My Visit with David Wember, M.D. (1986)
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
In 1986, while preparing an article on homeopathy for Consumer Reports magazine, I spent a day talking with David Wember, M.D. and watching him treat six patients. Wember practiced "classical" homeopathy in which the remedy is supposedly selected to fit the individual rather than the disease. The following account of my visit was published in Nutrition Forum Newsletter in January 1987. Under that is the transcript of the interview portion of our meeting.
Classical Homeopathy: "Fitting the
Interview, May 22, 1986
Barrett: I am talking to Dr. David Wember, who gives his permission to be recorded. Right?
Wember: Yes, I do . . . You were talking about the issue of whether a person was better or not if they saw the homeopath or never saw the homeopath. I'm looking at it from a little different aspect. Homeopathy has been here for many, many, many years, It's been approved by the FDA and all that kind of stuff. There is a Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States. Homeopathy was a big practice of medicine. And why not? What is the problem with having homeopathy around? There are many ways to heal. Allopathic medicine is just one that's evolved over hundreds of years like homeopathy, and it gives it certain ways to heal people—drugs, there's no real principle behind it. It just uses drugs—however they test it— in the different diseases. But there are many ways to heal. Um, some people are healed by laying on of hands. There are many ways that it's possible. If I could do it that way I'd do it. I'd love it, but I don't have that power to do that. Homeopathy is another gentle way that is effective. Not for everything, but if a person has a cold and he wants to choose the homeopath to see, what's the problem? Why not use what the patient wants? He could get cured, in a sense with taking antihistamine, decongestant, if he wants, or even on his own he could use homeopathic remedies that are similar in nature that can be just as effective. I don't understand what that problem is.
Barrett: Why would anybody object? Let's say, to self-medication?
Barrett: I guess the critical point of view would be that it isn't clear that the medication is proven. What is the evidence that homeopathic remedies actually work?
Wember: It's got a long history of working. It's got its own approved medical schools for many, many years. It didn't go away because someone said it wasn't effective. It has its own pharmacopeia approved by the United States Congress, and we're having to prove efficacy in a way that I think is, why not show allopathic medicine, why not show efficacy of allopathic medicine per se? What remedy that you know of cures the common cold?
Barrett: There is no remedy that cures the cold.
Wember: What's the difference. So, why do you go to a doctor for a cold, or a flu, let's say? What does a doctor do when you have a flu?
Barrett: I don't think most people go to doctors to have a cold cured.
Wember: How about for the flu?
Barrett: They go because they recognize they have the flu and want investigation and reassurance. . . .
Barrett: They can make their own diagnosis and give themselves their own treatments. Unsophisticated people will go for colds. Some people want a cure. My wife's in family practice, so I get all this: "Oh, so and so's in again. Why do these people keep coming to me for colds? Dont' they know I can't do anything . . . . Sophisticated people don't see doctors.
Wember: Well, how about the flu?
Barrett: Well, you can feel pretty lousy with the flu.
Wember: What do the drugs do for the flu? What does your average doctor do for the flu?
Barrett: Well, there's no treatment for flu, obviously. You want to see if there's any complication. You might want to guide the person in the use of medications to relieve symptoms of let's say pain, sore throat, muscle aches, fever. I guess that's pretty much it. In elderly people you might want to make sure they don't have pneumonia or other complications. [Note: Since this interview was conducted, medication has become available that is effective against flu.]
Wember: So what's the problem then with seeing a homeopathic doctor for that? You mentioned earlier about if they saw a homeopath, whether or not they were better off. You could explain that a little better. The point that you made, cause it got me on to this topic . . . Go back again and make that point again.
Barrett: Let me approach it from the front. I think I asked you this at the conference in Allentown, but unfortunately I didn't record it. . . . You do use other non-homeopathic remedies. I'm interested in getting some perspective that I can fit into this much space on how you decide whether you use a homeopathic remedy, an allopathic remedy, or both.
Wember: My basic philosophy is I treat with whatever is most natural and least toxic that I can to help the patient. Most of the time I can use homeopathic remedies which have no toxicity, and which help people. The times that I don' t-—and there are a few times—it' s not very frequent, but there are some times that I will use drugs. Sometimes I'll use penicillin for a strep because it just is recurrent. They're not getting better. For recurrent ear problems that don't get better homeopathically sometimes we'll use an antibiotic. Most often it's the other way around, they have recurrent ear problems that keep getting antibiotics, the patients come to me after using their pediatrician all the time and over a period of time we can get them off antibiotics and the ear problems go way. But I can't cure it all and we will revert to that. Occasionally, we will have to use an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection but, 90% of the time we can cure those things and the chronic nature of it without antibiotics, with homeopathic remedies that are similar in their nature to the patient's symptoms. We work on a homeopathic principle and start the body to healing quicker and very seldom do we need drugs to cure those things. But occasionally . . .
Receptionist: Like he says, the most natural way, by virtue of being a homeopathic, there are several people who are afraid of doctors, who don't want come to doctors, who won't take medicine, who won't take an antibiotic, who's belief system is that that's going to hurt them. So I think it's something to take the type of person into account.
Barrett: You may be protective of people who otherwise would stay of medical care altogether and maybe once in a while you could slip them an antibiotic if they need it.
Receptionist: We also refer them to other people.
Wember: I refer cases all the time to other doctors.
Receptionist: People who will, because he's not your traditional pill-pushing type of doctor, people who will come through him and will go on to other doctor's care wouldn't do it otherwise. I talk to people on the phone so I get a lot of idea what people are about and who are just afraid, for whatever reason, valid or not, but that's where they're starting from. And if they feel they can be listened to and talked to and understood and then directed to somebody, from somebody from one point of view is now directing them on to get other tests and other care, they'll do that, whereas they wouldn't otherwise do it.
Wember: I've lost a few patients who I've said, "You have to go see the lung doctor or the cardiologist." I've lost a few. They refuse to go see the other doctors. I can't make them see the other doctors. I can only give them my opinion. I guess what I practice, the way I practice, is number one if you' re a physician and I'm a physician, so I'm a physician first, I'm here to help people. So I' ll always have the patient in mind and I try to treat the patient first and help them. That's always first. I do it in the way that I think is the best. I can usually do it with homeopathic remedies. Now, I won't compromise a patient's health for the sake of homeopathy. So, if something is not working and the patient's health is being compromised, I will then refer them on to someone else to get further help horneopathically or send them on to the cardiologist or the gastroenterologist, gynecologist. I mean to whoever I feel will need a further opinion. I do that all the time but #1 the patient is first. We treat the patient and help them out. Most of the time they get better. We do it with homeopathic remedies. I will advise them about diet, certain vitamins that I've learned mostly from my patients, from Prevention, from things in the past that I think will be efficacious, whether its some vitamin A, vitamin C, you know, things like that - calcium, some things that I will advise - "Do a better diet, cut out all the junk, sugar, fats" and things which only nowadays you' re hearing from the medical community but which people have said for years and years have been more efficacious and more towards a natural diet, more unrefined carbohydrates, or vegetarian foods. All of a sudden the cancer society is corning out with low fats, more broccoli and cauliflower.
Barrett: Well, the Heart Association's prudent diet came out more than 25 years ago. I know because I've been on it. My wife switched us to nonfat milk and margarine from butter, more than 25 years ago, so it's not a new idea.
Wember: It's certainly being pushed a lot. I've never seen that in their literature for years and years.
Barrett: Yes, well I think there is more experimental support now,
Wember: And cancer the same way.
Barrett: Frankly I'm not impressed with the cancer thing, I think its 90% bunk.
Wember: For what?
Barrett: The idea that the diet has a lot to do with cancer. I just, I don't go for that,
Wember: We certainly all have our own opinions about things. But again, I'll use certain things like that to help patients, better exercise.
Barrett: I think what's taking place is relatively harmless because I think that if more people switched to diets that have more fiber and eat less animal fat that it will be better for their heart and I think it's more likely to be overweight related to cancer rather than dietary composition,
Wember: Again, we'll wait for the results—25 years..
Barrett: We'll know in 25 years.
Wember: But, so I try to treat the patient as a physician. Why not do it in a way that's natural. What is it that the regular physician can do. I think there is a myth that the average general practitioner, family practitioner, can do a lot with drugs for patients. And I'm not sure what it is that people are concerned about about homeopathy because you're treating a patient. If I could lay hands on a patient and cure them every time it would be nice, We could sit and chat and talk and I'd love it.
Barrett: The essence of the criticism is that they don't believe that diluting drugs makes them more potent and, therefore, homeopathic drugs are placebo. That's the criticism in a nutshell.
Wember: Well, there's a whole veterinary practice of homeopathic medicine. Now, maybe concentrating on talking to the homeopathic veterinarians would be an interesting way to correct some of this. It's growing. It's been big in Europe and now we've given homeopathic courses here in veterinary medicine for about 5 years and more and more doctors, veterinarians, who are learning more homeopathy and using it in their practice. There are various ones in this area, in Philadelphia, on the West Coast. That might be very interesting, To show the efficacy. I was just speaking with one of the veterinarians who came back from England, there is a whole international veterinarian homeopathic association and this particular doctor who has written various books treats a whole herd of cattle and is strictly homeopathic - they have no drugs that they use. Maybe that'll help the "scientific" mind to understand that that is a principle that does work in healing. We see it every day. Whether or not there is anything in there which, I can understand people doubting, I doubted it when I first started into homeopathy but the efficacy is there, Now whether, you know, whether we're taking the placebo principle in regular people and upping it the 60% instead of 30% I personally couldn't care. Something's going on—not just with me, obviously, but with people who do homeopathic medicine. It's different than holistic medicine and all the other things. Homeopathic medicine, we treat the same way, we treat on the law of similars. Patients get better a lot more than the placebo effect, I think. And why not? I still don't understand.
Barrett: Has there been much of an effort to do any controlled studies or statistical studies of what you're describing?
Wember: I don't think there has been a lot because there has not been a lot of money in homeopathy and it does take a lot of money to do controlled animal studies. We don't have hospitals. In England, they've done some studies, right?
Barrett: I have the studies from the Lancet, I have not read them yet but I've got them.
Wember: The ones on arthritis. One of the problems in homeopathy is if you do it on an allopathic model and you take people with arthritis and give Rhus tox for arthritis, it doesn't take into account that there can be 50 remedies that treat arthritis, not just Rhus tox. You have to make the model a little bit different. Not being a scientific investigator, I don't have a way . . .
Barrett: So the model, I can imagine the model, what you do is, you would homeopathically examine the person and then say give this person Rhus tax. But the medicine itself would be prepared by someone else. In other words, you say give this person Rhus tox, then the person goes and you don't know what the person is getting. And neither does anyone else.
Wember: I think it would be great to do those kinds of studies.
Barrett: That kind of thing really doesn't take money. It takes organization. It has to take money and time. Most studies are funded with a lot of money. You have to get a clinic, a big clinic, you have to get a practice, you have to get the patient population.
Barrett: But that's not how you start. Actually any single practitioner probably could.
Wember: Who's going to believe it? Who's going to believe it. When you finally get the statistics.
Barrett: Who's going to believe it? The way you do it is you start out by finding a respected investigator who will work with you on the protocol and act as consultant, Then I think people can pay attention.
Wember: Well, we're talking about it. There is a lot of people getting together - younger homeopaths.
Barrett: What you gotta do is get a sympathetic critic to work out the design. They exist. They do exist.
Wember: Well those are the kinds of things . . .
Barrett: There was a test, for example, of iridology in which the leading practitioner agreed to an experiment and agreed to the protocol with an investigator. Now that probably did take some money, probably because the investigator did not want to work free, but it's been done.
Wember: How did that work out?
Barrett: It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and showed that iridologists did no better than chance.
Wember: In diagnosing?
Barrett: In diagnosing kidney disease. Since these are people that have major league disease it would be disastrous in practice.
Wember: They were not able to diagnose?
Barrett: It was just a complete flunk.
Wember: Well, I would welcome those kinds of studies. I think we' re probably getting close. There are a lot of young doctors who are looking to do those kinds of things to show the efficacy. I think that will help. It will help the whole model of homeopathy and show that it is reasonable.
Barrett: There is no question, I believe the scientific consensus is that homeopathy was better than general medical practice in the 19th Century. I believe that.
Wember: Well, good.
Barrett: I believe, and I believe that all sensible physicians recognize that also. Simply because doctors were killing people right and left.
Wember: But they didn't realize it at that time.
Barrett: No, but they realize it now.
Wember: That's the first time I've ever heard that being professed. Who, who has ever said that, I've never heard that.
Barrett: It's in my college textbook. That's pretty well understood, the way people have thought about it.
Receptionist: I have a question. What about people who don't want to take drugs?
Barrett: What about them?
Receptionist: Well, there is a lot of people out there who are concerned about what drugs are going to do to their body over a period of time if they continue to take a lot of drugs for things that could be treated with an otherwise natural method.
Wember: Can it be treated? That's what I hear you saying.
Receptionist: From my personal experience as a person who is not a physician but, for instance, I had a poison ivy. I actually started out, I get a really severe reaction, I actually put a little bit of cortisone, a cream that you put on it, to subdue it because I was getting a really severe reaction. After that, which did help it, I used the Rhus tox and I didn't need to do anything else. I personally felt better with that because at a certain point, there was definitely a crossover point that the Rhus tox helped, it just took the itching away.
Barrett: The problem with what you' re describing is that no single individual can go through an experience like that and be sure whether what's happened is an effect medication or the passage of time.
Receptionist: Okay, I can see other times, I can say in this particular case it was particularly severe.
Barrett: No single individual can ever determine that. Let me give you a beautiful example. There was an article in Prevention Magazine on Vitamin E and hay fever. When I was 17 I got hay fever and I had it every year from August 20th to October 20th like clockwork—to the day, One day I said to myself: "I'm going to show those bastards, I'm going to take vitamin E and I'm not going to have my hay fever cured." So I went back to Prevention and opened the article and tried to find the dose. But it wasn't there, so I couldn't do it. My hay fever went away. I've never had it since. I talked to an allergist about what happened, and he said most of the time when people hit whatever age I was, early 40s, people tend to become less allergic and that's probably what happened to you. But the point is, it wasn't vitamin E because I didn't take it, Had I taken it and had the same thing happen I still wouldn't know whether it was vitamin E because what you need to do establish the effectiveness of a remedy is to have a fairly large number of people and make honest observations. You may or may not need blinding. Harris Coulter made a statement in his tape that blinding is needed to prevent being confused by the placebo factor. That's not true. It's largely to prevent mistaken observations. In other words, you can sometimes be blinded by your own enthusiasm. Furthermore, you can lie, to yourself or to other people.
Wember: Covertly or . . .
Barrett: So, to find out whether vitamin C helps the common cold you have to follow many hundreds of people. I know a lot of people who thought vitamin C helped them. They said, "I used to get two colds a season, I take vitamin C and I don't have it anymore." Ten years later I asked how they were doing. "Doesn't seem to work," he says, "I still get colds." So some people miss their colds for a few years, when they started and I have some good friends who are real scientists and they were absolutely convinced vitamin C helped them and I asked them ten years later and they said, "No, we were wrong, we got our colds and it just was chance." Probably. The Canadian studies, where they took several thousand volunteers and one group got placebo and vitamin C in low dose, one group at medium dose, one at high dose, found that it doesn't prevent colds. It has been repeated 15 times, so.
Wember: What does Linus Pauling know . . .
Barrett: Linus Pauling is another story.
Wember: What does he know?
Barrett: But anyway, to set up efficacy studies is not that complex, I think that is the crux of at least one line of criticism.
Wember: Well, how about if you would be willing to be used as a resource, someone who we could come to and ask for criticism about certain things and how to set something up.
Barrett: I'm not an expert, I2m not an expert in experimental design. But I'm certainly open to the possibility,
Wember: I think within the next few years that will definitely be going on.
Barrett: I would definitely be recognized by the scientific community as a critic
Wember: I appreciate that.
Barrett: And I'm a well-known critic.
Wember: Great, cause this is the kind of thing that we need.
Barrett: But I'd like to say that all the people that I hang out with at the leadership level, criticis, are basically open-minded even though they are portrayed as Nazis by the National Health Federation.
Wember: You know, a lot of people in this country, as you see from the meetings that we have, one in Pennsylvania, the people who come to learn in our school, which is 20 to 30 doctors every year - that we use homeopathy. It is efficacious, Now, I hear a lot of skeptical minds out there, well, should it be used, why go to a homeopathic doctor, why, you can do it with drugs, let's say, why do you have to have a doctor at all? Well I think there are a lot of problems that can't be treated in allopathic medicine, There is a lot out there in both chronic disease - I get people here all the time, They come because they haven't been helped most of the time, I can't help everybody, I don't know the percentage, But I know there are things that we do here that can't be done other ways that seem not to have been done, They come from many referrals, many doctors.
Barrett: Generally could you define what's outside the scope of homeopathy. Is there such a thing?
Wember: Sure there is such a thing,
Barrett: Can you define it? Or is it more trial and error?
Wember: Well, things, obviously, disease that has destructive pathology, If the nerve has degenerated, you're not going to grow it back,
Barrett: Alright, in other words, where the body, where a portion of the body has been destroyed, you can't regenerate. Okay,
Wember: Well, obviously you can't. Where the organ or tissue is totally destroyed, you may not be able to regenerate it. Obviously, you can't. But most kinds of intermediate pathological processes, inflammatory pathological processes, homeopathy does wonderfully, In my opinion, from what I see—without drugs.. The patients do well without drugs, Now, whether to say, well if they took nothing would they do well.
Barrett: It's an important question,
Wember: It is. If they took no drugs would they do well? I mean there is obviously in this country an abuse of drugs, whether its penicillin or antibiotics,
Barrett: Well the same question, any doctor should be making a decision, saying to himself am I better off watching, waiting, or prescribing, or surgerizing or whatever, I guess one thing that the North Carolina Board I'm sure had in mind - I guess it came out in a question, I don't
remember what it was. If somebody comes to you with an appendicitis, of course, I don't know whether people come to you with an appendicitis.
Wember: Sure they do.
Barrett: But if somebody would, would you treat it homeopathically or would you refer or would you . . .
Wember: I'll give you my experiences.
Wember: An appendicitis is an emergency, an acute emergency in a sense. But there is a lot of levels of "appendicitis." I mean not everybody knows—is there chronic appendicitis or not, you know, there's a lot of questions about those issues. We have people who come in here not because they know they have appendicitis but they have terrible abdominal pains so we check.
Barrett: Okay, they're nauseated, a couple of hours later it hits them over here, they've got pain, you push down they have pain, they have tenderness and rebound. Okay, what do you do now •.•• white count - do you get a white count?
Wember: Sometimes. Yes we will do testing.
Barrett: In your office now, I'll make a case, I'm not an expert. If I remember correctly they had a feeling of fullness and nausea, and about two hours later they got abdominal pain over here and they come into your office, I presume you examine them •..
Wember: I examine them.
Barrett: ••• and you find they're tender over here - you go like this, and they jump off the table.
Wember: Rebound tenderness.
Barrett: Okay, do you, would you always get a white count.
Wember: High fever.
Barrett: No, fever 100.
Barrett: You wouldn't always get a white count? What are some of the ways . . .
Wember: As a physician you'd have the possibilities of what's going on.
Barrett: It sounds to me like I'm describing the classic case of appendicitis.
Wember: But remember the classic case of appendicitis from my medical school, 30% of the cases are negative. I remember one time in my fourth year, we were in surgery residency, the attending was there, it was about 8 o'clock at night, the classical 20-year-old male was in there and we had six of us there who were studying. So the attending comes in, we had all examined this guy, classical rebound tenderness, fever, had vomited once before he came in. The attending surgeon said well, it has all the things, he said I wish there was a harder case because it is so classical that I don't think you're learning that much. At midnight, after he had operated, it was negative. That's what happens. You don't always know that that's going to be an appendicitis no matter what classical signs. Sure you can say that, hey, this is generally going to be an appendicitis but, you know, often its mesenteric enteritis and you don't fully know all the time. So, there are many people who I've had here, hey, I've had it on my mind this may be an appendicitis. So you have to make a judgment. How long do I have if I have, I've had people who have come in here, rebound tenderness, high fever, have vomited—I call the surgeon—go right over. I've had other people who have a little bit lower level than that and may have an appendicitis, you know, it's a possibility, but with maybe bryonia, belladonna, various remedies, colacintus maybe, depending on how acute the pain is, if they are flushed or not, the type of symptoms that correspond to the remedies, and they get better. They never go on. Now, it's a judgment sense. I've had a person one time that I watched for three days. I finally said to him, look, you' re better and then you kind of get a little, you start to get worse, I've given you bryonia and I forget the second remedy that we used, you're deathly afraid to go to the doctor, I said, but I think you may have an appendicitis, it's the third day. If you strike a fever tonight, call the doctor. Go to the emergency room because it came and went, came and went. And that night he struck a fever and went to the emergency room and had his appendix taken out - it had not been ruptured, But you know often the remedies will bring it around and it gets better. But I said we can't wait on it any longer and he went in. Dozens of times where I have never had a call again. The patients have been fine and they have been in here, like I say, go right over to the surgeon because as a physician you know what's important. You' re not - I never sacrifice a patient. I always have them in mind and so I do whatever I feel is necessary and right for the patient. I hope other physicians do that. I hope wholistic physicians have the same kind of way of looking at a patient. Maybe they don't, I don't know, but as long as I can do it in a way that is most gentle to that patient and I feel we can I'll do it and I'd rather do it without drugs if I can. So that is one way to look at a patient and yes we can treat those kinds of things and for all the other, you know, let's say, let's take just some other chronic problems that aren't necessarily - I don't think I've ever had a case of gallstones that I've ever had to send to the surgeon in 12 years of practice. Now people have problems with gallstones, But even with gallstone colic we've been able to help them and they don't get their colic. Occasionally, they get it - they don't have to go and get their gallbladders out. Now I know most of those probably would have had their gallbladders taken out.
Barrett: And you know that they have stones because they are . . .
Wember: Well, the classical gallbladder colic, I mean they're hurting, a lot of right-upper-quadrant pain.
Barrett: These people—the ones you're talking about with stones—have been demonstrated by x-ray.
Wember: Some of them. Some of them have had it for years. A mild case. Not everybody gets operated these days for, you know, if you have some gallstones and you're having some mild attacks, it goes away, you stop eating the fatty foods, you know, but occasionally you'll have some problems. Some will then come down periodically with very severe attacks, Not everybody has to have the surgery because you are not going to do it when you have a very severe attack, you'll do it in between time, But most of the patients I see with that problem usually do very well with homeopathic treatment and they don't have to have surgery, They get along well, They have very few symptoms later on and there is no problems, It is not something that needs to have surgery all the time and when they do, hey, if you've had repeated attacks, its debilitating, hey, you have to go and have it taken out. But so few of my patients have to have it taken out that I think it's a wonderful help and the remedies themselves help tremendously, You don't have to give harsh chemicals and morphine, the whole round of drugs, You can do it homeopathically, I've done it too many times to tell you that it can be done rather great, Kidney stones: many, many times we can help the patient without harsh drugs to pass the stone and the pain just starts to relieve itself. As soon as the pain starts to relieve, so often, and that spasm is taken out, often it will help it to pass more quickly, Now, I've seen that many times. Obviously a stone is up there and it's causing a hydroureter, go and get it cut out, You have to take those things into account, Usually they will have the urologist if something is a chronic problem and so we'll work with the urologist or I'll have the patient do things,
Barrett: Would you say cancer is pretty much outside the scope of homeopathy?
Wember: I'm not the primary physician for any patient who has cancer because I can't tell a patient I can cure cancer—and I don't. But there are many remedies that may help that patient, whether it's for the pain of cancer or whether it's for the progression of it, Over the years there are patients we have helped, But I don't say that I can cure cancer or things like that,
Barrett: I'm going to be contacting Warren Metzler, The most interesting thing he talked about at lunch was that he had just seen a woman who had breast cancer, He made the diagnosis and, or somebody else did, I can't remember, It had just been diagnosed and the woman, and he said, and I said, did you treat her, and he says, "Yeh, and he says you know what, it's going to be a test —it's going to be a test of homeopathy, he says, if I can't cure it I'm going to have to reorient my thinking cause I'm going to treat her and I'm going to be the only one treating her." So it's scary.
Wember: Why don't we go to another topic, about that in the past, I don't remember before is I don't sacrifice patients for the . . .
Barrett: I understand.
Wember: But, again, breast cancer is a difficult problem in a lot of ways, You certainly want to get it quick, you want to be able to diagnose it, But I believe the statistics show that the only statistic that's important is when you diagnose it is the earliest stage, whether you did anything or not and this, check it out, let's have the most recent things, check it out, please check out the statistics, If you get it very early, you'll live a lot longer because you're getting it early,. Whether you did anything, cut it out, didn't cut it out, or anything. And I've got patients here who refuse to go to the doctor and I've given you my opinion what I said, What I said cause of homeopathy, they have a breast lump, who I would have thought had cancer but they refuse to see anybody else and we'll treat them because they won't go to anybody else. I recommend seeing a surgeon or seeing the gynecologist, and we've gone along four or five years and it's certainly cancer to me, it's hard, it's lumpy, it's everything you would think and yet five or six years. I've done that with patients because they would not go to another doctor.
Barrett: And it stays or it goes?
Wember: Yeh, it kind of comes and goes. It's a little bit more, it's a little bit less. I've taken some that have gone away. They stop treatment a year later, and a half year later they come back cause it's back again. You know, it's only a few patients, right. Most will go see regular doctors if we recommend to see regular doctors.
Barrett: Be sure you keep good records that you told the patient to go.
Wember: Well, right, I've learned, but again, many of these are good old-fashioned patients who are going to do it their way.
Barrett: Let me ask you a few questions about your own practice but also answer it if you can, generalize it to what homeopaths do. First of all are you the sole physician, or the sole primary physician to many or most of the people that you see?
Wember: No. Many patients have their own doctors and they'll come and see me because they haven't gotten as much help, someone else has told them about it, they've had a relative or a friend or . . .
Barrett: But you said that you try to get people to come to get on a regular basis to be homeopathically treated. These may very well be people who still go to other doctors as their other doctor as their primary doctor?
Wember: Periodically women will, they need to have the gynecologist. I don't do GYN exams. I can treat many GYN problems, but I don't go GYN so I'll have them see their own gynecologists and whatever, their yearly exam, and Pap and all, I insist on that.
Barrett: Okay. Things like blood pressure checks?
Wember: We do that periodically. We will do examinations. I do less of those than a regular doctor because every single time there's all kinds of tests. What I do, initially, is see a patient for an hour and take a good homeopathic history and decide on what the patient needs and what he's had in the past. Many patients already have their own general physician, they have had tests galore. I won't repeat them, I'll have them get me some of those tests so I know, or then I'll decide in a week or whatever if we need to do some lab tests. Some people have not had, people come in here who have not seen a doctor in 20 years. You have all kinds. So we'll go do a standard health profile, do a physical examination, if somebody needs insurance or their own, I will check and do those kinds of things. I might not do a blood pressure every time a patient comes in. In fact, I usually don't. But when there is any question about a blood pressure, I will check it and I will follow it every time. But if they are in basically good health and they've had that, I will not usually do that every single time. But we'll do what we think is necessary. If I hear some irregularity in the heart and they haven't had it before, I'll send them to the cardiologist. You need to have that checked out because I'm not a cardiologist and I want to have an EKG, stress test, whatever you're going to need and I'll get the report back. I've known a few cardiologists in the area. If the patient has one, I'll say fine, let me know, we'll see them again, you know, we see that all the time. I saw a little child here just yesterday—a 9-year-old who is basically in good health. She needed a camp physical. and was the second time I've seen her. We did the basic camp history. But in checking her heart, she had a very, very, very mild murmur. So it was almost a functional murmur, but she had periodic skipped beat. I said, "You can check it out with a cardiologist," She has somebody she's seen in the past, I said, "Go out and have him check it out." It's probably benign but definitely, if it wasn't every third beat, but you know maybe every 15 so all of a sudden it would skip. So I said, "Check it out now." Those are the kinds of things that I'll do but this, you know, other major problems, gastroenterologist. We'll help lots of people with chronic GI disturbances, whether it is colitis, or ileitis, stuff like that. We can help a lot, but with, its not working enough or they are having a lot of diarrhea or there's a question of some other problems, I'll send them to the gastroenterologist because I want to make sure that we're not missing something, So I have lots of patients who will do that. They'd rather come and do more natural means and not have as much drugs, which they get from the regular doctors. But sometimes they need drugs. If a person comes and they are on heart medicine, I don't take them off their heart medicine. Sometimes we can get them off their blood pressure medicines. But if they're on a regular heart medicine, something like that, I'm not going to take off their medicines. Other doctors might, that's fine. But I don't feel competent enough to say, hey, I can stop your heart medicine and there is a question of your heart.
Barrett: Are you on fairly friendly terms the medical, other people in the medical community?
Wember: Well, I don't have a lot of associations with most of the other doctors, I pretty much do my own thing. But I have a dozen or so docs who I will refer to, who will send me reports every time, several cardiologists, a few dermatologists, several gastroenterologists. We get patients from all over the metropolitan area, down Southern Virginia, up in Northern Maryland, Pennsylvania. People come from all over. If they are living in Silver Spring I'll often know someone who is up in that area, or if they are from Fairfax, there are a couple docs in this area, and so we will refer.
Barrett: Do you have a rough idea of how many people you might see in a typical week?
Wember: I probably see about 10 to 12 patients a day, I'm usually here five days.
Barrett: Is that a fairly typical number for a homeopathic practitioner?
Wember: I would think so.
Barrett: It would seem that you spend more time talking with them and therefore see less patients than the non-homeopathic.
Wember: My first visit is an hour and my second visits are always set up for approximately half an hour, Now we'll spend anywhere from 20 minutes to a half hour or more, but basically that's where my schedule is, about every half hour. We'll spend more time. The average allopathic doctor is about 7 minutes or so,
Barrett: You ask a lot of questions about personality, I presume that's typical for you. Is it typical for homeopathics in general?
Wember: It is, for people who practice classical homeopathy because the mental symptoms . . . . Homeopathy is based on more similars, It is based on the symptoms that a patient, person has, both in their higher nature mental, emotional, and physical. We'll talk about their likes and dislikes as far as foods, cravings, aversions to certain foods because that in a sense has to do with a person, their nature, and that's more important as a symptom. You pick certain remedies that . . . certain cravings or what their relationship is to the environment as far the weather, Some people are warm individuals in a physical sense, and some people are very chilly individuals, Now this has to do with the nature of the person itself and those are more important than the pain in the knee or the pain in the foot or something like that which is a symptom of the part of the person which we have to take into account, But the symptoms of the entire person seem to be more important for homeopathic prescribing.
Barrett: Is that what you would call constitutional prescribing?
Wember: Right, If we' re taking a person in their entire nature and trying to fit a remedy that will stimulate all . . .
Barrett: You spoke of classical homeopathy. Does that go along with generally a single remedy for the person?
Wember: For the most part, a single remedy, a single dose or two, and you wait and see what the reaction is.
Barrett: Does that reflect a majority or minority view among practitioners that you know?
Wember: It's hard to say, it's hard to say, there is a lot going on in homeopathy, This was the biggest way to do homeopathy, the part Hahnemann handed down to us, But a lot of people use mostly combination remedies, just tissue salt remedies, there is a lot of practitioners with these Voll machines who do electrodiagnosis and give a remedy because it electrically diagnosed with some switch in the needle. Whether or not they are effective, I don't know, There are some people who come in and say they have been helped by that. There are others who say, no, they didn't get help. I think it can have efficacy. The point is it's not done because it fits the nature of the person, It's done because it swings a little needle on a machine and I don't know, I don't know what to say about it. That's not the kind of thing that I've learned and that I've based my practice on. We try to take the nature of the person themselves and get a remedy that has a similar nature to it cause that's the law of homeopathy,
Barrett: Okay, you belong to the American Institute of Homeopathy. That's all physicians, is it not?
Wember: Physicians, dentists, osteopaths, yes,
Wember: Licensed, yes.
Barrett: Is that, that's a fairly small group—about 100.
Wember: It is about 100, yes. Maybe not even 100 people—but growing.
Barrett: Do you have any idea how many other physicians are practicing homeopathy. Is it a few hundred more, do you think?
Wember: I'd say lots more than that. I'd don't know for sure. There are many more people who aren't in the Institute for whatever reason and there are a lot of other doctors who are not MDs or DOs but they are naturopathic doctors these days who learn a lot of homeopathy.
Barrett: No, I'm interested in the question only in medical doctors and osteopaths.
Wember: I think there are many more. I don't know how many. Maybe someone like Jay Bornemann could give you a better idea because his company gets orders from all kinds of people. We have never been able to get the order list because it's a confidential list. So we can't say. But from what they indicate, there's a lot more doctors out there over many, many years—a lot of the old-timers who are allopathic doctors who use a lot of the low potency, use a lot homeopathic remedies and don't say anything about it. That's my impression,
Barrett: I have the directories and the number is not very large; and I know that I've talked to the people at the center and they say well nobody really knows.
Wember: Ask Jay for his evaluation from the number of orders. They are all computerized now with the things and have it as the licenses, something like that.
Barrett: That's interesting, Okay, Let's see, you're about what 46, 47?
Wember: Yes, I'm 46. I am sure they . . .
Barrett: I have a couple of questions in that line. I notice you ask people the time of their birth, What is the significance of that?
Wember: Nothing really from what I do. I just got in the habit of asking that to keep on record. I don't do birth shots. I do believe in those kinds of things in the sense you can sometimes tell more about people or when you have your birth shot done. It's important to know, and I actually just keep it on the records. It's nothing I use.
Barrett: A piece of research data that you' re not correlating at the moment.
Wember: That's exactly true. I just got in the habit of doing that.
Barrett: Okay. There is one thing that I want to ask you about, what's happening in Nevada. You probably know that there have been a few people who were convicted of various things and have lost their licenses I guess for cancer quackery who have gotten licensed as homeopaths in Nevada. I suspect that they have not the slightest belief in homeopathy but are using this as a means of maintaining medical practice. Do you have any perception on that?
Wember: I have no idea that's going on. Nevada certainly has a law, which is a homeopathic licensing law. Most of the people in Nevada use the electrodiagnosis. Let's put it this way, There is many ways to do homeopathy these days. Most people who use electrodiagnosis don't really know homeopathy very well. They've taken a course or two, and using electrodiagnosis is totally different. Not going on the basis of symptoms, it is going on the basis of an electrical impulse of some kind. So you don't have to know anything about homeopathy. What they use is the homeopathic remedies. Most of the remedies—they have thousands—come from Germany and other places and they are made in homeopathic potencies. So that's where they call themselves homeopaths because they are using the homeopathic remedies, Not on the law of similars, but on electrodiagnosis. If you are then getting a license to practice medicine as a cover-up of some kind, I think it's deplorable.
Barrett: That's not something that the concern in the homeopathic community hasn't been high enough I guess for you to feel . . .
Wember: I didn't know, I don't know that that's going on. See. I do know that they have certain rules under how to become a homeopathic.
Barrett: I believe that there are two people who lost their licenses because they were considered unfit to practice who then, in California, who then became licensed under the homeopathy law in Nevada and it's, of course,
Wember: I didn't know that.
Barrett: One is John Richardson. I can't remember who the other one is. Maybe Michael Gerber, but I'm not sure.
Barrett: John Richardson is the most well known. Yes, and I learned this from the American Cancer Society. I don't remember if I have the verification directly from Richardson's office or not.
Wember: Unfortunately, there goes the good name of homeopathy for whatever. It's absurd. You know, I can't stop them if their licensing laws say you can get a license if you know electrodiagnosis and they went and studied electrodiagnosis.
Barrett: I have no idea how they got licensed or any such thing,
Wember: If there is a way you could just write me and tell me the other name I think this is something we should discuss at our Board meeting which is coming up in a couple of weeks. We have Board meetings three times a year and this one is coordinated with our annual meeting in Boston and I think this is, we try to keep on these things. If nobody has known about this, I think . . .
Barrett: Well, I think Jackie must know about it. I think it came up in our conversation.
Wember: Jackie Wilson?
Wember: Fine, well if she knows about it. You mean last year?
Barrett: When I talked to her at lunch,
Wember: Cause she, I, that has never come up to me.
Barrett: I think she simply made a face or something, I think she has some concern about it but I don't know that there is any.
Wember: Nothing to be brought up.
Barrett: I'm not sure that the people, like Fuller Royal, was in a lot of trouble in Oregon, I don't know whether or not he lost his license, I think what he did he left ahead of time, He's the one who set up the board. But I think they represent, they were people who . . .
Wember: They've got a lot of money out there.
Barrett: I don't know.
Wember: A lot of money,
Barrett: I think, I think that some of those people were people who were really into outlandish medical practice who now have freedom under the homeopathic board, I don't know what they're doing. For all I know they're curing the world.
Wember: I don't know.
Barrett: But it's a potential trouble spot for the rest of you, Of course, I'm not sure anyone cares or is going to notice. Let's face it, the number of articles being written on homeopathy is not huge.
Wember: It's not huge, But anything that could come out adversely will harm usually, so I will keep that in mind.
Barrett: Any final words that you want to communicate to the readers of America?
Wember: I think most homeopaths are individuals and they have their own practice of medicine, What I do is probably different, and the way I have my practice I relate it to my patients than other people, But we all do follow, I presume the law of similars, No matter what's happening, you're treating the patient on the law of similars. What his reaction to his environment is, what kind of symptoms, the nature of the symptoms, regardless of the diagnosis. As physicians we need to know diagnosis, prognosis—all those kinds of things, which we do, We just take those and file them away in a separate way, and treat the patient in a therapeutic mode which is based on the law of similars. The idea that I want to impress is that homeopathic physicians are doctors like anybody else. We have a license to practice, we passed our boards, we went to medical school, all that kind of stuff. The idea is to think about doctors as doctors, What we do if we help our patients, I think, is in essence secondary in a way, There is a lot of abuses that go on out there in all kinds of fields, But if you had, I bet if you had to take those people using homeopathy in the strict homeopathic sense and the percentage of those people that are getting in trouble in some way, I think it's much lower than if you took the regular general medical profession and looked up—and I get these notices every month from the Virginia Board of Health and stuff like that— and there's dozens and dozens of reprimands, licenses taken away for all kinds of things, This goes on day in and day out in all the states with physicians for whatever reasons, various ways.
Barrett: Are there any statistics on malpractice suits against homeopaths? I guess your rates are probably the same and the company is the same as anybody else, Physicians are just people and they can go astray in . . .
Wember: I was once told that in the past, the homeopathic physicians were charged lower rates. This is what I was once told. Maybe its anecdotal.
Barrett: It must be a long time ago because they only have Medical Protective, which is the largest company. They don't even ask whether you practice homeopathy.
Wember: A long time ago—in the 40s, in the 50s things like that —maybe they didn't have malpractice in those days, I don't know,
Barrett: There is something strange about that because Class 1 Medical Protective in 1957 paid $30.00, or something like that, in '58, so how much lower anybody can be is not very significant.
Wember: I think that homeopathic doctors probably get sued less percentagewise than others, but I can't say for sure. There certainly have been several cases around which have come up over the last few years that because of treating or it should have been followed in a different way, most of them have come up where they actually did the routine, standard, regular homeopathic prescribing. They were not faulted for homeopathic medicine. They might have been faulted for being a physician and like anyone else maybe not have taken enough notes, not done certain things, but not because they did faulty homeopathy. So as any physicians, we are liable to keep up the best standards of medicine in any case. Sometimes it's more of a burden on a homeopath because we don't need to keep all the kinds of records and things that a regular doctor does. But we have to take what's reasonable for being a doctor/patient relationship and so we all have to be reminded to do more things of that nature. But we should then be taken as physicians and whatever we do to heal our patients I think, I try not to get into making a lot of laws and regulations. I think that that's dangerous in lots of ways. I think the regular medical profession kills lots of people in the name of drugs and medicine. Far more out of proportion than all the quacks out there. I'm in the profession. I've seen it in medical school, I've seen it in places. They kill more people in the name of medicine or, you know, a lot of toxic problems, a lot of stuff that goes on every day in the regular profession than percentagewise would be from all these other vitamins and quacks and whatever. Whoever we say they are and I think you gotta clean house first rather than make a lot of noise out there and protect themselves. And I think a lot of that goes on too in the name of trying to get everybody else out of the business. For whatever reasons, if it's fear or whatever. I think there has to be some policing, obviously, if you put yourself out as a doctor. You need to have some policing but I think it's dangerous and then say who could practice what or not allow homeopathic practice or something like that in the states, I think that's very dangerous what happened in North Carolina, it's very dangerous, We are following that up, We are gathering some money and asking people to contribute. Supreme Court if we need to.
Barrett: You have to. I believe we will follow that to the
Wember: I mean here's a regular doc, and George Guess is a superb person.
Barrett: I can tell that from the transcript.
Wember: Of all the people to pick on!
Barrett: He's the only one, there is nobody else.
Wember: That's true. It's sad that he's the one that had to be picked on. But he's probably a good person to pick on because he's a good doc, he knows his stuff well, he's an emergency physician, he knows medicine well, he treats his patients well, he's a fine person as a human being and I am sure he was up to whatever standards that needed to be for being a good physician, better than most. Yet because he practiced homeopathy, and I think that the physician should have the right. . . See, nobody tricked anybody. We're not tricking people and saying you know, I don't hang a shingle out and say David Wember MD and then the average person comes up here and I give him things that he doesn't know about. People come to us because they want that kind of treatment and either they heard about it, And people, I believe, have a right to choose that kind of people. When you start legislating their rights, you know, you can't practice medicine, I think that's very, very dangerous and you're stopping the people, I think there will be a class action suit against the state because of the stopping the patients from taking, you know, the medicine of their choice. There is other issues, I guess. I think it's just dangerous to stop. If you're a physician you should be able to treat a person as long as you're. . . They take you for your word that you're a physician, you have a license, unless many things come up: you've obviously shown that you' re killing people, maiming people, which I don't think will be any more in the homeopathic profession than in a regular profession and I think a lot less because we use a lot less toxic things and we have to use our discretion, We all do it differently. I do refer out to a lot of other doctors when necessary, and I don't have any problems with it. Maybe some others won't. I don't know. If there is problems that go on and the patients are complaining, fine. Often the patients don't complain, the relatives complain. The relatives bring up stories that the patients don't want, I've seen that many times. Even with people who treat cancer or something like that. The patients want the kind of treatment, and then other people, for whatever, this crazy society, So I guess I'm for the purpose of letting the doctors treat, as long as they are not hurting anybody, and they've got a license, they are reasonable doctors, you have got to let them practice their profession how they want to as long as they are not fooling people, saying they are doing things they' re not. A person has to have a right to be able to choose. You have to give the person the right to his own choice. You can't legislate what treatment a person should go and do and whether we like it or not, you know, whether I like what a person goes and does chelation or whatever, it's not for me to say. I think a person should have the right to that, judge it, read the articles, make his own choice then as long as it's not going to, in a sense, going to kill him, or hurt him, or maim him, we do have some protections to make, And the person has to have the right to do that and we should not legislate that they can't do things like that. As long as it's not just any Joe Blow who opens up an office, you know, that's ridiculous too, which a lot went on down in Florida and stuff. You know, you have to follow the laws, otherwise won't have a orderly society if you don't follow laws, But also there are laws that need to be changed in some ways that are archaic, that I think can hurt, that can be dangerous when it takes away the rights of people. You start pulling people's rights into anything, I think that's dangerous, And there are a lot of things I'd like closed up, believe me, lots of things that I would like differently, But for the sake of having the freedoms as much as we can then I will, other people have the right to do things that I question. That's how I look at it because we need to err on the right of freedom rather than on the other way,
Barrett: I'm inclined at this time to think that homeopathy is unique in the area of things that is controversial where the people should choose because homeopathy, basically, the procedures themselves are not dangerous, However, chelation therapy is dangerous, Laetrile is dangerous, It gives people cyanide in their blood, I mean, that's heavy duty stuff. I think they' re different, I think the principle is interesting, but I think that you have to also have some measure of protection from therapies that are dangerous and people who do them really are screwballs.
Wember: There are a lot of crazy things going on out there. I agree. In some way you are right. But I'd like homeopathy exempted from that kind of reasoning because it is different, it is unique. How to do that, I don't know, So far, I think actually the FDA has made it unique and has put it in a place that they're not sure what to do, But we've kept going. They haven't closed it down. But I think they realize . . .
Barrett: The head of enforcement told me that, and this is going to be in the article. I have to send it to him for him to approve the wording, but he said basically he says "I don't plan to hold homeopathic drugs to the new drug standards unless there is an Act of Congress," He says that "Congress intended for there to be homeopathic remedies and, therefore, to apply the new drug laws without a specific signal from Congress I don't think is appropriate," That's what he said,
Wember: This is just recently?
Barrett: September, I mean, this is FDA unwritten policy which may come as an interesting surprise to you but, and I presume, he didn't want me to record him. So the deal is that I took notes and I'm going to write up what he said and send it to him for approval,
Wember: Who is this?
Barrett: Joseph Hile.
Wember: Is he, what?
Barrett: Acting, he's the Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement. The top guy.
Wember: If you want some more stories about FDA and stuff, talk to Jay and the pharmacists because they have been most directly involved in dealing with the people, and they have lots of stories on FDA.
Barrett: I have not been able to find out what the FDA policy is. I filed a Freedom of Information Act and ...
Wember: You saw their article that they had out in their magazine about homeopathy.
Wember: Okay, so you've seen that, which I thought was a very reasonable article. It seemed they were out to get a lot . . .
Barrett: The catalog from BHI is outrageous.
Wember: Right. This is what is happening. Everybody wants to get into the act and I don't think that's good and I thiunk that drug companies, the homeopathic pharmacies, are policing themselves and are trying to do as good a job as they can.
Barrett: Incidentally, I heard Natra-Bio, I think, was disciplined in Iowa. I don't know whether they were kicked out of the state or what they were doing.
Wember: Disciplined about?
Barrett: About their remedies.
Wember: Oh, really.
Barrett: I've not got the papers but I met the head of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy last week and he told me that they took disciplinary, very strong disciplinary action.
Wember: Do you know why they did that?
Barrett: No, but it will be in the article when I get the papers. You may not like all of the article but you'll learn some interesting things. You'll like part of it, I'm sure.
Wember: I learned a long time ago that to like it all is a rarity and that's the way it is. I'd like everybody to believe my views but it doesn't work like that and so, you know, I can only . . .
Barrett: Maybe there is someone within the homeopathic community that is familiar with everything—the whole picture, But it maybe that I'm going to . . .
Wember: You may be the one. We'll be calling you up . . .
Barrett: I'll put some things in the article that you won't know, who knows? Obviously, I will because you don't know about my conversation with Hile, so that should be of great interest to the community.
Wember: Well, I'm glad that they look at it like that. There were times when we had a lot of problems with FDA . . .
Barrett: Well, there are people within FDA that do not, as a matter of fact, I talked to 11 people and got 5 different viewpoints, which left me totally confused. And the damn thing is that I didn't have my recorder on and so I don't even have it straight. I'm going to have to do it all over again. over again . . .
Wember: Well I know there are people there who support us and I know there are people who don't, I'm glad that Hile is looking at it the way he does . . .
Barrett: Well he said that "If anyone comes out with a homeopathic remedy for herpes or cancer, I'm going to pound them,"
Wember: Look, there are those things out and I'm sure, you know, BHI, various things, Everybody and his brother wants to get in and they'll do it in whatever way they can and that makes news. I shudder at that kind of stuff, I mean it's craziness, But what can I say. In a sense, I don't see it. You see any medical magazine that you get, I don't think they take advertisements here but you know Zovirax and stuff like that, Good for the first acute attack of herpes, apparently, It doesn't do anything more but it's used all the time, People use it day in and day out on every attack, They know, those companies know that, It really doesn't do a lot. I can't imagine that that really does anything to the course of herpes, But they made millions of dollars by saying it's only effective and helps it the first time around but that's used day in and day out, Somebody just doesn't do it the first time, they use it all the time, and they know that, they make millions and millions on something that has no efficacy whatsoever, Now, is that not quackery? That's billions of dollars and it passes because of whatever influences that go on and they are allowed to say that but that isn't any different than a lot of other things. They probably make more money from that one thing than all these quack things that are going on that some don't have an efficacy at all but they may not hurt anybody whereas here it is right in front of our eyes— that goes on every day. So I try to say why isn't that criticized? But that's part of the establishment.
Barrett: No, I think that it probably has not occurred to the people who make a practice of criticizing things to criticize it, I think it's a mistake for you to think that the establishment is a monolith that doesn't criticize itself. Within what you call the establishment are many people. Within the scientific community, there are many people who are perfectly willing to criticize things if they encounter them. I'm considered part of the establishment, but I'm also one of the critics, I've not gotten into the area of that and I may not because I'm not sure I have the background. But I edited a book on unnecessary surgery which I think is the most respectable discussion that's ever been published, I'm not sure that everyone would agree with that, But I think it's certainly better than Sidney Wolfe who goes out and says, "There are two million unnecessary operations. Shoot everybody."
Wember: Well, we have obviously lots of policing to do all around and it's just out there and we need to do it in all cases, It's blatant, Not just outside of the establishment, but within it too.
Barrett: Okay. Well thank you very much,
Wember: It's been a pleasure,
This article was revised on May 31, 2018.