TCM Archives

October 15, 1997

100 Herbs, 50 Kids

Being the "laowai" (foreigner) is often times a problem. However, sometimes even problems enjoy their own special brand of absurdity.

When I got to the Kunming Botanical Institutes's Chinese Herbal Medicine garden, I found myself alone for the first time in the week I'd been in China. I sat down in a beautiful pavilion overlooking a pond full of lilies and rested for a few minutes, enjoying my dried mangoes, a Pepsi, and a bag of potato chips self-described on the package as "the flavor of pungency".

At the time of this trek, I was just on the tail end of a really bad cold/flu. I was still suffering from profuse nasal drainage, red eyes, and a general desire not to be looked at. Having just finished my hourly sneezing fit I leaned back beginning to plan out my day of photography in this so-called "100 Medicine Garden."

Just then, I see some 8th grade children running in through the main gate of this garden three hundred yards away from me. I know that it is a matter of time, a short matter of time before I am spotted. Yep, it didn't take long at all. In minutes, I was surrounded by about fifty eighth graders.

There was nothing I could do. I couldn't be cold and ignore them. They were all around me. Each one waiting silently for some pearl of exotic wisdom to come spurting forth from me like a guru at the top of a mountain. Just to add some drama to the moment, I said absolutely nothing until one of them spoke. The bravest of them came forward, and in a decidedly British accent said "Hallao".

"Hello, how are you?" I countered, and the pavilion burst into laughter.

"What is your name?" A tall girl asked, being prodded by two of her friends.

"Al." I responded.

In unison, suggesting to me that this was part of their memorized classroom dialog, the two friends followed up with "can you spell that slowly for me?"

I opened up my left hand to use as a writing tablet, and with my right index finger, drew an "A" and an "L" on my hand. I asked one of them what her name was.

"Tian, Lin Feng."

Wow. That translates to "Heavenly wind of the forest." She wins that one.

Young man exploring lily pond.

The young man who was the first to speak to me, was also the first to actually walk on water, or so it appears as he peers into the lily pond.

A man that seemed to be in charge of the children arrived in the pavilion. I made my way over to him and asked them if they (the children) were his friends. He said "yes", and even said that their English teacher was here somewhere though I never did find her. We were having this dialog in Mandarin. We really couldn't understand each other too well.

I decided to go ahead and scout around for some good pictures. I was being followed, step by step by fifty young people. They were milling around me like I was an oxygen tank and they were all under the sea, needing me for air.

Again, I was sick. I didn't feel well, and I certainly didn't feel presentable, given the constant sneezing and dripping nose. Yet, there was absolutely nothing I could do, so I gave into it and took some pictures of the children, and even had a little fun with them.

Two girls in herb garden.

Two girls, spooked away when they saw me taking their picture. Chinese students wear team uniforms. Schools are organized into teams.

I used the children's ability to read the Chinese characters dangling from many of the medicinal herbs to determine just exactly what they were, since my experience with Chinese herbs is in the pharmacy, after the herbs have been dried, processed, and generally altered in appearance.

Huo Xiang, an herb

Here's a nice shot of Huo Xiang (Patchouli).

Huo Xiang is used for nausea and vomiting among a few other things.

I attempted to tell the kids about Huo Xiang by mimicking a headache and nausea. I must admit, that I enjoyed mimicking the dizzy retching, that's the eighth grader inside of me, but they weren't really too interested in the medicinal herbs.

To them, the real blossom of this garden was the one plant they've never seen before. The tall one with the white skin and round blue eyes, the one with all that stuff coming out of his nose.

November 14, 1997

Wang Dai Fu, Man About Town.

Wang Dai Fu's Gang. From left to right; Dr. Wen, our translator and the hospital's anesthesiologist, Al, with his head finally not cut off at the top during a group shot, Wang Dai Fu, without a smile, he doesn't have to, and Linda with a smile, she doesn't have to either.

Wang Dai Fu. That means Dr. Wang. Dr. Wang is the man in charge of the Bell's Palsy ward at the Yunnan Province Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Linda and I are spending a month with him.

Nobody is as cool as Wang Dai Fu. Dr. Wang wears black shirts with lightly colored floral ties. He's got this Mafia thing going on in his appearance.

Wang Dai Fu smokes and looks pretty damned good doing it. He uses his cigarette like an orchestra conductor's baton. With a trail of smoke he can direct his interns toward the greatest mysteries of acupuncture therapeutics. And he makes no excuses for it either. He doesn't have to. He's Wang Dai Fu. He's got the cool of Cleavon Little riding through the desert in the early scenes of Blazing Saddles, with the Duke Ellington orchestra swingin' in the background.

Wang Dai Fu with his trade mark oral moxa treatment.
Wang Dai Fu with his trade mark oral moxa treatment. Wang Dai Fu is the Bodhisattva of style, the Marlboro cowboy of Kunming, the Jack Nicholson of acupuncture.

And as for his therapeutics? Yeah, he's pretty good at getting results. There are many many people in Kunming who get "Zhong Feng" or Bell's Palsy. Nobody knows why, and to my knowledge, there hasn't yet been a study to determine this.

I began to put together a bit of a research project regarding lifestyles and environmental factors to try and come up with a common denominator, but our translator said that it was like not being able to see the mountain because you're inside of it. That is the Chinese equivalent of not being able to see the forest for the trees. There is so much Bell's Palsy in Kunming, its hard to get a sense of what the common denominator is to produce this, other than living in Kunming.

So, Dr. Wang's good at Bell's palsy, but what makes him special is his almost evil cool. He often works with a cigarette in his mouth. Rather than condemn it, we now say that he works with a moxibustion stick in his mouth.

The young man that he's working on in this picture came in to the clinic having suffered from Bell's Palsy for three months. He was unable to close his right eye, among other muscular pathologies on the side of his face. Two weeks later, at the time of the writing of this article, he can now close his eye. This, with an acupuncture treatment five days a week.

Al emulating Wang Dai Fu with Dr. Wang's trademark Moxa stick hanging out of his mouth.Al emulating Wang Dai Fu with Dr. Wang's trademark Moxa stick hanging out of his mouth.

Of course, I want to emulate the genius of all my teachers at the Yunnan Hospital, and the cool of Wang Dai Fu, so here I am helping with the diagnosis of a patient, with a (tobacco) moxibustion stick in my mouth.

Acupuncture Anesthesia

Acupuncture Anesthesia has been dreadfully under-utilized in the West, however, at the Yunnan Province TCM Hospital, in Kunming, its a common occurrence. Its a safe and effective means of inducing anesthesia without the dangerous side effects of Western drugs.

Dr. Wen Dr. Wen is our translator at the hospital. And he's also the anesthesia department

This isn't what he looks like in surgery, this is what he looks like at the Jin Dian monastery.

Acupuncture anesthesia is based on both Western neurological understanding as well as the traditional Chinese medicine paradigm. Some needles are inserted close to the nerves that travel to the area of the body that is to be worked on. Other needles are inserted for their therapeutic functions in accordance with traditional Chinese medical theory.

In the case of the surgery in which the picture below was taken, it was the knee cap that was to be repositioned. We use acupuncture anesthesia most often for orthopedic surgeries, though it is also used for surgeries on organs above the diaphragm.

The nerve through which the pain signals travel from the knee area to the brain is called the tibial nerve. It travels from near the groin down to the knee. We applied needles to two points along that pathway. These needles were attached to an electro-stim machine. This is a small little electronic unit that emits very slight bursts of electricity to the needles.

Al doing acupuncture anesthesia Here I am, smiling for the camera, while inserting a needle into an acupoint on the hand.

These little electric signals over stimulate the nerve without any pain. When the nerve is over stimulated, it is unable to transmit any other sensations, such as the pain associated with the surgery. Its a little bit like when there's loud music in the room and you're trying to talk on the phone. The nerves in your ears are overstimulated by the volume of the music, and so you can't hear anything on the phone. Once the music is turned down, you can hear again. That's pretty much the reasoning with needles inserted along a nerve pathway for acupuncture anesthesia.

Other points used for this surgery included two on the arm. Their function was to both stimulate additional endorphin release in the body which is an action based on Western medical theory. Endorphins are one of the body's many pain relief chemicals. The other point that we used on the arm was Pericardium 6. This point was chosen for its traditional Chinese medicine therapeutic action. This point calms the spirit. This enables the patient to feel calm during the surgery.

And this patient was remarkably calm. By the end of the surgery, he remained in good spirits.

This was the second surgery that I took part in. I hope to continue my education in this exciting area of acupuncture therapeutics.

For more information on Acupuncture Anesthesia, written for TCM practitioners, please see: Acupuncture Anesthesia.

December 14, 1997

Cancer Treatments with Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Yunnan Province Hospital of TCM has a "sister city" relationship with one of the major TCM hospitals in Shanghai. For one month, a number of distinguished doctors from Shanghai come to Kunming to share with our doctors their unique perspective on a variety of specialties including cancer.

A child with a brain tumorA seven year old boy has been suffering from slow growth (he looked to be about the height of a five year old) and frequent bouts of nausea. With Western testing procedures, it was determined that he has a small brain tumor.

From left to right is the cancer specialist from Shanghai. Next is the little boy's uncle. Standing above the boy is his father. The boy sits in the lap of another uncle who was kind of in the driver's seat regarding this young man's medical care because he had some education whereas the father had none.

There is an entire category of herbal medicines in the Chinese pharmacopoeia that treat cancer. Of course there are many different types of cancer, many locations, and many different causal agents. All of these need to be taken into account to arrive at a therapy that is safe and effective.

The doctor was not very forthcoming regarding this case nor the therapeutics that he was prescribing and so we left none the wiser. Some doctors are like that. However, certainly, this young man gave me something to think about.

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