Let’s conclude this series on strategy in Chinese medicine with our final two points.
Martin Luther once said that Mankind is like a drunkard who upon falling off his horse on one side overcompensates and promptly falls off the other side. In Chinese medicine, the opposite of sticking with the same protocol no matter the situation is constantly changing what you’re doing. Now, I want to draw an important distinction here. The speed with which you have to make adjustments will depend on many factors, especially the modality being used. The very nature of acupuncture is such that you’re both creating and reacting to changes in the patient’s energy field, which by its nature is subtle. This just naturally leads to treatments in most cases being completely different from week to week in a lot of patients.
In the case of herbs however, what you don’t want to do with a chronic case if you can possibly help it is to leap from formula to formula. If you have legitimately resolved a layer of the condition and are ready to move to the next thing, that’s one thing. What you don’t want to do however is “Ok this week I think I’ll give you You Gui Wan because last week I gave you Si Jun Zi Tang and the week before I gave you Xiao Yao Wan, so I feel like we’re covering all the bases.” As I have heard Heiner Fruehauf eloquently state, you have to have the courage to decide on a base formula that adequately meets the conditions and then stick with it long term by regularly alternating a small amount of the ingredients.
That said, I don’t want to discourage anyone from having the courage to take a well-calculated risk when they aren’t 100% sure of the outcome. Let’s be honest, not many of us are completely sure about exactly what’s going to happen every time they hand their patient a bottle. I certainly am not. In fact, I find myself white-knuckling the patient’s chart, re-re-checking my conclusion long after they’ve gone home more than I care to admit. Its part of the Chinese medicine experience in our age, in my opinion.
In short, treat what you see and not according to pre-conceived notions if you can possibly help it. When in doubt, remember Reynolds’ First Maxim!
Too Many Doctors Spoil the Case
A huge problem in Chinese medicine-and one not easily resolved-that you will run into with many of your patients is the fact that you are only one of a small army of medical practitioners that they are currently seeing, and often the last one to the party, so to speak. You will often find yourself having to cope with not only the patient’s original condition, but also the added side effects and pulse-obscuring properties of drugs given to them by their team of MDs, the pile of supplements procured from their local health food store, their ill-advised Medifast diet/candida cleanse/detox protocol, their equally ill-advised weight room habit, their Reiki practitioner, their support group, and oh yes, their OTHER acupuncturist. Different doctors I’ve talked to have had different things to say on this subject. Dr. Leon Hammer has said that he typically suggests that if the patient would like to try these other methods that perhaps they come back after having first exhausted their possibilities. A famous Taiwanese doctor that a couple of my friends learned under is reputed to have refused treatment to patients who were currently under the care of someone else. How you handle this is your business of course, but suffice it to say that the more factors there are in the treater equation the more difficult it’s going to be to get anywhere with the case.
In America at least, most of the people who seek us out are in a high degree of physical and energetic chaos. The nature of our societal demands such as our crazy “rest is for the weak” work ethic, our fetishization of requiring the absolute best of the best of everything we come into contact with, keeping up with not just the Joneses anymore but the rich, famous, and Hollywood-employed as well, our terrible diets, our masochistic exercise programs, our sense of entitlement and lack of tradition, our rejection of the old and glorification of the young, our out and out INSANITY in every corner of our existence produces a patient who is coming apart at the seams on their best day. The introduction of any more chaos whatsoever into this picture can cause nothing but further catastrophe. It is absolutely not surprising that our most common “big” diseases are cancer and autoimmune conditions. We are chaos personified, the absolute opposite of peaceful growth and progression like the seasons. Nearly every patient that walks through our doors will be in this state and it would be well to keep in mind.
Also worth noting is that the primary problem in the chaotic state is that the very Yin and Yang of our beings is separating and with that separation comes greater and greater vulnerability to more disastrous diseases of every sphere. In my opinion, this separation begins at the level of the Gui Zhi Tang-type Taiyang invasion (note that Gui Zhi Tang’s most famous characteristic is that of “harmonizing Ying and Wei” which is nothing less than putting Yin and Yang back into contact with each other) and ends in death. Everything else along that continuum is some degree of separation of Yin and Yang and needs to be accounted for thusly. I fervently recommend that anyone not intimately familiar with this concept read the following article by Dr. Hammer entitled,” Towards a Unified Theory of Chronic Disease with Regard to the Separation of Yin and Yang and ‘The Qi is Wild.”
How do these two topics relate to timing and momentum? Simple. If you’re trying to walk to Albuquerque you’ll never get there if you walk toward Portland for a day, then San Diego for a day, then Atlanta for two days. You also won’t get there if you ask directions from everyone you meet and they all tell you something different. Timing and momentum is doing the right things at the right time consistently. Cure doesn’t happen without it.
That concludes this series. I hope you’ve gotten something useful out of it. If you’d like to go back and read the previous segments, here they are again:
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.