Today’s post is a guest piece written by someone who prefers to remain anonymous. These words are a powerful reminder of how we shape the way our children view themselves- not only as the children they are but as the adults they will become.
…But you should be clear with him about what’s in it if you want him to drink it, right?
Obligatory not-quite-relevant-but-still-funny image
My friend was in a pharmacy recently and overheard an exchange between a customer and the pharmacy assistant. The customer was attempting to buy a bottle of Infacol drops for wind relief for their child and was instead talked into purchasing a bottle of a homeopathic colic remedy often available in chemists these days.
(Side note: It should be noted that in some places, Infacol- active ingredient Simethicone– is marketed as a colic treatment. This is a result of the belief that colic is caused by wind. While it’s true that sometimes parents might mistake wind pain for colic, the two aren’t necessarily the same thing and studies have since shown that Infacol is not a suitable treatment for colic as it is generally also no longer thought that colic is just caused by wind. Infacol is, however, shown to be an effective remedy for wind- it basically helps small gas bubbles in the stomach form into bigger bubbles that are easier to belch out. But I digress…)
What bothers me about this story is that homeopathy has never been proven to work any better than a placebo.
Homeopathy is a system of complementary or alternative medicine in which ailments are treated by minute doses of natural substances heavily diluted in water and then shaken or tapped. These are substances that, in larger amounts, would produce the symptoms of the ailment. They are diluted to the point that the “active” ingredient is no longer detectable.Then there is the idea that the water’s “memory” of the substance is what will treat the ailment based on a “like treats like” theory. There is a large body of evidence showing homeopathy to be ineffective and studies giving any impression otherwise have thus far been shown to have problems such as flawed methodology or inadequate controls. In short, it’s considered a pseudoscience.
While there can be merit in the placebo effect, it hasn’t really been demonstrated to work in babies . Some might say they felt there was an improvement in symptoms for things like colic, teething or a cold after using homeopathic remedies- the trouble there being that an observation made by a caregiver isn’t conclusive and doesn’t take into account that things like the examples I just gave are self-limiting and of course, observations are subjective.
I don’t know the reason behind this sales person’s recommendation. Perhaps she tried it once, perhaps the profit margin is higher on that product or perhaps she was just impressed by the claims on the bottle. What I do know is that parents, especially new parents, seem to be a vulnerable target group for pseudo-scientific products (don’t even start me on amber necklaces!). We all want the best for our kids and we all want to relieve any discomfort they might be in. So when you see a product that emphasises that it is a natural product, safe to use from birth, free from additives and has natural sounding “active” ingredients, it’s not unreasonable to think it might be the better option. This also comes under a currently very popular logical fallacy called ‘appeal to nature’ reasoning; the idea that if something is natural, it must be good and vice versa. My other issue here is that I have personally known more than one person to buy one of these remedies from a pharmacy on the advice of the sales assistant and been offered these products and not one of these people had it explained to them what a homeopathic remedy was. They were only told it was a “safe, natural remedy” and yes, water is both safe and natural. However, they were paying $10-$15 for a bottle of water that was supposed to remember having once contained some chamomile etc after a good shaking- and no one mentioned that to these customers.
The Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods does not require many homeopathic remedies to be registered with them as the dilution is so extensive that they are considered extremely safe- even when the listed ingredient, such as belladonna, is known to be poisonous. This is because they acknowledge that it is so dilute that it is no longer a risk.
Homeopathic preparations are not inherently harmful in themselves, but reliance on such treatments over conventional medical treatment can be. Some people choose not to immunise their children but instead rely on “homeopathic vaccination” also called homeoprophylaxis. I’ve not seen these for sale in pharmacies (thank goodness) but they seem easy enough to order online and can be purchased from some homeopathy practitioners. The danger here is the complete lack of evidence to support homeopathic treatments as vaccines- it is not even recommended by homeopathic associations.
There have been cases of homeopathic-only treatment leading to the death of the patient, such as the tragic case of Penelope Dingle or the horrifyingly sad story of Baby Gloria. Many other cases are summarised here. To be clear, I don’t think a bottle of colic water will kill anyone. I guess the reason I’m including this paragraph is because I think complementary therapies have their place- but the word complementary is key. I’m no doctor but common sense says to me that if you’re unwell and undergoing medical treatment and a complementary therapy (that won’t cause problems or have negative interactions with your conventional therapy- some herbal treatments might do this, for example) also makes you feel better, then it’s doing it’s job- it’s being complementary.
I do feel its outrageous that people are sold what is essentially water (or sometimes sucrose pills) in the guise of medicine without their knowledge. I think most people who walk into a pharmacy looking for something to treat a symptom expect to see and be advised on a pharmaceutical treatment- with active ingredients. I’m not saying the choice should be removed– I do, however, believe it should be informed. If you know what homeopathy is and know what the science says, but still want to spend your money on it and it makes you feel good- then that’s great. We might well disagree on why it makes you feel good/better- but hey, you don’t need me to agree. These products are labelled as homeopathic but it surely would be more ethical to have information about what homeopathy actually is readily available to consumers to help them make an informed choice?
Linking up with The Multitasking Mummy
I often write about nursing- nursing in public, nurse-ins, nursing education and support… This post is about the other kind of nursing- nursing as a profession- and the unique set of challenges faced by mothers in this profession. This profession is arguably the backbone of our healthcare system; from hospitals to clinics to aged care and more. While we certainly have male nurses it is still a female dominated field and where there are women there are invariably going to be babies and children.
Is it possible to be a mother and a nurse? Yes…but not without often significant disadvantages.
Take my guest blogger, pictured above with her family, who wrote the piece below. April Abbott is a Registered Nurse with extensive experience in her field who has effectively been forced out of the hospital system in order to meet the needs of her family. Recently the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling compiled research showing that some mothers are earning as little as $3 – $4 an hour once childcare fees are taken out. In April’s case, a typical week’s take-home pay is completely obliterated by childcare fees, she must keep working a certain amount of hours to maintain her professional registration- yet she cannot work in her chosen specialty area. Here’s what she has to say.
Let’s face it; the future of healthcare in Australia looks bleak. As a society we’re getting older and sicker, and we keep expecting more of a system that just can’t keep up with the demand. When you add an ageing nursing population and the very real prospect of a healthcare workforce shortage the picture looks pretty grim. So why is it that, in the midst of a national debate about health care funding, a Registered Nurse (RN) with over 7 years experience in Intensive Care and an extra 3 in other areas of nursing can’t get a permanent job in a hospital? The answer – because I’m a mother.
I’ve always known that being a nurse is about sacrifice. And like all mothers, I understand that working takes away from time with my family, and that’s fine. It’s not just about the money, I love my job. I love knowing that I make a difference, that I can spot when a patient is about to deteriorate and take action to stop it. But I can’t be available 24 hours a day anymore and that means I can’t work a rotating 24/7 roster which that means I can’t get a job.
Let me share a conversation I recently had with a Nurse Unit Manager of an ICU unit who was advertising for RN positions. I highlighted my fairly extensive experience and explained I was looking for a job closer to home following a period of maternity leave. Her immediate response was “I don’t allow any of my staff to work regular shifts so you will have to work a fully rotating roster”. I explained that was impossible due to child care requirements and her response was “The rule applies to everyone”. Effectively – Do Not Apply. So here I was, the perfect candidate for the position but for one small detail, I needed to work the same shifts each week. This isn’t a one-off for me, I was bullied in my previous position for being too “needy” with my shifts, and I’m not alone. One colleague tells of how she is forever swapping afternoon shifts because they don’t work for her family, and has seriously considered leaving the profession. Another talks about the lack of childcare for shift workers, saying:
“It’s a struggle [arranging childcare] and it takes a great deal of planning and patience before I even get to my job, which takes even more out of me.”
I need to put it out there; these issues aren’t exclusive to nurses. No matter what the job, every mother faces challenges trying to find a work-life balance but shift workers are particularly at risk of facing this difficulty. There are, however, a few differences for nurses. Firstly, we are notoriously selfless and rarely complain in any significant way about our working conditions. Secondly, we are more likely to suffer from health problems than people of other professionals at the same age, probably because we are so willing to sacrifice our own needs for the job, not to mention our higher than average exposure to illness. Thirdly, and most importantly, we simply cannot afford to lose our experienced nurses!
I made the decision to switch to practice nursing and I love working at a local medical practice. It’s a shame that my years of intensive care experience aren’t being utilised but I can’t live with the uncertainty of not knowing who is going to look after my kids so I can work week to week. It would seem that I’m a minority, others in my situation are leaving the profession or putting up with the inflexibility, but at what cost?
We need to tackle this issue now. Nursing was always known as a family friendly profession that supports mothers. Now it has become inflexible and even hostile, and it must stop. If we continue to push away our experienced nurses we will be left with a serious skill shortage in 10-20 years. We will be left without the most valuable nurses, the Clinical Nurse Specialist, the Team Leader, the Senior Nurse on a night shift who you know you can count on in an emergency. And we will be left with a junior workforce who haven’t been given the opportunity to learn from the more experienced and specialised nurses. Even if we don’t see a continuation of the trend for nurses to leave the profession, then stresses of the job and trying to balance it with family life are just too high. With recent reports showing 63% of Australians and 24% children being overweight, obese or morbidly obese, this is an issue that affects us all. The current “Return to Work” rules aren’t adequate and often aren’t followed.
We need to value our nurses. We need better legislation and, more importantly, better support from hospital management. We need to change the culture of expecting nurses to put up with it or leave. What we can’t do is close our eyes and hope the problem goes away. So how can make things better and retain nurses in the future? Well, you might not like it, but the answer is providing nurses who are mothers of young children with ‘Special Treatment’. Yes, you read that right, Special Treatment for working mothers. Do we want it? Not really. Do we feel entitled to it? Huh! You think I became a nurse for all the entitlements? The truth is, nurses who are mothers of young children NEED special treatment, and you need us to work.
We can make it happen by providing mums with regular shifts for the short time during their career that they have dependent children. We can provide child care in hospitals to suit shift workers, and ease the financial burden of childcare on shift-workers. Most importantly, we can stop labeling working mums as “selfish”, “difficult” and “entitled”, or lump the responsibility of establishing a work-life balance solely on the mother because “she chose to have children”. These statements show that, as a society, we place little value on the care of young children, or their role as our future workforce. Some of the best nurses I know are mothers. They are patient, empathetic and highly skilled at multi-tasking. They love their work, they are passionate about the profession and they are in the unique position of being involved on both sides of the nursing station, with frequently sick children. Please let’s not toss these nurses aside because it’s too hard to make the roster work! With only a few small changes we can ensure that our future nursing leaders remain in the workforce, and remain at the forefront of a world class health care system.
If you want to see more flexibility for nurses with families, consider emailing the Australian Minister for Health or the Minister in your state: