On the Treatment of Burns
So it’s that time of year again – the January abstinence is starting to wane, the sleet and snow are turning to rain and the nights are extending the basic bloody decency of descending an hour later than lunch time. Meanwhile, us Scots are dusting down our kilts, reviving our weary Caledonian lilts and preparing for another pretense of Burns night nostalgia. What a fantastic excuse to get together, fire down a few drams and recite the Scottish Haka at an unsuspecting sheep’s stomach full of entrails? Aye, it’s a time of year that would make most people go off their nuts quicker than an anorexic squirrel, however none more so than our beloved resident half-wits – The Homeopaths!
Now, I’m not the most prolific of posters and it takes something fairly special to make me sit down and rant about something, but this latest chapter in the Fawlty Towers book of medical buffoonery has me laughing and seething at the same time. A recent whim of the Supplementary, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (SCAM) practitioners to come to the fore is the idea that, in order to cure burns, one should apply more heat to the affected area – burn a burn in other words. Such outbursts of weapons-grade stupidity are not uncommon among our friends with compelling anecdotes, however this soliloquy of drivel is not just bullshit, it’s down-right dangerous. In an article published in 2008, but just last week attracting the Sauronic eye of skepticism, we are treated to a water-tight study on the benefits of using hot water to treat a scalded hand. Our hapless homeo recants an anecdote in which she is dining with a friend who cured her burn by holding it over a candle. The explanation given is that, “left alone a burn, ‘burns’, the vital force produces heat. By applying cold water this burning effect was reduced and the vital force had to summon even more heat. If instead we assist the vital force by applying heat the job would be done more quickly.
This is really nothing more than elementary homoeopathy[sic].” Quite.
She then excretes another anecdote about burning her hand in a deep fat fryer and holding it under hot water instead of cold, which “amazed” onlookers at its miraculous healing properties. To cap it all, she tells a deeply disturbing story in which her daughter fails to cure the pain of scalding herself by using the deeply scientific rigour of…
…scalding herself. Incredible!
Well, luckily there was a professional on the scene. She deftly administers an insignificant trace of Canth which, if it had any noticeable effect would be devastating. According to abchomeopathy.com, “This powerful drug produces a furious disturbance in the animal economy, attacking the urinary and sexual organs especially, perverting their function, and setting up violent inflammations”. Luckily homeopathy is just water.
So the basic principle of homeopathy, for those who don’t know, is that “like cures like” – sounds reasonable for anyone who’s ever battled through to a Sunday lunch time and thought, “Bollocks to this, I’m having a pint”. Right? Well, not really. As much as a couple of soothers the day after a session relieve symptoms temporarily, the process by which this result is achieved is no cure. When alcohol is metabolised in the body, it produces acetaldehyde, a poison similar in composition to formaldehyde, and sharing many components of vinegar. The body must then metabolise this poison, eventually breaking it down into carbon dioxide and water. Theories abound as to the exact mechanism behind the relief of symptoms, however one widely held theory that seems the most compelling is that the body is more efficient at breaking down the less poisonous components of alcohol and therefore enacts this process first. This means that adding more alcohol to the system slows the production of the more poisonous components and therefore relieves the worst symptoms. Of course, the pain is still in the post but can be spread out over the course of the day, and even in to the following evening’s sleep, giving the option of an emergency parachute for those with severe symptoms. However, if alcohol is consumed to the point where it is not dealt with before the following morning we run the risk of the dreaded rollover hangover!
Even if this central tenet of homeopathy were plausible, the concentration to which the “active” ingredient is diluted is so infinitesimal that it would be the equivalent of trying to cure a hangover by pouring a drop of lager into a swimming pool and drinking a shot from the deep end. The obvious parallel is that you may notice a slight effect from drinking children’s pee and chlorine, however to imagine that the drop of lager will cure your hangover is frankly ludicrous. Even if this were not clear bunkum, applying the same philosophy to burns has, to put it politely, no basis in scientific fact.
So, back to our homeopath. After administering another (surely deadly) dose of homeopathic miracle, her daughter begins to calm down, however her gast is well and truly flabbered at the failure of the Canth to relieve the inflammation and the failure of the clinically flawless treatment of “double-scalding” to reduce the blistering.
She dribbles, “I was also confused as to why the hot water had not relieved the pain as it had with my own, perhaps more serious, burn.
I remembered seeing Hahnemann’s article ‘On the Treatment of Burns’ in the book ‘The Lesser Writings’ (1816). I re-read the article and realised the mistake we had made. I also understood why my burn had had a different result.
The problem was, it seemed, the time that the hand had been exposed to the heat. My hand had been immersed for a considerable amount of time whilst I engaged in discussions with the concerned customers, whilst my daughter had merely put it in and taken it out.
Hahnemann’s advice is that the heating should continue until there is no more pain. He recommends the use of alcohol and/or oil of turpentine, neither of which I had at my disposal, but I deduced that it was the ‘heat’ that was the important ingredient.
I explained this to my daughter and we spent the next three hours with her hand in hot water. At this point I should explain that I do not mean scalding hot! The temperature is what I would describe as ‘hand hot’, the temperature that a normal hand understands as ‘hot’ but not unbearable.”
Well there you have it – alcohol, turpentine and the temperature at which the hand “understands” as hot. Brilliant. All this backed up by quoting a “medical” paper written in 1816 around the time of blood-letting and written by the founder of this whole cult. Well if that doesn’t convince you, maybe a picture of the resulting injury caused by this “first aid” will.
As anyone on nodding terms with scientific fact can tell you,
“The reason we cool wounds after exposure to heat is to end the process of injury. Throughout the article the author seems to think the use of cooling is based on just making people feel better. However, cooling a wound acutely after injury also serves to halt the process of continued injury from the tissue remaining overheated. Your body can not cool the tissue as fast as you can with a stream of cold water. Further heating the tissue will slow the process of cooling even more. In the face of a burned hand from say, scalding water, our body must rely on convective cooling of the tissue using your blood which is a balmy 98.6 degrees. Running your hand under the tap will much more rapidly lower the temperature of the injured skin, ending the continuous damage to the overheated tissue. – Mark Hoofnagle MD PhD”
Needless to say, our budding Jesus of Nazereth continues to tell us how the burn miraculously healed in the end and how homeopaths have a duty to tinker around with fantastic, anti-scientific treatments in order to provide miracle cures that 200 years of empirical medical study has never thought of. To round it all off, she bemoans the oppressive litigious culture where a visionary such as herself is suppressed into denying people the obvious benefits of her own personal brain fart.
Well, I don’t know about you, but if I happen to set fire to myself this Burns night instead of my Drambuie, I’ll be opting for a cold shower rather than a plunge into a furnace – and if I have a stinking hangover the following morning I may treat the symptoms with just enough uisge-beatha (fire water) to see me through till bed time. I know Rabbie Burns would have approved. Slàinte!