In the BMJ (subscription required) Dalrymple recounts Chekhov’s short story about homeopathy, Malingerers, and relates it to his mother’s own experience with the practice.
My late mother suffered a severe rash a few years before she died. She had to wait an age to consult a dermatologist, even privately, and then she saw several in swift succession. All their prescriptions made her rash much worse; the prescriptions were so bad that even stopping them did her no good.
Then she went to a homoeopath, took homoeopathic medicine for a week and recovered almost immediately. The rash melted away as the snow in sunshine. I was very pleased for her, of course, but kept a little corner of my heart free for the irritation that I felt. She, however, was delighted that there were more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in most doctors’ philosophy.
[In Chekhov’s story, the homeopathy practitioner] notices that a little packet of red paper falls from his pocket as he speaks. After he has gone, she examines it, and finds that it contains the very pilules that she has prescribed for him. He has taken none of them, and a doubt begins to enter her mind. This doubt is confirmed when all the patients who follow him praise her curative skill extravagantly—and then ask for economic assistance [as he had].
Chekhov draws a short moral: “The deceitfulness of Man!” Yet in the case of my mother . . . well, reality is a complex thing.

2 thoughts on “Malingerers

  1. Terry Wall

    Ah ha. Perhaps on one hand the toxicity of pharmaceutical remedies taken at a time when the immune system is already showing evidence of being under stress, and on the other hand the power of the mind to fool itself.


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