Profiting from others’ suffering—the difference between skeptical doctors and crooks

Morgellons “disease” is not a disease in any classic sense. There are no agreed-upon definitions of a case, so all else is meaningless. That being said, people are suffering. Since they feel ignored by doctors, they seek help elsewhere.

It’s a problem in thinking, in some ways. When you don’t feel well, you should seek help from a professional and see what they think, rather than have a fixed idea of what’s wrong, and find a professional to confirm it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need professionals. I could simply call my chest pain “Pal’s chest pain syndrome”, and, no matter what the doctors say, tell them they don’t get it.

Part of the problem is a natural consequence of medical practice. As physicians, we look for patterns. Yes, we care about individuals, but each patient also represents an example of particular diseases. This is how we end up with shorthand like “the MI in 6312”—it ignores certain details about the individual in favor of the pattern of their disease. When talking to a patient, she may be Mrs. Z., but when using the shorthand of medicine, she’s a classic MI, and needs a particular treatment based on medical evidence.

Some people are perhaps more sensitive to this depersonalization; others have personalities that are intolerant of believing they could be wrong. I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists.

What I can’t leave to the shrinks is the patient in my exam room. If she believes she has Morgellons, there isn’t all that much I will be able to do to relieve her suffering, because I won’t lie to her.

I have many patients with abdominal pain that has no known cause, and has never resulted in injury, but the patient is miserable. There are a lot of non-placebo remedies I can try to make them feel better. I don’t deny their pain—it’s real. I honestly tell them I don’t know the cause, but I’ll keep trying to make them feel better.

With problems like Morgellons, this approach is useless. Patients don’t just complain of discomfort—they know what is wrong, and nothing will dissuade them. Since I won’t lie to a patient, I can only tell them that I know they don’t feel well, and I’ll try to help them feel better—but I cannot allow them to think I buy in to their false interpretation of their symptoms.

But others will be happy to oblige them. For example, despite the absence of evidence that chronic fatigue syndrome is a viral illness, or that it responds to anti-viral therapy, there are doctors who are very compassionate and will treat you for your “viral problem”. The patients don’t get better from the treatment, but they occasionally get better spontaneously. More importantly, they have found someone who listens and believes them—which is too bad, because it’s all non-scientific bullshit, and costs a ton of cash.

Getting back to Morgellons, there are many who would, in direct contradistinction to a real doctor, profit off the fears of others. For example, one website, along with a Quack Miranda Warning, offers costly treatments for “ectoparasites”. The offer doesn’t say so, but implies that Morgellons sufferers should use their product. In the usual crooked fashion, they sell potions to cure parasites, but then say that, “These products are not sold as pediculicide nor scabicide.”

FDA! Were are you?!?

Having a mysterious ailment that people don’t believe in is problem enough. But you should be happy your doctor tells you the truth, rather than trying to fleece you. In this instance, good doctors know better than to feed delusions. It helps no one. Unfortunately, others are happy to feed delusions just to see how much money folks will cough up. They should be ashamed.

But of course, they have no shame.