Trick or Treatment ? Westerners encounter Chinese Medicine

Kevin Cuffrey, an American student of the MTC, was hit by a car last year. The driver did not bother to stop, so Kevin got up and went straight to the next clinic, which happened to be a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) clinic. After he was treated with acupuncture he went home almost as if nothing had happened. "It works," he later commented, "it didn't hurt any more."

Edward Grulich, another student from the US, had seen a western doctor several times to cure painful, swollen tendons of his arm, injured when lifting heavy weights; but all injections were in vain, so he went to a specialist who combined western diagnosis with Chinese acupuncture. This herbalist and acupuncturist treated him three times;after one week the swelling was gone, after one month so was the pain.

Jay O'Neil had caught a serious flu which turned chronic and resulted in pleurisy with severe coughing symptoms. The inflammation was cured by a western doctor, but the coughing persisted. A friend recommended to see a Chinese doctor who took his pulse, listened to his coughing and breathing and prescribed an infusion of herbs to be taken twice daily during a period of four days. "It was the worst thing I have ever tasted inmy whole life," said Jay, "he also gave me some advice; to avoid cold and sweet drinks and exhausting exercises and so on." However, within a week the cough was almost gone and after two more weeks he felt completely sound and sane again.

Asked about TCM, he said that although there were certainly psychological effects (the taste and the price) involved, the wholesome treatment and helpful advice of this "folk wisdom" are effective beyond doubt.

Vincent Bertino, a former student of the MTC, has been treated for high altitude-headaches with the application of two needles, each on one side of the head, and later learned to apply acupressure himself, which almost immediately gave as he put it "much quick relief." He also cured a sore throat with Chinese herbs, which are "in the short term effective," as he said.

Johan Andreu, a student from Sweden, had been guiding tourists in mainland China for a longtime. When they went to visit the hospital for TCM in Guilin, a 65 or 70 year old man asked the doctor on duty for help with his severe arthritis. The doctor was a specialist in "Qi Gong" (bioenergetic treatment), who applied his Qi by hand two times, after which the old man was both relieved and excited, stating that his pain was gone; he could move stiff joints again and felt "better than I have felt in years." But two times is usually not enough for a complete recovery, the specialist noted.

Laura Burian, an American student, had sprained her wrist when she fell down. An acupuncturist placed two needles for five minutes, causing a sore, burning sensation. Afterwards the wrist itself was still in pain, but the spreading of the pain which had begun after the accident was arrested. She noted that she is not sure how effective the treatment was, but "although scientific research hasn't found any concrete Qi (internal energy) that can be seen under the microscope, I'd rather trust a 3000 year old tradition than drugs with known and unknown side effects."

As for myself, I never doubted the effticiency of traditional Chinese medicine, since I came to China specifically to study it here. Yet — perhaps it was me, who was most astounded after Dr. Pai Wen-chiang from the Veterans Hospital's Research Centre for Traditional Medicine inserted one single needle between two of my fingers to treat a literal "pain in my neck" that had bothered me for two months, keeping me from turning my head. After less than three minutes he removed the needle and simply said "Now- turn your head" I turned it to the farthest natural extent and there was no pain anymore!

Later, after carrying heavy furniture when moving, the pain returned, so I pressed the point and exorcised the stiffness again.

No matter if one comes to a TCM clinic for studies or treatment, for non-Chinese it is a completely new field; and while such clinics are common in all Chinese countries, to foreign visitors they are quite a new phenomenon the R.O.C.

Hoping to explore this new phenomenon, I spoke with an expert who has treated several hundred foreign patients in his East -West Clinic in Shih-p'ai (a suburb of Taipei), Prof.Chang Chung-Kwo, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc. (a specialist trained in both western clinical and Chinese traditional medicine), who is also teaching in the China Medical College inTaichung.

Dr. Chang came in contact with TCM in his childhood when he helped his grandfather picking medical herbs. Later his career included working in the Veteran's General Hospital, being the director of China Medical College's research centre and acupuncture centre as well as director of the Kaohsiung Municipal Chinese Medicine Hospital, always trying to combine the "best of two different medical worlds" into one. In addition to his Chinese patients, he has many patients from Germany, Japan, the US, Switzerland, and several other counties. He says that the most common complaints he treats are spine problems and backaches, joint-andarthritic diseases and asthma. Some also come for infertility or quit-smoking cures.

Why do they try Chinese medicine? Most of them come with a friend's recommendation after being treated with western medicine in vain or without satisfaction. His Chinese patients have slightly different reasons; they comebecause they have:

1. had no success with or been diagnosed uncurable by clinical medicine; 2. Multiple complaints which cannot be verified by clinical techniques; 3. Allergic reactions to or fear of side-effects from chemical based medicaments, 4.religious (Buddhists) or habitual reasons (family always sees a herbal doctor), or 5. a disease which is known to be especially responsive toTCM.

Comparing differences in curative effects on western and Chinese patients, he explained that TCM on western patients usually works even better for obvious reasons: their physiological constitution is generally better for reasons of nutrition and upbringing; they do not take any additional unprescribed medicine to interfere with the treatment, like many Chinese patients may do (often and in large amounts), and they adhere to the therapists advices which achieves a much higher compliance.

But for what reasons does it work ? In the PR China, Japan, Hong Kong and lately in the ROC (Taiwan), too, some research has been done to prove the concepts and effects of TCM by applying western science to it. Nevertheless, while some part of it are already verified, like the existence of acupuncture points, others still remain a puzzle, like the acupuncture channels. All in all it might be doubtful that all concepts once will be verified, since TCM has a completely different historical background than western science. Hence, using the one to verify the other is like verifying the esthetic quality of art through mathematics; and TCM somehow is a kind of art.

Being a new viewpoint to western medicine, TCM might be a wellspring of new information, especially if eastern experience and western skill can be combined. The East-West Medicine Newsletter expresses this in the following way:

"The 21st century will be the century of bioenergetic medicine, and traditional medicines...(which) represent an intensive and deep understanding of energy in the human body. All who are associated with the department (of the VeteranHospital's TCM Research Centre) feel the need to work hard and ready themselves for the arrival of the new century."

The author in his with his teacher Senator Dr. Chang in the office of the National Health Administration 1999, in Taipei,  Taiwan.

TCM and Western Medicine – a metaphoric comparison

A disease does not come out of the blue. We slowly build it up in our bodies by gradual, constant misbehavior which transgresses the laws of health, somewhat like heaping garbage on alleys and lanes that by and by spreads, congesting bigger roads and ending in blocked major roads and a collapse of the entire traffic system. It is at this point, when increasing symptoms cause the patient to pay attention, that most people decide to see a doctor; the situation (like through pain) has become unbearable.

Now a western doctor solves the problem by moving the garbage to the side with a bulldozer, sometimes blocking other roads (side-effects), or justby blowing the way free with a grenade (surgery). The effect is, immediate: traffic can go on, albeit the process often begins anew; smaller streets are disturbed and constant bombing worsens the smooth surface of the roads as well. If the doctor is a good one, he also tries to treat the garbage's origin (i.e.stressful lifestyle, poor diet, etc.) with some good advice.

This is actually where TCM starts, eliminating the disease's foundation (dietetic advice) and simultaneously collecting the garbage piece by piece (slow herbal treatment) away from the roads, sending it to a dump (urine-bladder, large intestine) or an incinerator (liver). Obviously, this is a procedure that takes time.

For immediate help there is a ch'i kung or acupuncture application which reduces pain, cramps and other symptoms, like a traffic policeman directing cars to unblocked roads or like building a bridge over the garbage heap. But these treatments are seldom used as a single therapy. One can say that western medicine pushes forward to overcome the obstruction, whereas TCM reverses the process that lead to the disease.  

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Letzter Update: 02 May 2003