Patient heal thyselfBMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7169.1377 (Published 14 November 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1377
Recently I undertook a sponsored pilgrimage from Horsham to Canterbury in aid of two local charities. We were aiming to walk over 100 miles, mostly along the North Downs Way, averaging 15 miles a day for eight days.
After two days I wasn't too much the worse for wear, with only minor blisters. We were taking turns to lead the walk, and my turn was to be on the last day, leading a few extra day trippers into Canterbury itself. I was looking forward to that, and to getting my own back on the mostly younger men who were leading on the other days and obviously did not think that I was going to make it.
Then on day four we had rotten weather, and by the afternoon we were all soaked to the skin. What was worse, my left knee started playing up: was it a sprain or just muscle fatigue? Anyway it hurt like hell, particularly going downhill. I happened to have a cr£pe bandage with me and put it on, but it did not make much difference.
At home that night I thought that I would have to have a day off if I was going to be fit enough for the last day's march into Canterbury. I could not let them all down. So I rested and the next day my knee felt a great deal better. But after an hour's walking the pain came back. How was I going to continue even today, never mind lead the walk on Saturday? I began to feel gloomy, and the knee got steadily worse.
Then at lunch time I remembered that I had some arnica cream in my rucksack. The indications were “for bruises” resulting from “injuries, falls, blows, and contusions.” I had not fallen: the injury was internal. However, I thought that it could not do any harm, so I rubbed it well into the joint and put the bandage back on. Someone else on the walk had some arnica tablets and insisted that I take some.
After an hour the pain had completely gone. That night, more arnica, internal and external, repeated the next morning. By Saturday I was able to lead the whole happy band of pilgrims triumphantly into Canterbury. The Wife of Horsham had made it, without having to consult the Doctour of Phisik.
A fortnight later I reported my miracle cure to two colleagues at the >BMJ editorial board meeting. One (a senior BMJ editor) had never heard of arnica. The other (an American) knew it well. Before going home I went to pay tribute to the rowan tree in memory of Ruth Holland in the BMA's herbal and medicinal garden. Wandering round that beautiful and unexpected oasis in the middle of London I noted that sage was useful for the disorders of the climacteric, admired the foxgloves and the periwinkle (we all know what they are for), and then on my way out, another label caught my eye: “Arnica—used in the treatment of bruises and sprains.”
Does the BMA realise what seeds of subversion have been sown in the garden?If we all used these common herbs to cure common ailments what would happen to doctors and drug companies? And how much money would be saved by the NHS?