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The New Healers

When Bezoza returned to New York, he left the emergency-room job and went on a worldwide pilgrimage to learn about alternative therapies, visiting skin-treatment centers at the Dead Sea and cancer clinics in Baja. In 1981, he hung out a shingle aimed at the beautiful people in New York who were watching their attractiveness wither under the disco onslaught of cocaine, nicotine, booze, and Quaaludes. "I really had the idea that beauty was related to health. We had a diagnosis called model malnutrition -- for women who were trying to live on two Graham crackers a day. I could bring them the equivalent of two steaks and three mangoes with my infusion therapy."

Beauty is no longer the focus of his practice. He now spends most of his time interviewing patients (a session usually runs $250 to $300) and dispensing supplements and infusions. He still practices conventional medicine -- if someone needs antibiotics, he will prescribe them, for example, and he regularly sends his patients out for high-tech MRIs, CT scans, and sonograms. Often, his patients have already seen conventional practitioners and are still uncured of their asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel syndrome, or cancer. "I'm Dr. End-of-the-Line," he says. "People who come to me get more than the HMO minute. I am acutely aware that people are spending their own money to see me."

Olympia Dukakis discovered Bezoza seven years ago, when she was seeking alternative ways to deal with osteoporosis. "There wasn't that much information out there, so I started to read everything, hoping to find people to help me," she says. "I knew there was a nutritional component, and as I read, I kept coming up against his name. I found out he was right here in New York. He did a lot of things, which I don't want to talk about, and he really turned me around."

Dr. Ron Hoffman has been operating his Hoffman Center on East 30th Street for about as long as Bezoza has had his center. But Hoffman, with his spectacles and subdued self-consciousness, has a different bedside manner. Hoffman's center has offered conventional medicine, acupuncture, vitamin drips, herbal medicine, and other nontraditional cures since 1981. He has been prolific in writing about his work. Tired All the Time: How to Regain Your Lost Energy; Intelligent Medicine: A Guide to Optimizing Health and Preventing Illness for the Baby-Boomer Generation; and 7 Weeks to a Settled Stomach are three of his self-help books.

"I intended to do this from the get-go," Hoffman says of his decision to practice what is often known as "complementary medicine," meaning that it works with, not in replacement of, more conventional treatments. "I call it intelligent medicine." Hoffman studied anthropology in college, and his approach to the various healing systems of the world "is not hierarchical."

Most of Hoffman's patients suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, digestive problems, or allergies. He also is pioneering a non-conventional treatment of autistic children involving a digestive hormone.

Where Bezoza is a booster, Hoffman is restrained about the benefits of alternative therapies. "People present real dilemmas," he says. "They have an unsavory option ahead, and this has an aura of the magical. And sometimes there is a magical, unexpected outcome. Other times, the verdict is, you've still got to have that operation."

A native Californian, Hoffman says nontraditional healing in New York dates to the forties and the physician Carlton Fredericks, who had a popular radio show on nutrition. "There is a big difference in the style of the New York practitioners" compared with the West Coast doctors, he says. "Some are doing the touchy-feely spiritual stuff, but there is a more hard-assed approach here. In California, it's more of an aesthetic thing."