Sunday, 13 April 2014

Charlatan - Shark as a Quack

A poster for Hamlin's Wizard Oil, with a list of the many things it's supposed to cure
Poster of a real product from 1890 and, like they all do, it cures virtually everything

CHARLATAN

Noun & adjective. Early 17th century.
[French from Italian ciarlatano, from ciarlare to babble, patter, of imitative origin.]

A(1) noun. A mountebank; especially an itinerant vendor of medicines. obsolete except as passing into sense 2. E17

A(2) noun. A false pretender to knowledge or skill, originally and especially in medicine;
a quack; a pretentious impostor. L17

B adj. Or, pertaining to, or characteristic of a charlatan. L17

Also:
charlatanic adj. M19
charlatanical adj. M17
charlatanism noun the practice or method of a charlatan; the condition of being a charlatan. E19
charlatanry noun quackery, imposture. M17

One of the darkest nights of my life was after a neurologist had told me I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that primarily affects the brain and spinal cord, causing an array of bizarre and often debilitating symptoms. The doctor told me that, although it's presently incurable, there are a number of different treatments that can mitigate the symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Of everything he said, however, the word that struck me the most was incurable -  a terrifying, pitiful, hopeless and crushing word.

So that night, I sat awake in my hospital bed and scoured the internet for information on multiple sclerosis; what it is, what it does, and how I could fight it. And immediately I found page after page directly contradicting my doctor, telling me that MS isn't incurable, and all I needed was to follow a particular course of treatment, take a particular medication, adhere to a specific diet, etc, etc. And, of course, all these required that I buy a book, subscription, surgery, plan, tonic, medicine or supplement.

Cancer, or specifically the cancer patient, is another popular target for quacks and charlatans
The thing is, I had always been rather skeptical and somewhat scoffing toward all this "alternative medicine," but ultimately had thought that, well, if it does no harm, it does no harm. But never before that night had I understood the vulnerability and overwhelming fear that accompanies a serious diagnosis, and how it can push your mind down a desperate track it would never otherwise travel. "I know this is probably all rubbish," I thought, "but what if there's a chance, even a minuscule chance, that this person has found a miracle cure?"

And so for a night I continued to torture myself with emotive testimonials and anecdotes of people that had defied their doctors' expectations, people who had been written off by mainstream medicine to a life of inevitable pain, decline and disability, and how they had done this and taken that and they were now living symptom free or, quite miraculously, had been cured of a disease that "doctors" said was incurable.

I didn't ever buy any of those treatments, books or pills. I researched some further, trying to be open-minded and to find out if there was any basis to these fantastic claims, but invariably there wasn't. There is treatment for MS, far better treatment than there has ever been. But it's the bog-standard, allopathic method - it's not miraculous, at times it's horrible and, until they find a cure, MS remains just as that doctor told me in the very beginning - incurable.


Cures so much, as always, and without even a whiff of side-effects
(image courtesy of T&S Middleton)
The feeling that has remained in me, however, is a disgust toward the charlatans that were, that night, trying to prey on me and my hopelessness, a body of people that target the most vulnerable, the most frightened and the most desperate demographic in society, a core of fraudsters that are intent on peddling false hope and their useless wares on those that find themselves in the direst need.

The word charlatan comes from Italian, from to babble, to patter. This is a fitting root, considering the babbling nonsense that charlatans try and sell us, with talk of energy lines, biorhythms, chakras, government conspiracies, ancient wisdom, holistic healing, natural remedies, etc, etc, ad infinitum. We might think of quacks and snake oil merchants and charlatans as relics from times past, but they're still very much with us today, preying upon, exploiting, endangering and making money from those that need help the most, and that, undeniably, is something disgusting.

De Piskijka
Painting by Jan Steen (1625-16-79)
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post of awareness. People should be aware of symptoms for multiple sclerosis or any other disease alike thus anyone like him couldn't take the advantage of our ignorance.

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