Experiments in Chinese herbalism : on the dangers of Yin Qiao-itis

errors_in_chinese_medical_thinkingWhat follows is a guest post by my friend and colleague, G. Michael Reynolds.  I think it demonstrates a couple of things.

  1. That experimenting with herbs can – obviously – bring mixed results.  :)
  2. That there’s real peril in standardized systems of medicine.  I believe, in general, they tend to make lazy practitioners.  I mean, seriously, do you see Yin Qiao in that tongue?
  3. The power of Classical formula principles.

For any members of the general public currently reading, please don’t become too alarmed by this story. In all systems of medicine, there are ok practitioners, good practitioners, great practitioners and a few folks who shouldn’t but somehow DO make it into the practitioner pool.  The difference between Chinese and allopathic medicine in this regard is that Chinese medicine is highly unlikely to kill people even when practiced badly, while allopathic medicine is somewhat less blessed.

This is one reason I am so passionate about the style of Chinese medicine that I am learning.  In my experience the kinds of mistreatment problems described below are far less likely to happen within Classical styles.  Enjoy this fun read.

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From Michael:  “This story involves a whole host of mistakes, the first and second of those made by me personally, the rest made by three different supervisors in the school clinic. The 3 doctors who led me down the wrong path will remain nameless, however I will point out that the doc who set things to rights is none other than our own Abdallah Stickley.  Make what you will of it!”

So here’s the story. On a Sunday evening, I get suddenly sick right before bed.  I mean instantaneously sick. My ear started kind of hurting, throat bothering me a little, was sort of dizzy, a slightly productive cough appeared, and some urethral pain (which i have sporadically anyway, but it changed quality a little and intensified). I went to bed determined to do something about it in the morning.

In the morning all the symptoms were the same, but with a little added intensity and a headache that would only appear at pinpoint locations on the GB channel (like GB-2, GB-14, GB-20) and only on one side.  Also some retching, mostly due to the cough.  I checked my pulse as best I could (always dodgy when you’re sick) and it seemed to me like it could have been considered (in TCM pulse parlance) rapid, slippery, and a bit tight, but also a bit deep at the same time. A mid level pulse, not coming up to the Qi level.  So, determined to handle this via SHL style medicine, i wrote the following formula:

Chai Hu
Huang Qin
Gan Jiang
Ban Xia
Bai Shao
Zhi Gan Cao
Fu Ling
Wu Wei Zi

At this point I made a fateful mistake which this whole story turns on. I probably could have booted the whole thing out of my system had I added Gui Zhi. However, I panicked and did not put my full faith in the method I was using. Instead of thinking “quick onset, minor ear and throat irritation=Taiyang, Urethra and bladder pain=Water inhibition=Shaoyang,” I thought “TCM says ear pain is treated with Long Dan Cao. It also treats Liver channel issues like urethral pain. The throat part is covered by the Shaoyang part of this formula” and instead added Long Dan Cao. This formula was made with Teacher #1’s blessing.

That evening I woke up with the same symptoms more or less (adding in sneezing), except now I was getting some dark urine, a tiny bit of dark phlegm, and my pulse was now showing superficial, rapid, and slippery over all. I really panicked at this point, as I begin to think that I did the whole thing wrong.  I started to think that the pathogen had time to turn into a heat condition,  that despite evidence to the contrary, SHL formulas cannot treat Heat conditions, Wen Bing is right, TCM is right, and a whole other host of lunatic thoughts brought on by someone with Phlegm-Fire problems getting hit by a phlegm producing illness and waking up in the middle of the night….

In my panic I made my second mistake. I took a big hit of Yin Qiao Pian. It will not surprise you to know that within an hour I found myself on the couch thinking “wow…im FREEZING now…” In the morning, I took another YQP dose but half that of the previous one and trotted off to school, feeling worse. I decided that I’d swallow my pride and find a clinic supervisor to look me over and tell me what they thought, because clearly I had blown my own diagnosis and treatment.  So, Teacher #2 gave me a looking over and suggested that I stick with the YQP, as it sounded like a heat condition due to the rapid pulse (which was now back down to the Blood depth again) and the dark urine in the morning coupled with the small amount of yellow phlegm. I complied and finished off my YQP that night.

The next morning, I felt worse
(keep in mind that I’d already felt bad enough to leave school after an hour or two on both Monday and Tuesday). While in the truck, I got the Missus to take a picture of my tongue, which I present here:



(It may be hard to tell since this is a photo, but that coat-outside of the back area-is definitely a WHITE coat)

I went to school again, toughed it out for my half day class, arranged to be absent from my clinic shift the following day, came home, crashed.  The next day, I was still worsening. By the end of the day, I broke down and went back to the clinic hoping to find another supervisor to evaluate. I managed to catch one on her way out the door and Teacher #3 gave me 10 minutes worth of diagnosis and prescription.  She wrote a formula which I dont have in front of me, but which I think goes something like this:

Huang Qin
Long Dan Cao
Yu Xing Cao
Xing Ren
Gui Zhi
Wu Wei Zi
Ban Xia
Bai Shao

(It actually had 13 herbs, but these are the only ones i can remember. I’ll get the full list off my chart tomorrow. Basically its a cold, cold formula.)

So I filled this one, took it, next morning woke up feeling like I was going to suffocate. i had to cough for about 5 minutes solid to establish normal breathing. Not happy. However, continued to take the formula. Over the course of the next few days (Fri-Mon) I got marginal improvement at best but still felt horrendous. On Tuesday, I had class followed by clinic. By Clinic time I felt like I was going to die, so I threw myself on the mercy of Dr. Stickley, who did the diagnostics and Rx’ed the following formula:

Chai Hu
Huang Qin
Gan Jiang
Bai Shao
Ban Xia
Fu Ling
Wu Wei Zi
Gan Cao (we were out of Zhi gan Cao in the pharmacy)
Jie Geng

I took a dose in the clinic and then went home afterwards and went to bed.

Next morning, 75% improvement.

So there you have it. I still haven’t finished kicking this thing but I’ve only been on the sensible formula for a day. I’m thinking it may need a little Gui Zhi at some point if it doesnt resolve itself.

G. Michael Reynolds



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About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of Deepest Health. When I'm not writing here, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Community Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

View all posts by Eric Grey - Website: http://deepesthealth.com