If you read the last post, you may have wondered at my description of arsenic poisoning and its similarity to some cases of the flu. Rather than just giving the physical symptoms you would suffer if you ate arsenic, I also talked about how you would feel (scared to death), about what types of pain you would experience (burning) and what time of the day you'd feel worst (after midnight).
These are the types of detail that holistic practitioners seek out. Not just the objective, verifiable physical symptoms (thirst, blackened vomit, diarrhea, fever with sweaty chills, weakness), but also the person's subjective and mental experience of the illness (fear, restlessness, burning pains) and general symptoms that effect the entire person (unquenchable thirst, aggravation at 2 a.m.). Having this level and variety of detail assures that the homeopath will give Arsenicum album rather than one of the dozens of chilly, sweaty flu remedies with vomiting and diarrhea.
Arsenic trioxide, photo from
Even though many homeopathic remedies may have these physical symptoms, the remedy that works will be the one that matches the sick person as closely as possible, including that person's mental and general state.
A side note for those not used to hearing a homeopath talk about remedies: When I say a remedy "has" a certain symptom, I mean that remedy given often enough would cause that symptom in a healthy person. Hence, it would also remove that symptom from a sick person if given in a homeopathic dose. We often speak of remedies and people as if they are one, and this is because we are always looking for the remedy most similar to the person. From a symptom perspective, therefore, the remedy and the patient look a lot alike.
So, what does a person look like who needs homeopathic arsenic trioxide? The picture of arsenic poisoning above is a good representation of an acute complaint that needs Arsenicum album. We think of fevers with chilliness, often with sweating, shivering and a desire to wrap up, difficulty breathing, burning pains, blackened or green discharges, constant thirst for cold water in small sips, headaches worse from covering the head (so that the body may be wrapped, but the person sits by the open window with her head uncovered), vomiting with diarrhea, sudden overwhelming weakness, mental and physical restlessness, an acute fear of death and a general aggravation of symptoms after midnight. The two most peculiar physical keynotes for Arsenicum album are burning pains that are better from heat and an extreme feeling of weakness with a desire to move around, which of course aggravates the weakness.
These symptoms may show up very strongly in an acute complaint like the flu. But we also see these symptoms in a milder form in chronic ailments, and that's where the mental and emotional character of the remedy shines forth.
My instructor at the Caduceus Institute described the Arsenicum album personality as a thoroughbred racehorse. We usually think of "Arsenicums" as being intelligent and high-performing and fastidious. They are good at what they do, but they are finicky and delicate and become worn out by their high level of performance. They are very confident of their intellectual capacities and will often seek out a doctor who agrees with all the diagnoses they have already decided upon.
But their neat and competent exterior covers an underlying insecurity. They feel very deeply alone and are afraid of being alone. This aloneness stems not, as in some other remedies, from a feeling of being forsaken by others, but from a mistrust of others. They feel as if the world and the people around them are terrifyingly chaotic. They respond to this unpleasant feeling by keeping their environment carefully ordered. They tend to keep a very clean house and be phobic about germs and unhealthy foods. They are very careful not to scare people away with their appearance or their hygiene. This state can extend to suspiciousness and obsessive-compulsive behavior. They often feel they do not have enough food or enough money and can be very possessive of things.
Those needing Arsenicum album are often afraid of being poisoned by others, of contracting a fatal disease, of impending death and of being alone. Not surprisingly, their dreams are full of cares and fears, fire and darkness. Like other acid remedies (oxides produce acid when dissolved in water), they also have dreams of dead people.
The general symptoms of Arsenicum album include a desire for sour foods and ice water in small sips, general symptom aggravation around 1 a.m., an aversion to meat and fats, and bad reactions to fruit, ice cream and foods that have gone bad. It's the number one remedy for food poisoning. Also, people who need Arsenicum often display a lot of right-side-only symptoms.
Jan Scholten, a Dutch homeopath who has worked his way through the periodic table describing the existential feelings behind each element, describes Arsenicum as a person who feels her career is about to end and is afraid of being discarded by society, left a beggar on the street, alone and at the mercy of robbers. Only by being very precise and perfect can she prevent this happening, keep her job and her livelihood, and continue to earn respect and money.
Another prominent homeopath, Rajan Sankaran of Mumbai, emphasizes the conflict in Arsenicum between the fear of people and the desire not to be alone. If one truly does not trust others, then being alone is to make oneself at the same time safer (from potential robbers) and more vulnerable (because you have no one to protect you). There is no way to resolve this state until the underlying insecurity and mistrust have been removed.
Cue homeopathic Arsenicum album! This is what a homeopathic remedy does in a constitutional, or chronic, case. Over time, it reveals to the person these core feelings that were keeping him ill-at-ease and unhealthy. The remedy relieves in this way the constant anxiety and fear that increase his suffering. When these are removed, we see the person's physical complaints whither away and his life potential blossom. Healthy Arsenicums make great musicians, accountants, surgeons -- any profession where precision makes for good performance.
Quotes from Adrian Monk of the tv show, Monk, played by the wonderful Tony Shaloub (transcriptions from Wikiquote):
"Unless I'm wrong ..., which, you know, I'm not."
"Yes... he's scared of stuff. Stuff... and things."
"Snakes trump heights. It goes: germs, needles, milk, death, snakes, mushrooms, heights, crowds, elevators..."
"I can't sleep with a crooked shelf in the room."
Finally, the theme song of Monk, sung by Randy Newman:
It's a jungle out there
Disorder and confusion everywhere
No one seems to care
Well I do
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there
Poison in the very air we breathe
Do you know what's in the water that you drink?
Well I do, and it's amazing
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too
You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much might just kill you
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so
It's a jungle out there