Saturday, 28 May 2011

Life in Taiwan: My experiences with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Luckily, this wasn't my batch...
Traditional Chinese medicine. What on earth is it, anyway? When I talk about Traditional Chinese medicine I am basically painting with really broad brush strokes and including all forms of traditional medicinal and therapeutic ways of treating illness and promoting wellness that have their origins within the Chinese culture. For the sake of brevity, I will refer to it from here as TCM. This includes foot massage, 'cupping', acupuncture, food therapy and herbal reductions and plenty of others, some of which I've tried, many of which I haven't.

My first brush with TCM came when I first moved in with a Taiwanese family in New Zealand. We were taking the much beloved family dog, Rifle, out for his evening walk and we'd got all of 300 metres up the road when I fell off the pavement and twisted my ankle. This was an injury I'd had a thousand times before when I played netball as a teenager. I knew the drill. Swelling, bruising, not being able to walk properly for a few days. Upon seeing my ankle, my host mother expressed sympathies and then produced a funky smelling green patch. I must have looked doubtful as she explained that this was a Chinese remedy, it was only herbal and wouldn't hurt me. Well heck, why not. I can try anything once, so I good-naturedly let her put it on all the while secretly thinking it wouldn't do a jot of good.

Brewing the good stuff...
The next morning I could walk. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a miracle healing but it worked a darn sight quicker than anything I had ever done to my ankle to fix it before. Two days later it was like nothing had happened. It was at that point that I started to think that maybe there was something to all of this... I decided to at least keep an open mind.

Seven years and plenty more experiences like this later, I went to see my first ever TCM doctor. My reasons for going were nothing spectacular: I'd been feeling less healthy than usual this year and had been far more prone to sickness, I was low on energy, had trouble concentrating and just felt like I could do with a boost. Art, Sancia, and myself all trundled along to a little old store in Muzha (木柵) an area of Taipei City. You could smell the herbs from 20 paces and hear my heartbeat from 30, but I took a deep breath and went on in. If truth be told, I was more worried about what he would say was wrong with me than about what sort of medicine he would make me drink. I mean, I knew I was pretty healthy but I'm not one to bail up to the doctor for an annual health exam. I only see a health professional when it's absolutely necessary. Who knew what was really going on in my body?

When our number was called I nervously sat down in front of the doctor. He looked old, maybe late 70's or early 80's but his skin was nothing short of radiant and he moved around with the ease of a 25 year old. He put three fingers on my wrist like he was taking my pulse and within a few seconds listed a number of things that were wrong with me, some of which I knew and some of which I was in denial about. I swapped wrists and more of the same. It was like he was in my head. This guy had never met me, knew nothing about me and had just told me things that he couldn't possibly have guessed at. It took longer for him to write up the prescription of which herbs and other dried goods I would have to take than it did to figure out what my problems were. To say I was in awe would have been a fairly accurate description.

After the doc had seen Sancia and Art, we waited outside for our prescriptions to be made up. There were four men behind the counter sifting through various drawers and clay pots, weighing out and dividing the various dried bits and pieces onto the seven paper sheets. There were dried roots, stuff that looked like bark, stuff that look like grass, various dried berries and dried cicada shells (that wasn't our prescription, thank goodness - I'm open-minded but not that open-minded). Once they had it all, they parceled it all up like they were wrapping fish and chips, sold us a kettle to brew it up in and gave us a bunch of candy to eat after drinking it to reduce the bitterness.

That was two week ago. I've now nearly finished my second round which should be the last one for a while. While writing this I have a mug of my 'morning brew' sitting next to me. I'm psyching myself up to drink it because I will not lie. That stuff tastes foul. It's black and it's bitter. There is nothing redeeming about its taste or appearance. I have to hold my nose and skull it, or I'll never get it down. Basically, it's exactly what good medicine should look and taste like. How am I feeling? So far, so good. For the first few days I felt terrible but now I'm in the second week, a lot seems to be improving. The idea of the medicine is to rebalance my body so I expected to not feel fantastic for the first few days but now I'm (apparently) coming into balance, I am starting to feel more energetic. At the end of this round (designed to unblock my qi - energy flows in the body - and rebalance my hormones) I will let you know exactly how much of an improvement I'm feeling.

Now, to drink this morning's brew... sigh.

1 comment:

  1. Great story. I hope it will make you feel better.

    I read somewhere that medicine that tastes foul seems more real. How could a lovely smelling, sweet tasting drink make you better? No, it has to be foul, so you'll at least believe in it. But I hope it really works. Good luck!