The patient: Xian was a 36 year-old male construction worker in the Chinese city of Guilin who was having stomach complaints.
Why he came to see me: Perhaps better stated, why I came to see him. I was consulting and lecturing in Guangxi Province, PRC and was invited to attend rounds at the Acupuncture Hospital of Guilin. Xian was one of the patients who came to the clinic. Through my translator, I found that Xian’s issues involved chronic indigestion and that conventional medicine in China had found no ulcers or negative findings in his colonoscopy. He had found traditional acupuncture and moxibustion (treatment using smoldering mugwort to heat areas of the body and warm needles) suited him well Although my translator remained with the group during Xian’s treatment, I preferred to communicate with the Chinese physicians with gestures and have them explain to the patients in Mandarin what we were thinking and what treatments would be provided. I felt that this novel approach would intrigue Xian and also show deference to my Chinese colleagues.
How I evaluated him: Using my skills in Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment taught to me as a component of my naturopathic medical education, I performed an energetic evaluation using: palpation, examination of the face, eyes, lips, tongue and mouth. Further, and perhaps most importantly, an assessment of the wrist pulses on each arm. The area on the wrist around where most people feel their pulse, above the joint with the hand on the “thumb side,” can be used to identify and discern three discrete locations, each having a deep and superficial characteristic. Thus 12 pulses all together are used to determine imbalances and conditions within the context of traditional Chinese diagnoses.
How we addressed his problem: By letting my colleagues closely observe what I was evaluating and “communicating” my findings through my gestures and expressions with each of the 12 pulses, we were able to decide on where to place the acupuncture needles and where to burn the moxa (mugwort) over specific spots on his belly. I was offered the opportunity to place the needles into Xian but deferred to the senior physician who was on rounds with the group as a sign of respect for his station. All of my observations and suggestions were appreciated and guided the therapeutic applications.
The patient’s progress: After the visit to the hospital concluded and pleasantries were exchanged, the physicians had the translator express their appreciation for my participation in the rounds, their delight in my chosen method of communication with them, their appreciation of my training in their art and perhaps most importantly, the fact that Xian loved the attention and greatly benefitted from our ministrations! Xian commented that he appreciated my participation in his assessment and guidance in his treatment and how he felt that this session was particularly effective. I was left to wonder, as I often am, if in China, as in the US, is medicine ¾ theater and ¼ science?