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Would a Decision Scientist Succumb to Alternative Medicine?

Yasmine Konheim-Kalkstein, Ph.D. did it, and lived to tell the tale.

@Belarta84 Arten Bali / Unsplash
Source: @Belarta84 Arten Bali / Unsplash

Being a patient is transforming, not always in a good way. Your brain may shut. Your judgment may go AWOL. And all you have going for you are your pain, fear, and desire for someone to make it stop.

I am not saying this to insult patients. In fact, I realize this may not be a popular concept, in an era when we’re expected to be informed and empowered, 24/7.

I am saying this because, even in this era, when you become a patient, you might feel a little less capable, and I want you to know it’s to be expected. For example, smart, capable, educated people can experience a massive neck pain, making it almost impossible for them to turn their head.

Imagine this happening to you. Now, imagine this happening to you in a foreign country, where a healer says ‘deekur’ and you have no idea they mean ‘acupuncture’. A humbling experience does not begin to describe it. Even if you have a PhD. in psychology, and study medical decision making.

Let’s hear all about the humbling experience of my wonderful colleague, Yasmine Konhein-Kalkstein, Ph.D., an educational and cognitive psychologist. Yasmine is spending a year in Israel working with me, through a Fulbright Scholarship she won. And now she knows the Hebrew word for acupuncture. She also knows a thing or two on succumbing to authority and letting someone make it better. Basically, on wanting to trust your healthcare provider, strange as their treatment may be.

Yasmine Konheim-Kalkstein’s words on:

My skeptical self acquiesces to the alternative holistic side

There I was, laying down, with needles going into my back, listening to this woman babble away about how she is going to help me, and I am wondering: How did I get into this?

Earlier that day, I had emailed my family doctor in Israel explaining my symptoms, and he confirmed what I had guessed already based on my online research--I had a pinched nerve. He emails me a list of names. I call the one who is closest, not actually understanding what her specialty is.

Two hours later, I am at a practitioner who with a thick Russian accent tells me to take my clothes off and lay on this bed. She proceeds to tell me how one shoulder is higher than the other, and that she will help me. She massages me and tells me that my back is a catastrophic mess. A few minutes later needles are being inserted into me. Oh, so that’s what that Hebrew word “deekur” meant—acupuncture.

Now, let me back-up and explain the kind of person I am. I drive doctors crazy. I consider a doctor’s visit to be like my chance at medical school. Explain to me everything! Let me see the needle. In fact, my dentists hand me the mirror to watch while they inject Novocain knowing that I stay calmer that way.

But, now, here I am on my belly, and a strange smell fills the room. Apparently, she’s putting something into the needles. It feels warm. Nice, I guess. When I ask a question she assures me that she knows what she’s doing. That she’ll make everything okay. Later she explains that she works from a different place than most doctors—her right brain. And if I ask questions, it requires her to recruit her left brain, and she wants to focus on her intuition, not logic.

I bite my tongue from beginning an argument about this, and just relax my muscles….what can I do? This is an experience. After having read and taught about the placebo effect, I am completely skeptical.

She puts iodine on my chest to help with the asthma.

Lo and behold, my asthma is better for hours after this visit. Probably a coincidence.

As for my neck, well, it’s a little better, but that was probably due to the massaging, not the acupuncture.

She asks me to come back to do wind cups, as I can translate from the Hebrew. This will definitely help and then she can begin two days of massaging and I should be done. Okay.

When I go home, I discover cupping therapy, according to WebMD, is an alternative medicine where cups will create suction. Not a lot of evidence about this. It looks bogus to me.

This Russian Israeli intimidates me with her confidence, so I show up the next day, and subject myself to this. At least it’s not leeches. At first, I hate it. It hurts, but she tells me to go to sleep. Ha! I can’t sleep in my own bed easily. Eventually I give in to the pressure on my back, and it stops feeling so uncomfortable and after about ten minutes, I start to feel very relaxed.

She then rubs my back (that part I like), cracks some things (that always scares the crap out of me). Tells me again how catastrophic my lower back is but how we are fixing it all. And not to worry. She’s in control.

I walk out knowing I’m coming back again in two days. Why? Curiosity. Hope. Her confidence. Her attention. Maybe she can fix everything like she says….

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