The past few days have been pretty sweet. I’ve been learning so much. On Sunday, I went to an international symposium on TCM. It brought together 5 countries and 7 TCM schools from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Australia. It was really interesting. For those who thought otherwise, Traditional Chinese Medicine has a lot of merit. At the conference, they discussed Evidence-Based Medicine and how they designed their research. They also discussed different levels of for lack of a better word “legitimacy” of the research including the differences between single-blind and double-blind. Some of the studies presented included the cessation of smoking using acupressure, studies on COPD patients and studies on Hemorrhoids. Really, all kind of topics. A practicing physician in Australia was doing research on using Acupuncture in the Emergency Room as an alternative for pain reduction. The conference was great. I had no idea there were so many studies involving TCM and that there were so many different applications.
Monday was the start of my internship and classes at TCM. My Acupuncture teacher has been studying and practicing TCM for over thirty years and his breadth and depth of knowledge of the world in general is amazing. First off, before we got down to saying anything, he made tea for us. It was after our first sips of tea that we started talking about acupuncture. Normally, acupuncture takes an entire year to cover so instead we talked about the history of acupuncture and some of the basic theories. My teacher had some very interesting theories about the history of acupuncture and how the Meridian theory came to be. I learned that in TCM, when something like the ‘liver’ is discussed, it doesn’t only involve the organ we immediately think about in Western Medicine. Some terminologies carry a larger meaning than the English translation. In TCM the body’s balance is influenced by Yin-Yang, the cycle of the five elements “wood-fire-water-metal-earth,” and Qi. So a physician has to keep all of these in mind when diagnosing a patient. And of course, all of these influence each other in some way. A very very basic idea of how they treat patients is that if the body is exhibiting too many Yang symptoms, then they prescribe medicine to bring the body back to balance by giving them more Yin medication. In terms of Acupuncture, the meridians are like a highway for Qi. Sometimes the roads intersect and they influence each other, sometimes they cross but do not influence each other. This is why some organs have stronger influences over other ones, like when some has liver failure their eyes turn yellowish. Acupuncture is a way to moderate the flow of Qi and the needle acts as the gate. The technique of how you handle the needle is how you reduce or increase the flow of Qi. My teacher even brought Star Wars into the picture. He said that only a few people truly understand the meaning of Qi. One of them is Yoda. Qi is like some kind of bioenergy.
On Tuesday, I learned about Internal Medicine. This is actually where I learned about how certain organs have a greater connection to some organs over others. I also learned that in prescribing medicine there are the five elements as well as the five flavors (salty, sweet, pungency, bitter, sour). Depending on what the problem the patient has and what it is considered, something is prescribed to extinguish or counter the problem. For example, an infection or an inflammation is considered “fire” and something with “cold” properties is prescribed. You would also be warned to stay away from certain foods that are associated with “fire” because adding fire to fire would make the problem worse. We also talked about diagnosing patients and what kinds of questions you would ask when a patient walks through the door. The questions are really all the same with regards to patient history; it’s only some diagnostic techniques that are different. I think the key difference is that because TCM uses a lot of the 5 senses to diagnose the patient such as observing the patient’s gait, the doctor takes in more information about the patient as the patient walks in as opposed in the US where we call in the patient and let them wait while we finish up some paperwork in the meantime. In western medicine, we also are not trained to notice certain aspects of a person. During my class, two students came into the office to ask my professor a question and right off the bat my professor asked the girl why she looked paler today. Turns out the girl was having her period. On Wednesday we happened to all run into each other again and my professor noticed immediately that the girl had more color in her cheeks. Apparently she finished her period the night before. I saw absolutely no difference, but I also have not been doing TCM for twenty-some odd years. It’s incredible how much they know just by feeling your pulse or looking at your tongue.
Wednesday, I started my rotation in the Herbal Pharmacy and it was very interesting. The pharmacy I worked at had those old-school cabinets and it smells very earthy and woody in there. Again, every ingredient had its own properties (cold, hot, salty, etc.) and they are prescribed according to the signs and symptoms. This pharmacy, however, did not just deal with prescriptions from doctors. There’s nothing that isn’t over the counter and plenty of times people would just walk in with a sheet of ingredients they wanted and we would put it together for them. A lot of these Chinese Herbal Remedies are cooked into the food so that a) there’s more nutrition and b) it tastes better. This has also been so ingrained into the culture that it’s normal to just want to make Chicken Soup with Chinese Herbal Medicine. I actually got to learn how they did this on Thursday (yesterday), it was pretty doggone cool. I’m sure you’ve seen bottles of Chinese Medicine somewhere, and if you haven’t…they usually contain some kind of brownish powder. Those are extracts of the original herbal stuff and there’s a saying here that says the powders are for convenience (because there’s no need to make soup out of it) but the herbs in the cabinet are for curing (because they are stronger than the powders). The herbs are also a lot more expensive but worth it for the real deal. They have all kinds of herbs in the store including some fancy Chinese name for what actually is poop. There are plant, animal and mineral herbs. Yes, some of the “animal” herbs are dried snails or dried worms and even their feces. It makes sense though. They use animal feces because there are some things we human cannot digest (like cellulose) and so the idea is to let someone else to digest it for us and we eat the fruits of their labor. Here, they package the medicine for the patient so all the person has to do is dump it into water to cook or eat all the powder at once. I asked whether or not they had certain meds that require them to eat it once in the morning and then once again at night or anything like that and apparently they don’t. It definitely makes for an easier time for the patient to keep track of what meds they need to take: just eat an entire bag a day!
Thursday, I had my Traumatology class and we learned what it entailed from before up until the present day. Back then, Traumatology included surgery and so doctors carried around scalpel and suture-like tools in their little black bag. However, now most surgeries are done in WM. Traumatology includes repairing fractures, wounds, skin lesions/burns, and things like that. It also includes “massage” or “manipulation” or “chiropractice,” apparently many of the techniques are the same. Traumatology includes cupping, acupuncture, and wound dressing. I was shown an AMAZING series of picture of how a lady with an ENORMOUS bedsore was helped by TCM. I’ll definitely post up the pictures sometime this weekend, but this lady had a bed sore starting from her upper back, down past her left butt cheek and to her upper thigh. You could see muscle and sinew and everything. No joke. After a month under WM care, the wound was still just as bad so she was transferred to TCM. They put on dressings with Chinese Medicine and within a month, the wound started closing up. Within 6-7 months it was down to the size of a bar of soap. It was incredible.
Just a note about the medical students at CMU…the amount of material we need to know in the States pales in comparison to what they need to know here. At this school at least, in both the 7 and 8 year program the students learn both WM and TCM side by side. So they not only need to learn things that we need to know they need to learn about TCM theory and how to identify the herbs and everything. Kudos to them, really. The difference between the 7 year program and the 8 year program is that you can only become a TCM doctor in the 7 yr program. After the 8 yr program, however, you can choose to be either a TCM doctor or a WM doctor. That’s just crazy.
Anyway, I think I may have overloaded you guys on TCM stuff for now. I’ve been so busy going to classes to internship but I’ll try to update this blog more than once every 8 days so I don’t need to cram everything together.