Much to your probable dismay and certainly to mine, I’m writing about the state of my health again. The topic is not so much about my health as it is about the Chinese attitude toward their own system of traditional medicine versus modern medical marvels. Unfortunately I have to give you some background information. That is where my health woes come in.
Those who have followed this blog with any loyalty know that I’ve been sickly since I’ve been here, plagued with this discomfort and that malaise pretty much from the outset of my China adventure. My infirmity actually goes ten years farther back, when I was diagnosed with a low thyroid condition I inherited from my mother.
She could have given me something better than a disease. I would have settled for a nice ring or a necklace.
I was diagnosed with the thyroid condition in my mid-thirties. For 9 years I methodically popped a pill every morning and ‘fed Dracula’ – gave a blood sample for testing every 3 months. All was well and good despite the fact that I resented being saddled with, and to an extent limited by a reputedly incurable condition. At best I could look forward to maintenance by daily ingestion of hormone… until I learned that acupuncture can cure thyroid conditions.
According to ancient Chinese medicine, thyroid disease results from an imbalance in the ‘qi’ – life force. Acupuncture clears up the obstruction, allowing qi to flow properly. Hormone production and thyroid function return to normal. Treatment ends upon confirmation of proper levels of TSH, T3 and T4 hormone levels. As I had in fact suffered a major trauma just prior to the failing thyroid diagnosis, I accepted acupuncture’s explanation for my condition.
I have reason to believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture. After the first session to treat a long existent lumbar injury and plantar fasciitis in my left foot, my back pain went away and I was able to walk normally again. A total of 7 sessions completely cured those conditions and to this day I have neither back pain nor foot problems.
Upon discovering acupuncture could also correct thyroid imbalance, I was eager to free myself of my pill taking and blood test rituals. After 5 sessions the results were confirmed: my thyroid functions were restored to normal. Under doctor’s advice I stopped taking medicine. Shortly after that I moved to China, relieved I would not have to continue that formerly declared lifelong treatment.
And then Montezuma struck (See Montezuma’s Revenge, posted in October, 2010). Since then I’ve been… not myself. Uncontrollable coughing. Inability to breathe, which disturbed my sleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding and gasping for air. No energy. No appetite. And that was just the beginning. Fortunately I had brought some Benadryl and, after putting myself on a regimen of antihistamines, my symptoms lessened.
And then things got worse. Any dairy product consumption resulted in an abnormally bloated stomach, as did produce consumption. Eating wheat products put me down for the whole day. My right eye could be counted on to at least drag as though I had suffered a stroke, or worse: not open at all. When it did my vision was blurry. Sometimes I had not so bad days but most of the time, I wasn’t doing so well, even with Benadryl.
I had wondered at times whether my thyroid condition was back, but I showed no symptoms of hypothyroidism: dry skin, brittle nails, excessive fatigue, hair loss – especially eyebrows. Vertical ridges in fingernails are a dead giveaway to a thyroid condition. In fact my nails are growing faster than I can manicure them. My eyebrows require daily maintenance. Every time I questioned the possibility of thyroid I kept coming back to the fact that I showed no classic symptoms of the disease. Besides, everything from upper respiratory blockage and inability to breathe to eye/throat itching and nagging cough was alleviated by antihistamines.
Everything pointed to allergies and nothing pointed to thyroid. But I wasn’t getting any better.
Things got so bad I asked Sam to please take me to a doctor. I enthusiastically agreed when he asked if we should consult a traditional medicine doctor. Remembering acupuncture’s success in treating my back and foot pain, and my thyroid condition, I was keen for another quick solve.
I couldn’t help but notice a certain derision in Sam’s tone when he asked me if I believe in traditional medicine: fire cups, acupuncture, herbology and all that. I found his stance rather intriguing, considering he is, in many aspects, very traditional. However, his wife is a nurse in a modern medicine hospital, so I could see where his loyalty might be at least divided, if not deterred.
We ended up going to the hospital where Penny works. I doubted the doctor’s ability to diagnose me. I was still taking antihistamines and thus would show no symptoms of allergy. However, I had catalogued every manifestation: if I ate this, that was the result. While divulging my medical history Sam told the doctor of my previous thyroid condition. The ENT ordered a blood test. And that is how we found out my thyroid condition was back.
The hematologist interpreting my readings was appalled that I had stopped taking my medicine. When I explained that, through acupuncture I was cured of the condition 3 years ago she inferred that hypothyroidism could require lifelong treatment. She prescribed a synthetic hormone similar to the one I was formerly attached to, with instructions to take 1 pill for the first 3 days, 2 pills for the next 3 days and 2 and a half pills for the next thirty days, and then come ‘feed Dracula’ again.
What surprises me is the disdain of those Chinese who stand firmly on the side of modern medicine for their culture’s traditional medical practices, while I, a foreigner believe wholeheartedly in the benefits and wonders of traditional Chinese medicine.
The hematologist based her diagnosis and prescription solely on the blood test results. The only time she actually looked at me was when she exclaimed, aghast about my not continuing my medicine. She did not examine me or palpate anything.
A traditional medicine doctor would have taken the whole body into account before formulating a diagnosis. Had a traditional doctor examined me, he/she most likely would not have concluded ‘thyroid’. One look at my skin would show it to be well hydrated. One look at my hands would show long, strong fingernails. One look at my face would reveal shaved eyebrows and strong, healthy hair. A few questions would have clued him/her into my appetite and eating habits. Hearing that bit of a rattle in my upper respiratory system and the wheeze in my breathing would have revealed there is indeed an obstruction.
Even though I had enthusiastically agreed to visit a traditional medicine doctor when Sam suggested it, he immediately tempered his offer by claiming many foreigners cannot tolerate the bitterness of the potions or the duration of treatment, sometimes months long. As he has been wont to do, learned from past occasions, he arbitrarily decided what would be best in spite of my wishes. I’m used to that phenomenon; many Chinese take that tack. That is why we went to Penny’s hospital rather than the traditional medicine hospital first.
Now medicated for 3 weeks I have to admit I am feeling better. On the other hand, I have been moderating my food intake strictly, only ingesting what I know does not adversely affect me. I’ve regained muscle control, I’m sleeping through the night, my stomach is behaving and my hands and feet no longer tingle as though just ‘waking up’. Sam has noticed the difference too: more vibrant, more energetic, more ‘there’.
Recently at lunch he asked how I was doing. Glowingly, I related my joy at rediscovering my former self. We discussed my follow-up examination – to take place in about 2 weeks. And then he told me Penny had suggested to him that I visit a doctor trained in modern medicine as well as traditional.
That should be interesting.