Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Medical Goodies

First, this week's Grand Rounds is up. Happy reading!

Second, last night we had our first meeting of the Literature & Medicine discussion group, which I'm facilitating at one of our local hospitals. Those of us on the planning side were nervous about attendance, and indeed only a handful of people showed up (although more have said they want to come next time), but we had a lively and thoughtful discussion, and I think everyone enjoyed it. I certainly did. I can't wait until the October meeting!

And third, yesterday I had acupuncture for the first time.

I liked the acupuncture, which I think helped unclog my sinuses. The preceding diagnostic procedures, however, put my Western skeptic brain into screaming "Warning, Will Robinson!" mode. See, you hold a brass rod that attaches by a wire to a machine with a platform on top; another wire from the other side of the machine is attached to a probe which the clinicians jams into meridian points on your hands and feet to see how well your organ systems are functioning. The machine beeps and whines as a colored bar shoots up on a computer screen to show function level. What made me skeptical is that a) the level seems to vary according to probe pressure and how long it's held there, and b) my very nice nurse practitioner began this procedure by explaining that the actual doctor -- who's an MD as well as having acupuncture certification -- might have to redo some of the readings, because "he's more sensitive than I am and communicates with this machine better."

Um, okay. Some people are better at reading, oh, x-rays than others. Maybe it's like that.

But then, after the initial readings -- which showed that I have an alarmingly "stagnant liver" (which doesn't mean what it would in Western medicine) -- the diagnosis continues with treatment testing. This is done by putting vials of herbs on the machine platform and retaking the readings to see if the high ones are now low. If so, that means this herb will help you.

The APN was having trouble finding herbs that would balance me, so the doctor came in. "How does this work?" I asked him. "How can the machine tell what herbs are in the vials if they're in glass?"

"Electromagnetic fields," he said cheerfully, and proceeded to do a little demo. He'd found a herb that would balance me very nicely, according to the machine. He had me put the tip of my left thumb to the tip of my left forefinger, like an "OK" sign, and tried to pull them apart while I resisted. "Your kidney readings are fine," he said. "If I try to do this while I'm pointing at your kidneys, I can't do it, but if I try to do it while I'm pointing at your liver, which is weak, I can pull your fingers apart easily." This was indeed true, but I suspected either a different grip on his part or the power of suggestion on mine. Then he put the vial of the herbs that will help my stagnant liver in my right hand, and said, "See? Now if I point at your liver, I can't pry your fingers apart anymore."

I was trying to keep my face from twitching. (When I described this to Gary, later, he said, "This guy needs to get an act in Vegas.") But a good friend of mine swears by this doctor, so I was trying very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. "What causes a stagnant liver?" I asked him.

"Internalized anger," he said promptly. This is, of course, a classic cause of depression, and I can't count how many psychiatrists have told me the same thing. And when I talked to the doctor about antidepressants, he was very clear and thoughtful and smart about what they do and what they can't do. In Chinese medicine, a stagnant liver would also cause allergies, so that ties together neatly.

On the other hand, depression and allergies were my two chief complaints on my new-patient paperwork and during my initial interview with the APN, so is he telling me what he already knows I want to hear?

As I say, I did like the acupuncture, and I'm going back in two weeks for more. And this guy's covered by my insurance, which confers a certain legitimacy. In the meantime, I'm taking Chinese herbs, which a) smell yucky, b) aren't covered by my insurance, and are more expensive than my OTC meds, and c) have to be taken in vast quantities (twelve pills a day, in my case). It's too soon to tell if they're doing anything, but I wonder if I can continue with acupuncture but discontinue the herbs. Oh, and he's trying to formulate a homeopathic remedy for my stagnant liver. When he talked about what the liver herbs should do for me, he mentioned relief of symptoms I hadn't told him I had, which was interesting. On the other hand, they're common depression symptoms, so again, maybe that was just a good guess on his part.

The jury will be out for a while on this one. But it's an adventure, that's for sure!


  1. Anonymous5:28 PM

    Susan, I've done both accupuncture and herbs and found them helpful.

    And a belated Happy Birthday. I finally have my house to myself after all summer and I'm loving it.


  2. How do you know whether it's ok to take Chinese herbs (and what ones) with your other meds?


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