Bob Smith's new book, Misdiagnosed: Was My Wife a Casualty of America's Medical Cold War? (Paraview Press, 2001), is a deeply moving story of love and faith in the face of profoundly difficult choices posed by a life-threatening illness. Smith recounts the tale, alternately harrowing and uplifting, of his late wife Jane’s final illness, and the particular challenges posed by the adversarial relations and lack of coordination between the alternative and conventional medical practitioners she consulted.
In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, Smith discusses the crucial importance of proper and early diagnosis, the strengths and weaknesses of conventional and alternative medicine, and the ways he and Jane responded to her cancer diagnosis.
Smith is a former Washington correspondent and columnist whose work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, Oregonian, Virginian-Pilot and elsewhere. He is the author of five previous books, including Edgar Cayce: My Life as a Seer (St. Martin's) and The Tiger in the Senate, a biography of Wayne Morse. Since 1985, he has served as editor of Venture Inward magazine. He lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Misdiagnosed is available both as a trade paperback and as an ebook.
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(Note: Dr. Daniel Redwood, the interviewer, was not among the health practitioners who treated Jane Smith during her illness.)
REDWOOD: What happened in the course of your wife Jane's final illness that led you to conclude that there is a cold war between alternative and conventional medicine, with patients caught in the middle?
BOB SMITH: It was primarily because Jane got trapped in feeling that she had to be loyal to one side or the other, and because she encountered (and I witnessed it) so much hostility on the part of practitioners toward the other side. "Other side" meaning allopathic for alternative practitioners and also an adversarial relationship that existed among certain allopathic physicians toward alternative medicine.
Jane had become very convinced about the efficacy of alternative medicine years ago, and she was always so healthy that for years she never saw a conventional doctor. She didn't have a primary care physician. She saw a chiropractor on a regular monthly schedule and was very healthy for all of the years I knew her, which was roughly ten years. Then she suddenly developed a backache, which led her to her chiropractor and then to other practitioners because the backache persisted. Her search for a solution to her pain lasted four or five months, and she saw many practitioners during that period before she was correctly diagnosed with cancer.
REDWOOD: And that correct diagnosis came from a conventional physician?
SMITH: She saw a series of physicians and surgeons, but it was primarily not because they were allopathic versus alternative, but because they used the latest high-tech means of diagnosing patients.
REDWOOD: MRI and so forth?
SMITH: MRI, bone scans, CT-scans, and just basic x-rays. None of the alternative practitioners used any of those, not even an x-ray. So they were, in effect, guessing what was wrong with her, and treating her according to what they would normally do.
REDWOOD: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of alternative and conventonal medicine?
SMITH: I think the greatest strength of alternative medicine is that most of it doesn't have any dire side effects. It seems to me that allopathic medicine has become so oriented toward the use of chemicals and drugs that may help, but also may do harm to the patient. They go through these long trials and the FDA eventually may approve a drug, but with all sorts of warnings about things that could go wrong. Well, a lot of people aren't willing to take those chances and as a consequence are looking for other answers. I think alternative medicine offers help in many ways.