healing which some knowledgeable sources consider it as a link between orthodox medicine and holistic approach. He was the only person to have envisioned an entire system of medicine and then fully developed it with a powerful tool within his own lifetime. His was an unparalled effort by any means.

Hahnemann was born in Meissen, Saxony (in Germany) in a poor family of many children. His father was a porcelain painter and the income from it was too insubstantial to meet the education of his children and young Hahnemann had to be frequently taken out of school. But he helped pay for his education starting at the age of 12 by tutoring his fellow students in Latin and Greek. Since the boy was a brilliant student, his professors later on allowed him to study for free.

Original thinking was Hahnemann's forte. It was Hahnemann Senior father who cultivated this in him from the time he was young. He would often shut him up in a room giving him a knotty question to ponder, before going to work. "Prove all things, hold fast to what is good, dare to be wise, never be a passive listener or learner, be honest in behaviour" were his maxims which were to have a great impact in his later years.

After his schooling, in 1775, with very little money, he left to study medicine at Leipzig. He supported himself by giving private lessons in French and German as well as translating treatises on medicine, botany and chemistry, a work he would continue for the next 20 years. He received his degree in MD in 1779 and started practicing medicine. Within five years, he being humane and a man of great integrity, got frustrated with the ineffective methods of treatment to cure the unwell. The methods included the use of leeches, blood-letting, sweating and salivation, purging and emetics, use of combined decoctions of over 50 different drugs, burning and searing with hot iron and the use of irritants to evoke suppuration and discharges. He gave away his medical practice candidly admitting that his patients would do better without his help and denouncing himself as a 'murderer'. In the meantime, he was married in 1782 to Kuchler (they eventually had 11 children before she died in 1830). He made a living by translating scientific works into German and other languages since he was a fantastic polyglot.

Hahnemann's works provided only a meager income to support his growing family and often lacking the bare necessities for survival. Sometimes he had to scrub the family's laundry with raw potatoes because soap was not affordable. Such was the poverty.

Discoveries are, more often than not, by-products of accidents. Hahnemann's homeopathy was no exception. A passage from William Cullen's lectures on the materia medica, a standard work of that age, was to Hahnemann what the cover-drive was to Walter Hammond. While translating the Scottish physician's treatise in 1790, he came across a passage which stated that Cinchona (quinine) bark possessed specific febrifugal action, because it was both the most aromatic and bitter substance known. Hahnemann was not convinced, trained by his father who had impressed upon his brilliant son not to accept anything without examining it. Hahnemann thought that there were more barks and substances having bitter and aromatic properties which did not have the power to cure fevers. He decided to find out the why and how of it.

He prepared a decoction of cinchona bark and took it for the first time in medical history 2000 years after the law of similars was touched upon, in passing, by Hippocrates in 400 BC. And presto, he developed the symptoms of malaria in himself. Based on numerous other clinical experiments, without the help of a clinical thermometer which was unknown at that time, Hahnemann concluded that, a drug that is capable of producing a set of its own peculiar and characteristic symptoms when given in the proper form to the healthy, sensitive individual, can cure harmlessly, quickly and permanently a patient with disease exhibiting a similar set of symptoms. The cinchona assay was thus a case in point and the touchstone for the development of Hahnemann's novel discovery which led to the first law of homoeopathy : "Similia similibus curenter" or "like cures like". He himself coined the word Homoeopathy (homoios-similar, pathos-sickness).

In 1810, he published the "Organon of the Healing Art", his most important work which was to become the bible of homoeopathy. In 1828, having understood the mind-body connection by this time, he published his discovery on chronic diseases.

In his lifetime, he 'proved' nearly a hundred drugs on himself as well on his followers and carefully recorded the symptoms. Eventually, this became the materia medica.

The journals of his time printed scathing critiques. The jealous and annoyed allopathic doctors ridiculed, harassed, attacked and persecuted him because Hahnemann and his new doctrine was gathering momentum and his treatments were getting successful. They even prevented him from dispensing his own medicines. But he endured and continued his research and practice. Many letters found after his death revealed how much turmoil he had undergone.

In 1820, the scarlet fever epidemic gave him the opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of the system where he used a diluted Belladonna. By then, he had discovered accidentally that by administering tiny amounts of the drug gave fantastic results. He had noticed that the 'power' of the drug had increased when it was vigorously shaken (succussion) and diluted - 'potentization' as it is known.

The first time Homeopathy was used widely was in 1831 to control cholera in Germany. Its cure rate was 96% as compared to allopathy's 41%. Earlier in 1813, Napoleon's typhus-affected soldiers were treated after their invasion of Russia.

In 1828, a homoeopathic society had been formed and in 1832, the homoeopathic hospital and medical school was created in Leipzig. Later homoeopathy spread to other parts of the world. It came to India as early as 1810 with the German physicians and missionaries who visited Bengal. In 1835, Hahnemann's disciple, Hoeniberger visited Lahore and treated Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

In 1835, Hahnemann, now 80, married for the second time, to a lady by name Melanie from Paris, 45 years younger than him. She took him to France and they prospered well there, as did homoeopathy. Hahnemann died in 1843, leaving behind the wonderful legacy called homoeopathy, which he had believed to be a complete system of medicine. The inscription on his tomb says "I have not lived in vain".

Hahnemann was a TRUE physician, a preserver of health. The first of 291 aphorisms of his "Organon" - "The physician's high and only mission is to restore the sick to health, to cure, as it is termed" is ample testimony to his concern for mankind. Yet, he was humble, as he once wrote to Dr.Stopf: "Be as sparing as possible with your praises, I do not like them, I feel that I am only an honest, straightforward man who does no more than his duty". In another famous letter to Hufeland he wrote: "If experience should show you that my method is the best, then make use of it for the benefit of humanity and give God glory!" This quality in him was with him even till his last breath. While on his death-bed, his wife said to him, "As you in your laborious life had alleviated the sufferings of so many, and have yourself endured so much, surely Providence owes you a remission of all your sufferings." To which the dying Hahnemann replied, "My! And why me! Man here below works according to the gifts and strength Providence has given him, and it is only before the fallible tribunal of man that degrees of merit are acknowledged, not to before that of God: God owes me nothing, but Him much - yes, everything," and they were his last words.

Homoeopathy is an art as well as a science, based on natural laws. It is for that reason it has triumphed. But for Hahnemann's 'divine discovery', mankind, doubtless would have missed the benefits of its wonderful curative powers. Those medicated sweet little pills that a homeopath gives are as powerful as the cartoon character, "Atom Ant".