Friday, November 9, 2012

Chinese Medicine

A couple months ago, I went for a run and hurt my knee.  Maybe I twisted it; I’m not really sure.  In any case, I messed it up good and did nothing to take care of it.  In fact, a few weeks later, I went to Jiufen for the weekend and hiked for hours in the mountains.  Silly me, that was a bad idea.  By the following Thursday, I could barely walk, let alone stand for hours teaching or maneuver up and down flights of stairs.

My boss, Fuho, offered to take me to the Chinese Medicine doctor, and I thought, “When in Rome.....”  Or, Taiwan.

We arrived at the clinic (at 9:30pm and without an appointment, mind you), I waved my National Health Care card, paid $100NT (about $3US), and sat down to wait my turn.  After about 35 seconds, they called my number, and I went in to see the doctor.  Fuho translated for me and explained my ailment to the doctor.  He took my blood pressure and looked at my knee.  It was visibly swollen and he said he could feel the heat under my skin.  

He sent me back out to the lobby, and the nurse/receptionist brought me an ice pack.  Then the doctor came back with a box of needles and a cotton swab.  I looked up at Fuho for reassurance, and she said, “Is it ok? He has needles.  Are you ok?”

“Uhhhhhh..... sure......”  Needles?  What’s going on?  None of the other patients seemed to be screaming in pain, so I decided to just go with it.

The doctor swabbed my knee with alcohol and poked me with some acupuncture needles.  I didn’t hurt at all, the needles were so tiny.  Then I just sat there for maybe five minutes, waiting to be cured.

Acupuncture needles

When he removed the needles, I thought I was finished, and frankly I didn’t think that was worth my three dollars.  But the doctor indicated that I should go around the corner to another room for further treatment.

I sat down with the next doctor, and again Fuho explained to the doctor what was wrong.   When she mentioned the running and hiking, he tut-tutted his tongue at me and began “massaging” the area around my knee.  I felt like I was being punished for the physical activities that caused my injury!  He ground his thumb so deeply into the tissue above my kneecap, I knew I would have a bruise.  As I sat gripping the arms of the chair in pain, the doctor reached over into a drawer and pulled out a bone-shaped stick that could ONLY be a torture device of ancient medicinal practice.  He dug the end of that thing into my calf muscle and I truly thought I was going to have to kick him in the face to make him stop.

He finally realized I wasn’t having fun and stopped.  He seemed a bit pissed that I wasn’t letting him do his job, and he put down the tool and said, “Walk. Go.”

So I go up and walked around.  I must admit, my knee felt better.  In fact, it felt so much better, I was willing to overlook the bruising and pain to allow him to finish whatever “massage therapy” he thought I needed.

He finished by wrapping my knee in Chinese herbs.  The herbs smelled to me like barbecue, and I woke up later that night wondering who was cooking at 3am.

All wrapped up and ready to go

The next day, I went back to the doctor because he told me I needed to go every day for the next week.  Again I paid $100NT, talked to the doctor, sat through acupuncture, and was directed to the back room for further treatment.

Aware of the pain that could be fast approaching, I was hesitant as I walked towards the other doctor.  But this time, there was no pointy-bone-tool massage.  Just a lot of this: 

Air cupping

What the F?!?  Yeah, that happened.  I’m glad I have a healthy sense of adventure because this was possibly one of the strangest things I have ever allowed to be done to me.  Apparently air cupping is a regular practice in Chinese Medicine, and less risky than the older version using fire to create suction, instead of an air gun.  I asked for details about what exactly was happening, and I guess the idea is to draw the bad blood out in order to allow healthy blood to flow back to my knee.

My knee felt better by the next morning, and I got this cool hickey! 

Knee hickey -- bad blood

After just two treatments, I was able to walk and bend my knee without pain!  I decided to keep going back for the next week, just for safe measure.  Each time, the doctor finished the treatment with a BBQ-- I mean, Chinese medicinal herb-- wrap.  

One visit, I braved the language barrier alone, so I couldn’t get many answers to my questions about this apparatus: 

Chemistry class didn't prepare me for this.

When I asked my Taiwanese friends after the fact, I learned that this a form of moxibustion, which uses the herb mugwort to facilitate healing.  The doctor inserted a couple acupuncture needles and sat me down in front of the machine.  It looked like a tea kettle attached to an elaborate hose system supplying heat.  I forgot my camera, so I took a picture with my phone.... sorry for the poor quality.  Anyways, the nurse turned on the heat, and as the water in the pot boiled, hot steamy air was directed at my knee.  The doctor asked if the temperature was tolerable, then told me not to move.  The steam was actual pretty nice, and the smell wasn’t too offensive.  I definitely prefer this method of moxibustion to the other options, which can cause scarring!

My most recent trip to the doctor ended with me sitting on a massage table in the back room of the small clinic, hooked up to electrodes, unable to effectively communicate with the doctor, and thinking to myself, “Why is this my life?”  

Duìbùqǐ, nà shì shénme

This form of treatment is called electroacupuncture Basically, the doctor placed four electrodes on my leg, flipped the switch, and sent electrical currents through my muscles for about ten minutes.  So weird.  I don’t know how to accurately describe the sensation, but the closest thing I can compare it to is sitting in one of those massage chairs that has a bunch of different settings.  Except, INSIDE your leg.  Yeah, like that.

The strangest part?  My life here is just weird enough to make this "ok"....

Every time I looked over at the doctor with what I’m sure was some mixture of doubt and horror, he smiled back, waved his hand, and said, “Massage-y!”

Strange experiences and unanswered questions aside, I am a Chinese Medicine believer now, for sure!  Those guys must understand some mystery that I cannot quite grasp.  My knee is feeling better, and I never took a single pill!  Just don’t tell them I’m planning on hiking the Great Wall next week.... 

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