Published: December 6th 2011December 7th 2011
For many years I’ve been interested in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or at least alternatives to Western medicine. In my other life I was a medical laboratory technologist. For that I studied physiology and various aspects of Western medicine, so I had that knowledge base to begin with. However it was a long time before I had a chance to have first-hand experience of Oriental medicine.
I had an accident when I was trekking in Nepal two years ago, in November 2009. I tripped on the path and fell down a rocky slope. A few days later I met my niece, a Buddhist scholar, in Katmandu where she was acting as an interpreter for a Tibetan woman doctor. She suggested that I have a treatment from the doctor so I underwent “cupping” while my niece took photos (I’ll attach some). It’s hard to say if it did me a lot of good but I know it didn’t do me any harm. I found the whole process fascinating.
If you have been following my travels, you read about my encounter with Uyghur medicine in Kashgar, Xinxiang Province, West China last June.
I was brought in to see the doctor
very promptly. He had no English but Sofia interpreted for us. He took my right wrist and held it for about a minute, feeling my pulse. He took my left wrist and did the same. He then pronounced his diagnosis.
Apparently this is the routine diagnostic method. The doctors are trying to detect any irregularities in the pulse or blood flow at the wrist. He told me that I had been travelling for a long time so I was very tired. (OK, that didn’t take a genius.) Traditional medicine in China emphasises “hot” and “cold” like yin and yang. He told me that I had cold inside and that I shouldn’t drink cold drinks or eat foods like watermelon and chicken. Chinese people can cite a long list of these “hot” and “cold” foods. He also recommended that I don’t drink coffee, which is good because I don’t anyway. The doctor said if I had problems they would be in my stomach. I thought that was very astute of him, considering he didn’t know about me being a coeliac. Overall he said I was very healthy and he prescribed a herbal tea blend. That was it, the end of
the consultation after 10 minutes maximum, including translation time. No wonder there is no queue of patients!
Sofia brought me to the pharmacy window and in a couple of minutes my powdered medicinal concoction was prepared. It was about a cupful. Sofia advised me to put a pinch of the medicine in hot water and drink the tea once or twice a day. At that rate I’ll never live long enough to use all this up! It isn’t really all tea leaves because there are ground spices like ginger in it too and some kinds of seeds.
Then we had to go to the main window to pay the bill. I was getting a little nervous at this point because I hadn’t asked Sofia at the outset how much it was going to cost to be seen by the Top Doc. The final bill for the consultation and medicines was…wait for it….15RMB, that is, €1.50! I could hardly believe it.
Recently a Chinese woman in my taiji/taichi class told me about her TCM doctor. She said he had used massage, cupping and other treatments to alleviate chest problems and breathing difficulties she’d had
all her life. His clinic is not far from my office so I decided to book a consultation. It so happened that my appointment was for the Monday after I hiked the Great Wall of China with the Beijing Hikers. (See my blog entry of 28th
Sept. 2011) Here’s a play-by-play of what transpired.
First, I had a short chat with the doctor’s tall, female assistant who may have been Swiss or Austrian. I mentioned that I had been hiking on Saturday and the steep descent had been very hard on my big toes, that were now inflamed. She suggested soaking them in warm water with ocean salt. She also told me to pee in the water a bit. “Pee is very under-valued but it has great medicinal properties. We pay a lot for urea and similar products when we actually produce it for free!” I promised to try it.
Next I was brought into a small room where another patient was receiving treatment behind a curtain and I was asked to lie down fully-clothed on an examining bed. I noticed that the bed was next to a large picture window that looked out onto the
canal. Very nice.
The doctor’s examination didn’t take long as he just made a series of clutches down my limbs and felt my midriff, neck and head. He raised each of my hands and took my pulse, then closely examined my fingernails and the tips of my fingers.
He asked very few questions but one was, “Are your neck and shoulders always this stiff?” I explained that I had been hiking the Great Wall on Saturday and maybe the backpack with water bottles, etc. was a bit heavy. He ordered his young male assistant to give me a neck and shoulder massage then and there.
OMG, the young man must have used acupressure, if that’s the name for a massage treatment where they identify the worst spots and just press on them. Painful! But I was sure it was going to do me good so I suffered in almost-silence and only let a few muffled groans escape my lips. After a while I turned to lie on my back and he was by my head, cupping my head in his hands and gently pulling. That went on for quite a while and when there was a sudden
noise outside my masseur was startled. I suspected that he had fallen asleep!
After the massage the doctor came in and, while I continued to lie on my back, he cupped his hands over my ears and applied pressure while he chanted and sang softly. He wasn’t using Mandarin words but maybe Tibetan. Then he pressed the heels of his palms on my cheekbones and pressed down, continuing to chant. Each time, just as it as becoming unpleasant the doctor stopped the pressure. When he was finished that he asked me to put on my shoes and he would talk to me outside.
We chatted, with the Austrian female assistant, in an area of the clinic where there were a few comfortable chairs together, not like the usual doctor’s office with a big desk and impressive equipment. First of all the doctor said that I was in great shape and I didn’t need to come back to him for further treatments, unless something untoward happened.
He then said, “I’m not a doctor who tells his patients ‘You must do this or that’ but I’m telling you ‘No More Hiking!’” He went on to say that, although I
have no problem hiking up steep hills these days, if I keep it up in a few years I will be crippled with arthritis in my knees. He said the steep downhill descents are particularly hard on the knees. I said that my older sister does suffer with arthritis in her hands and knees and he said, “Well, that will be you if you don’t stop hiking – now. The hills and valleys are fine, it’s the steep climbs that are difficult. You can continue to swim, walk and do taiji all you want, ¸just no hiking.”
I showed him the Uyghur tea that was prescribed in Kashgar and explained that I have been adding ¼-teaspoon to my tea for the past 3 months. The doctor said that he couldn’t read Uyghur writing but he didn’t see the point in taking it when I was very healthy. (Answer:“Because it’s there and it may be doing some good.”) I’m still taking it in my tea¸ just to be on the safe side.
I could see his point about my not hiking and felt that the warning was bittersweet in that I had already hiked the Great Wall,
one of my big goals. I was delighted with that. I had already booked an upcoming weekend of hiking in the Mongolian Grasslands with the Beijing Hikers, but that didn’t look too difficult. Beijing Hikers always say to participants just to speak up if there is something you can’t/won’t climb. So I wasn’t worried about having to climb steep hills. It turned out that I had no problems on the grasslands trip or any of the daytrips since then.
As I said in my last blog entry (“My First & LAST Group Tour” 12-10-11) I caught a bad cold during the group tour of Yunnan. I have recovered slowly but I am temporarily (I hope!) deaf in my right ear – and not too sure about the other ear. It is ten days since I caught the cold so I’ve decided to go and see if the doctor can clear it using TCM. If his Austrian assistant is there I hope she doesn’t suggest that I pee in my ear!
October – Last Monday I went back to the TCM doctor to ask if he could cure my deafness. He felt around my neck but didn’t look
at my fingernails or take my pulse. The Austrian woman wasn’t there. The doctor asked his assistant to give me a neck massage which, once again, was very uncomfortable. I presumed that the doctor thought my deafness could be due to tight muscles in my neck, which were impinging on my Eustacian tube. He said I could come back next week if I wasn’t better.
Well, after that treatment I was still just as deaf and now my neck bones had a grinding sensation when I turned my head. But I went back the next Monday, today, to see if he had any other ideas. Each visit only costs 150RMB/€16 which I think is cheap for the massage alone, which I could always benefit from. The TCM doctor said that he didn’t have any other suggestions and that I should go to a hospital. I will say that he is a man of few words. I asked him whether, since I was there anyway, could he do anything for my bockety left shoulder joint that grinds during certain taiji exercises? He gave specific instructions to his assistant, the masseur who did a lot of grinding and pressing
in my shoulder area. It seems to have facilitated my shoulder movements.
Next I'm going to go to Chinese hospitals in Beijing to try and cure my deafness. Watch this space.
There are more photos below