Decided to do a little informal series of autobiographical sketches about how I woke up to certain truths. It happens differently for everyone, of course, and then some people never wake up, no matter how loud the wake-up call. And undoubtedly there are still truths to which I haven’t yet awakened. So this is part one of the series—how I got a wake-up call about the medical establishment (despite the headline, this has nothing to do with Kevin Trudeau!). Seems like a good time to tell this part of the story, what with the Ebola scare and the medical establishment’s response to it. Or the lack of response to it. And fortunately, my wake-up call did not involve a life-threatening illness or a misdiagnosis of such an illness or anything like that. Compared to that scenario, my story may seem somewhat underwhelming. But it’s my story—the only one I’ve got—so for better or worse, here goes.
How I learned to distrust the doctor
All my life, I’ve had skin issues. I had moderate to severe acne as a teenager—bad enough that I was prescribed Accutane. This was the mid-80s, so Accutane was new, having been approved by the FDA in 1982. I don’t really recall now if it worked miracles or not, or if I just kind of grew out of the acne, but it’s not important for this article.
I also had urticaria—more commonly known as hives. I probably would still get hives if I didn’t regularly take antihistamine, which I do because I also have allergies. Funny story–when I first developed hives, I didn’t know what was happening. My hands were red and itched like crazy. Went to an urgent-care place, and the person that saw me was new in the profession. He had me tested for gonorrhea, even though he could have easily ruled that out based on the questions he asked me. Of course that test was negative and when the experienced doctor came in to see me, he was able to tell right away that it was hives.
I’m also prone to rashes and peeling, particularly on my fingers. And to get to the main point of this story, I used to get unsightly flaking skin on my nose fairly often, usually when the weather turned cold. I always attributed the peeling and flaking to the dryness of the air during the cold months. But eventually, it started happening even during the spring and summer. I would usually try to treat this with various moisturizers, which only helped temporarily—like, only for a few hours at best. So I eventually went to a dermatologist about the condition.
The diagnosis and the prognosis
The dermatologist very quickly and correctly diagnosed me with seborrheic dermatitis. In other words, I more less was having dandruff, but on my face. He told me that there was no known cause and no known cure—remember that, because that is ultimately how I woke up. He prescribed a medicated steroid cream, the active ingredient of which was desonide.
The dermatologist told me to follow the directions on the package when using the cream—mainly to avoid using too much–and that he would need to see me again after using it for a while to evaluate if any of the possible side effects were present. He emphasized—or I remember him emphasizing—the possibility of skin atrophy in the area where the cream would be used. Other than that, the prognosis was good. The cream was known to have a good success rate in treating dermatitis. I was pleased, and went and got the prescription filled.
Sure enough, the desonide cream worked. No more flaking! I was relieved that there was such a simple solution, and I used the cream faithfully, adhering to the directions as closely as I could. However, I noticed that there was a slight, yet palpable sensation—or lack thereof, somehow—after applying the cream. There was almost a numbness in the affected area. I began to worry that maybe the cream was in fact starting to atrophy my skin, or that it eventually would, since I would have to use the cream for the rest of my life. After all, I was told there was no known cure for the condition.
I returned to the dermatologist for the first visit after using the cream for the prescribed amount of time, and he gave it the thumbs up. He re-upped my prescription and all was well. No visible side effects, no adverse reactions, etc. Again, it was reiterated that there was no known cause and no known cure. I expressed my concern over the potential for atrophy, but I was told that there was no reason to worry and that if I had any problems, to let him know and we could make arrangements to try something different.
So I used the desonide cream as directed, every day. The flaking never returned, but I still had the numb-ish sensation after applying the cream that made me a little apprehensive, but not so much so that I stopped using it. I returned to the dermatologist at least one more time to get another re-up of the prescription and to make sure the cream wasn’t damaging me. Again, got the thumbs up/all’s well.
Eventually, my prescription needed to be refilled. I realized that by this time, I had seen the dermatologist on three different occasions for the same problem. And of course, I had paid approximately $75 for every visit, then paid whatever the prescription cost (don’t remember the price offhand—I don’t remember it being overly pricey, but still). I got to thinking, why should I have to go to this guy every three months or whatever it was, pay him his money, and get the prescription? After all, he himself told me there was no known cause and no known cure. Why can’t he just refill my prescription whenever I need it done? Haven’t we already established what needs to be done and what meds I need, and that if there’s a problem, then I can see him again?
So I called his office and asked if they would get the dermatologist to do just that—refill my prescription without a visit to his office. Oh no, they said, we can’t do that. You have to come in to see the doctor. He has to evaluate the way the medicine is affecting you, regardless of the fact that there’s no known cure or cause. For that, he has to see you. And what they left unsaid, the most important part—you have to pay him every time you see him for him to treat what he considers to be an incurable condition. No freebies, but nice try!
So of course, I began to calculate what this was going to cost me every year. Not an astronomical amount or anything, but enough to be annoying, especially since according to the doctor–there is no known cause and no known cure. So I decided to turn to the Internet for a solution. That’s my first step now—Google it—but at the time, I took the doctor’s word for it. And these were pre-Facebook and pre-YouTube days (or in the days of their infancy)—ancient history. You know, that hazy period between 9/11 and the birth of “social media.”
Turns out the doctor didn’t tell me a thing or two
My search turned up a blog post (they had those back in ancient times–of 7-10 years ago) from a woman who described how she overcame facial sebhorreic dermatitis. I can’t find that specific blog entry now, but I am very thankful I found it then! It was this woman—not the doctor—who fleshed out the fact that since the dermatitis was basically just dandruff, (but on your face), that dandruff treatments that work for your scalp will also work for your face and recommended the use of coal tar shampoo—a popular name brand of which is Neutrogena T/Gel. And sure enough, she was exactly right.
As I explain all this now, it seems obvious that I should’ve never trusted the doctor in the first place and that when he made the passing comment of “facial dandruff” I should’ve immediately tried Head and Shoulders on my nose, especially since I was already using it on my scalp! But that was not how I thought back then. I hadn’t yet received my wake-up call, so I just sort of took the doctor’s word for it and dutifully handed over my money, because you know, dude is a doctor and he knows what is best—and I don’t. Of course, on that first visit, I also didn’t realize (and certainly wasn’t told) that I would be expected to return every few months to pay my share of the doctor’s mortgage note on his estate in the gated community.
At any rate, I used the T/Gel and aloe vera gel (also suggested by the blog post) and never had to get my prescription refilled. And never had to contribute to the doctor’s bank account again. And not only did the flaking never come back, but also I didn’t have to worry about skin atrophy.
Admittedly, the T/Gel was not my favorite treatment, mainly because of its rather strong and distinctive odor. I got lucky again, though, and by chance I ran across some Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Skin Ointment. The packaging indicated that it soothed skin irritation and I thought it would be worth a try for my dermatitis. So I got a jar and started using it. It also worked like a charm! I was able to stop using the T/Gel and aloe, and now use the Desert Essence ointment exclusively. I no longer have flaking and only minor itching sensations if I don’t apply it for a day or two. And I also don’t have to worry about any side effects (this is not a paid endorsement, by the way, as I receive no financial or other benefit from endorsing this product–I do get a lot of benefit from using the product, though).
So that’s why I don’t trust the doctors
So even though my dermatitis isn’t cured to the point that I can stop using any treatment at all, it is effectively “cured” in the sense that if I put the tea tree oil on at least every couple of days, I have no flaking or itching. So the doctor was half right, in my book. There’s no cure in the sense that the condition is completely gone, but there is a cure in the sense that there are multiple, cheap, and prescription-free treatments that completely alleviate symptoms.
The lesson? For the medical industry, there is no money in cures, especially cures that don’t require prescriptions. So more likely than not, you won’t ever hear about such actual cures from a licensed physician–I have a feeling that’s why my dermatologist didn’t tell me about T/Gel or tea tree oil. If you’re cured, who will pay their bills, after all? We’ve all heard such sentiments before and perhaps even believe it to varying degrees even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves. That was certainly my attitude before this situation. Now I’ve gotten my wake-up call, and I know better than to blindly trust doctors and their diagnoses and prescription treatments. That’s why I am always open to alternative explanations and cures, such as cannabis oil shrinking tumors.
At the beginning of this piece, I downplayed the importance of this story because it didn’t involve a threat to my life. It just involved a threat to my appearance and self-esteem. But that’s exactly why it probably shouldn’t be downplayed, now that I think about it. That indeed, even with regard to minor ailments, there’s still a profit-driven impulse and/or directive to withhold cures or prescription-free, non-patented (and/or non-patentable) treatments that are all but a cure. The desire for profit maximization in even the “small” conditions like seborrheic dermatitis reveals just how big a problem the business model of the medical-pharmaceutical complex actually is.