04 November 2009
I was reading some posts on magic here and here, and was reminded of an unconventional cure a family medicine lecturer related to us while still at medical school. He had developed it, in his time as a GP, for what is a common ailment in some South African cultural groups - "snakes in my belly".
The typical case is a rather anxious patient of either sex, who presents with usually a chronic sort of abdominal discomfort. They will describe a feeling of "snakes moving around / wriggling in my belly", similar to mild cramping I suppose. There is usually no vomiting (other than attempts to purge themselves), and no diarrhoea. There is seldom any pain. On further questioning, a strong suspicion or belief of being bewitched or having had a curse put on them for some reason is often apparent. On presentation, they will usually have tried some remedies of their own, including purging by drinking warm salt water, or using home made enema cocktails, often made with dishwashing liquid. All considered, I would compare the symptoms to those of the "western medicine" diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
Of course, all organic causes should be actively investigated and excluded, and the patient should be de-wormed. Conventional treatments for irritable bowel syndrome could then be tried, and sometimes had some success. When this failed, my colleague would attempt his cure, described as follows:
The patient would be given 3 litres of oral contrast to drink as for a barium meal. Abdomial x-rays would be taken, and showed to the patient, with the offending snakes visible for all to see! The patient would then be given methylene blue or similar to take for 2 weeks. This would "draw out the toxins", and they would then appear in the urine, turning it blue-green. The patient would then come back for a follow-up appointment, and have their x-ray repeated after 3 litres of water to drink this time. The x-rays would then be shown to the patient, showing the snakes had gone, and he/she was now cured!