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Confessions of a Lab Assistant

I did my internship for nursing in ER/OR at a hospital in St. Louis during the summer of 1985. I was young, only 18, naÔve, and eager to "heal the world." I had gone to summer school to acquire my credits for high school and skipped my senior year to attend nursing school where I tested out of the first and third year. I was highly motivated, got ahead through hard work, and I did my job and I did it well.

I discovered that there was a research laboratory in the basement of this hospital (funded by the federal government), and because I had longed to work in research, after just a few months of interning, I approached my immediate supervisor, Dr. Paul, whom I held great esteem and who respected me, and asked if I could finish up my term there in research. He said my records were impressive: top 10% graduate of my high school class and top 5% in my senior year of nursing school. I was, in fact, the projected salutatorian. Dr. Paul also told me that my time at the hospital had shown me to be proficient in most every area and that I related very well with the patients and their families. He also noted that I like to "chat" a lot. I'm probably the person responsible for the phrase, "talk your ear off."

He said that to work in research, I would have to learn to keep certain things quiet, that not everything that went on in research was an "open book subject." He said that this was to protect certain people and that many sensitive issues were debated and public awareness could lead to massive unrest and misunderstanding. I agreed to keep quiet and he agreed to start me downstairs on weekends.

The office I worked in received tons (and tons!) of research from around the world. Most of it came in prior to being written up in any of the medical journals. My job was to take all this literature and condense it into shorter synopses of 3 to 4 pages that would be distributed to doctors and hospitals around the country. I was good with words and I quickly learned to skim over the verbose jargon used by nearly all researchers and focus in on the most vital information. I noticed right away that certain things had been penciled in red and when I asked why, I was told that this information will be kept out of my final summaries. I went back to my job and read page after page of some of the worst writing English speaking people have ever constructed, but it soon became appallingly apparent that the places marked in red contained vital facts and significant findings; findings that were being tossed aside corn shucking. So again I approached my superiors and asked why was this information not to be passed on. This time they took a sterner stance and told me that because of insufficient data, incomplete studies, and poor methodologies the American Medical Association has not approved anything marked with a red pencil and will not be disseminated. Being young, I accepted their explanation and went on about my work.

While I was back on duty, a young girl was brought into the Emergency Room with a severe head trauma. She was comatose, and after being stabilized, was transferred to ICU. I checked in on her daily. She was the same age as my own daughter. Every day, no change; she remained comatose. I watched the parents helplessly sitting by her bed, day and night, night and day, getting thinner from lack of food and weary from lack of sleep. I remembered thinking how easily this could have been my child and how I could have been the mother sitting there wondering, worrying and praying over the fate of my little girl.

One day after leaving the parents there with their daughter, I recalled a report we had received from India about comas; something about vitamin C. I couldnít remember exactly what it was though, because most of it had been marked in red pencil and it never made it into my final summary. I hurried down to the lab and, thanks to my poor housekeeping skills, the notes were still in my drawers. The page nearly popped out at me: Vitamin C Link to Comas? read the headline. I read and reread the information and then pulled up the files of the final report we had sent out. What we had sent was a bald-faced lie. We actually summarized the research in reverse and accused vitamin C of causing comas in head injury patients. What the article had actually stated was that 50,000 IU indictable vitamin C was given to a boy in India who had been comatose for over a month following a head injury. The boy awoke on the third day of injections.

How had I missed this? How had I become a part of spreading misinformation?

I ran upstairs (the elevator was way too slow) to Dr. Paul. "How did I miss this?" I showed him the headlines. "And how did this ever get out?" I showed him the paper we released. He sank in his chair and eyed me wearily. "You're very good at your job. So good you learned to read past the red marks and see what they wanted you to see. That's what they were counting on".

"Who are they?" I asked. He never answered that question, so I asked again. Instead he told me how important it was to protect AMA and not let certain information leak from the lab. I asked again, "Who are they?" He rambled on and on about insufficient testing data, and anecdotal evidence, all with the headlines there in front of us in black and white.

"But Dr. Paul, if we inject that little girl upstairs with 50,000 I.U. of vitamin C there's a chance that she will wake up! If you were that little girl's father wouldn't you want to at least try it? It can't hurt her. Vitamin C is water-soluble. She can't overdose on it. We have to try it don't we? Let the parents know there's a chance, however small?"

He took my arm in his hand. This was bad. "The AMA frowns on using people for experimental purposes. There is just not enough data."

"Bullshit!" I spit at him and jerked away. That was AMA talking, not the Dr. Paul I knew; not the Dr. Paul who secretly despised AMA and their practices. This was the widowed father Dr. Paul, struggling to survive and desperate to keep his job.

"You and I watch them make a rat out of every cancer patient who walks through these doors. You're the one always telling me how bad chemotherapy is even though I argue that it's a chance, a chance they have to at least try. You tell me its experimental at best. What's different now?"

He sighed and whispered one word that changed my view of medicine for the rest of my life. "Money."

Dumbfounded I stared at him. Finally I muttered, "Money?" somehow not making the connection.

"There is no money in vitamins," he answered flatly.

It wasn't a pretty site. I lost it and Dr. Paul ordered a sedative. I was released the next morning on two weeks of Rest and Relaxation.

Upon my return I found I had been transferred to upstairs on weekends and was banned from the lab. I continued working there for the next three months and occasionally got a co-worker to sneak me a report from the lab. I wanted the ones that were all scribbled up in red. I continued to study European medical advances and research on a myriad of old time folk remedies. Most of these are available in books and pamphlets at various health stores. I received information on laetrile for cancer therapy, goldenseal and echinacea for emphysema, garlic for infections, etc. I kept it all to myself, and I continued my research through every means available; books, libraries, hospitals, and my former boss a doctor from India.

Three months later my son was brought into the hospital where I worked. He had been badly burned in a house fire while I was on duty. I did not recognize him. Again I was sedated, but this time I refused R&R. I buried myself in work, following AMA procedures but continuing to learn other ways; the ways of my grandfather, who was the son of a Cherokee chief. My son didn't make it and two months later my daughter was in a car accident. Upon arriving at the hospital to identify her body I gave my notice. Two weeks away from graduating from nursing school I walked away. I never turned back. Today I distance myself as much as I can from the political world of medicine. I have since overcome cancer three times. I have been diagnosed and battled (and conquered some of these) MS, asthma, deafness, blindness in one eye, chronic fatigue, scoliosis, PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, Carpal tunnel syndrome, allergies, and much more. I combine treatment methods from what I have learned over the years and what I am continuing to learn. I use medication, sparingly and as necessary. I was told that without proper treatment (and perhaps even with them) I would only get worse in time, not better.

I am now cancer free, having rejected the doctors' recommendations of surgery and chemotherapy. Now they want to do surgery to find out where the cancer went. Fat chance. There are no longer signs of MS. The asthma is stable and no longer requires medication though I must still be careful in temperature extremes. Every day I make progress. I am no longer deaf and my vision improves daily. My migraine headaches are a rare occasion now. The only medications I use now are the occasional antihistamine and very rarely a painkiller.

I will never advise anyone to give up their medications. Some medications have a very definite purpose. They ease a situational trauma until the body can heal itself. Even painkillers are not bad if not abused. They ease the pain and allow the body to relax so it can heal. I do not claim that conventional medicine has no place. It has potential. We have the best diagnostics on the planet. I still see my doctor when I need to.

Somewhere along the line medicine seems to have lost sight of its purpose, to heal the sick. Instead it continues to treat symptoms and make money.

There are no miracle cures. The true miracle is in our body's own ability to heal itself when given the proper help. That is what our physicians should be doing. They should be helping us; helping us realize that there are no terminal illnesses, only terminal patients; helping us realize that death is not defeat, but a part of life. Bless the physician who can hold his patients' hands and pray with them. Now there is a real doctor.

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