18 June 2007

the ponderous patient: the magic needle

in the continuing saga of my lack-of-a-gallbladder sod dysfunction, mr_dr_do suggested that i see an acupuncturist/traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician. i'd been to an acupressurist in college, but never to an acupuncturist. this was largely because, up until the last few years, i'd been terrified of needles. not to mention that i was a tad skeptical--in my years as a patient, the number of times i've been asked to purchase extras (i.e. herbs, vitamins, supplements, salves, etc.) from a physician has been directly proportional to how close one adheres to "western" medicine. in other words, the more "alternative" the practitioner, the more extras one has to buy, and therefore, the more expensive the overall treatment becomes. since i have some ethical qualms about whether physicians should sell products in their offices (a rant i'll indulge in at a later date), it's turned me off a bit to "alternative" pracitioners.* nevertheless, i'm curious about "integrative" medicine and what it can offer. so i decided, in spite of my fears about the costs, to pursue this course of treatment.

mr_dr_do clearly spent a considerable amount of time looking for an appropriate referral and came up with a female physician at a local college of acupuncture, whom i'll name here as dr_tcm. three weeks ago, i went to see dr_tcm for the first time. i liked her instantly (she personally came to the waiting room to get me! who does that?!?)--during the first appointment, i discovered that she's witty, intelligent, cogent, and thoughtful. she'd also been a medical doctor (md) in china, then came to the u.s. and got a ph.d. in endocrinology. this made our encounter all the more interesting because she knows the difference between which types of medicine work best in which situations. she's now one of the main faculty physicians at a local college of tcm.

she didn't promise me the world: "i don't have any magic needles!" she said. but she noted that she has worked on many patients who had various g.i. complaints following surgeries like mine and, based on her experience with them, felt that she could help me.

if somebody had told me that laying on a table naked with needles stuck in various parts of my body would help me feel better, i would have called him/her a fruitcake. i mean, seriously, can you imagine? it sounds like quack.

only, it's not.

when i appeared for my first session, i rated my pain and nausea at 4/10 (10 being highest). by the end of the session, i had *no* pain or nausea. at first i wondered if i'd merely not realized that lying down helps with the pain/nausea (i spent about 1.5 hours laying on the table with the needles in me). but the symptoms were better the next day, too. this continued--i noticed that after every session, i felt better. it didn't mean that my symptoms stopped completely--they haven't--but i've found some relief that doesn't involve massive amounts of heavy-duty medications or life-altering surgeries. how cool is that?!?!?

i did end up buying some products (the "pancakes" of chinese herbs she's given me to put on my abdomen at night were just too neat to pass up--i'd never seen anything like that before, even though "western" medicine now uses a transdermal approach frequently, so i was curious to try them). but most of what dr_tcm has suggested (prescribed?) has proven to be relatively straightforward. some of it, in fact, has been so straightforward that i've felt like smacking myself in the head for not thinking about it myself.

case in point: since surgery, i've been completely intolerant to food that contains fat. (i'm not going to delineate what intolerant means in this context--use your imagination.) so i've dropped all fat containing foods from my diet and had been eating a relatively "raw" diet--that is, i was only eating stuff that, if left on my kitchen counter for any period of time, would go bad (e.g. organic fruits & veggies, etc.). i always had been under the impression that such a diet is about the healthiest one a person can follow. (the only upside to this whole process is that i've dropped about 15 lbs and now weigh close to what i did in college; i don't recommend this as a weight loss program...but at least something good has come of it...i never imagined i'd have a flat tummy again!) the first thing that dr_tcm asked me to do, though, was to change my diet! needless to say, i was perplexed when she asked me to do this. but then she told me what she wanted me to do: eat foods that had been cooked, because the compounds in them would already be broken down a bit and thus would require less effort for my body to digest. she also asked me not to eat anything cold--only hot foods. puzzled by this, i asked my favorite question: why? and then she noted a basic science concept--the cold would make my gut seize as my body tried to regulate its internal temperature. duh, i thought, why didn't i think of that? what's more basic to science than the notion of how temperature is transferred and its effects? apparently, there's a reason i didn't major in science in college....

needless to say, between the diet, the funny herb pancakes, and the acupuncture sessions themselves, i've been beginning--albeit slowly--to feel better. i've got my fingers crossed in the hope that this will last. as she said, there are no magic needles in her arsenal...but there's something profound in her treatments, that's for sure. it's magic enough for me. :-)


recently, grey's anatomy had an episode in which they depicted acupuncture. it's a wonderful vignette on what having tcm done for the first time is like--particularly in this country. i hope you enjoy the video as much as i did! :-)


*a note on language: i have a strong dislike for the manner in which the english language has been used to name various medical practices. i don't believe that "western" medicine is better than "eastern" medicine; i have difficulties calling u.s. physicians (m.d.s or d.o.s) "traditional" given that tcm and other such practices have been around for many a millennia longer than the medicine we think of as traditional today; and, overall, i'm not the type to think in terms of opposing forces. mwms has just assigned us a new textbook for the upcoming year called "integrative medicine." it discusses the problematic aspects of the terminologies and suggests the term integrative to describe what practitioners with an "holistic" (<--another problematic term) perspective practice/perceive such medicine to be. i personally don't know the best way to describe these different types of medicine--hence i'll put the terms in quotation marks to indicate that they're not terms i've created/i'm not using them as labels.

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a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)