Those of you who are regulars here or follow me on Twitter know my feelings on pseudoscience (otherwise known as "bullshit"). Depending on the day, my opinion wavers somewhere between "Pseudoscience is potentially dangerous nonsense" and "What the fuck are you idiots thinking". Fortunately I've had very few interactions with pseudoscientific nonsense in my professional career, though several years ago I did have one woman ask me about Dr. Oz and an "olive oil flush" for gallstones. Since I've been ranting and raving about various bullshit modalities like chiropractic, homeopathy, and acupuncture, I've often wondered how long it would be until my next encounter.
Wonder no more.
I was asked to see Barbara (not her real name™) late one evening for what sounded like typical acute cholecystitis - several days of right upper quadrant abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Before going in to examine her I looked at her abdominal ultrasound, which showed multiple large stones in her gall bladder along with thickening of her gall bladder wall and inflammation surrounding the gall bladder itself. Checking her bloodwork, her liver function tests were all normal (so no sign of a biliary tract obstruction - good), and her white blood cell count was mildly elevated as would be expected. It seemed like a slam dunk, and it was.
When I entered Barbara's room, she had a friend with her, which is certainly not unusual. I examined her carefully, and the only abnormality was fairly severe tenderness in her right upper abdomen, typical of someone with a gall bladder infection. I explained the treatment protocol, which would be giving her IV antibiotics overnight followed by a laparoscopic surgery the following morning to remove her infected gall bladder. I went through my prepared speech which I've given hundreds of times, including the risks, benefits, and alternatives. And as usual I ended with my normal conclusion: "Do you have any questions?"
It was one of the few times I've regretted it.
Barbara whipped out a little notepad with myriad hand-written notes, and I was immediately bombarded with approximately 1,058 questions, everything from the mundane ("How long will I be out of work?") to the somewhat-strange-but-still-almost-normal ("What anaesthetic agent will I be given?") to the completely bizarre ("What are your instruments made of?").
Then she hit me with one that was so far out in left field it may as well have come from a different country:
"Can I keep my gall bladder?"
I had to explain to her that I was obligated to give the gall bladder to the pathologist, who would cut it into thin slices and make sure she didn't have something wacky like gall bladder cancer, so, um, no, you can't keep your disgusting infected gall bladder. I offered her the option to keep one of her stones instead, which she readily accepted.
And then her friend started asking questions. Approximately 792 more.
After what seemed like two hours (but was probably closer to 8 minutes), I finally made my way out of her room, where her nurse caught my eye. She rolled her eyes and smirked in a plainly obvious "Oh, she got you too?" look. I merely smiled back weakly, feeling lucky to have escaped.
The following morning I went to see Barbara, and she still looked uncomfortable. Regardless, she told me she was ready for surgery, which was scheduled for later that afternoon. I went back to my office to see patients for a few hours, returning to the hospital about 30 minutes before her operation was due to begin. I figured she would be in the pre-op area, which she was. What I didn't figure was who would be with her.
The only way I could properly describe Barbara's visitor would be to say that she looked like she stepped directly out of 1967 into a time machine, landing in my hospital in 2017. She could have easily passed as someone who went to a costume party dressed as a hippie and then forgot to remove the costume, so she simply continued living as a hippie. She had one hand on Barbara's right shoulder and another on her back, and it looked like she was giving her some kind of weird massage.
"Oh, hi Dr. Bastard," Barbara smiled. "This is Rena (not her real name™), my reiki master."
Your . . . your what?
I had no idea how to reply, and the anaesthesiologist could sense the palpable awkwardness growing by the second. He gave me a knowing look, rolled his eyes, and clearly trying to break the tension said, "Yeah, I missed my last two reiki appointments."
Heh, good one.
"I KNOW, ISN'T IT AMAZING?" Rena replied with a broad smile, obviously missing the obvious sarcasm, which was obviously obvious. Barbara smiled too, missing the fact that now both the anaesthesiologist and I were staring at each other, our mouths agape.
It's difficult to render me speechless.
In case you aren't aware of what reiki is, it's bullshit. It's pure, unadulterated bullshit. Here, I'll give you the rundown: take prayer, add running your hands over someone to transfer energy to them, and you have bullshit. I mean reiki. No, I was right the first time. Bullshit.
I had never seen reiki actually practiced in real life, so I watched agog as Rena ran her hands over Barbara's right shoulder, muttering encouraging words (I guess) and supposedly transferring some universal life force into her. This was happening as her very modern IV antibiotic was running through a very modern plastic tube into her very physical vein.
I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I quickly signed my paperwork, muttered something about changing into scrubs, and walked out. The anaesthesiologist looked jealous.
Barbara's surgery was moderately difficult though uncomplicated. Her gall bladder was quite inflamed, but it was no different than most any other case of acute cholecystitis I've handled through the years. She went home the following day feeling somewhat better, but still in some pain. My typical gall bladder patients go home the same day as surgery and are back to their usual activities within a day or two, relying on ibuprofen (if anything) for pain. Barbara, on the other hand, emailed me several times a day over the next few days to describe the progression of her pain, nausea, appetite, temperature, and anything else she managed to quantify. She finally started feeling better just over a week later, to her (and my inbox's) great relief. She came for her follow-up visit two weeks after surgery, Rena tagging along. Of course.
With that goddamned notepad. Of course.
After conducting my exam (everything looked absolutely fine), I dutifully answered all of her remaining questions, including "When can I start juicing again?". Barbara and Rena both profusely thanked me for my patience and warm bedside manner, and they left looking quite satisfied. If they only knew what I had really been thinking.
Now I realise that this is only an N of 1 and anecdotes are not data, but it sure seems to me that Rena's energy transfer didn't fucking work. Of course it's possible Barbara's surgery would have been even more difficult, and her recovery much more protracted, if she hadn't had the reiki treatment done. Right?