Gearing Up for Nicaragua

2014-11-14_coughsyrupAlthough our group of volunteers just returned from dusty, hot Nicaragua a mere 6 months ago, it's already time to muster our energy, our spirit, and our medical supplies and get ready to head back. A stock-pile is already starting to form on the floor of my husband's office...first it was a few bottles of homeopathic cough syrup for infants that wouldn't fit in my bag last year...then it was a case of toothpaste samples from my dentist...now it's growing again as I add several bottles of essential oils from my generous sister to the little medicine mountain.

Why am I going back for the third time to volunteer at the Natural Doctors International (NDI) clinic on the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua? Well, I'm basically hooked. Sure, they've made me the IL Chapter Representative for NDI, and they call me the brigade coordinator. But honestly, they had me at "would you like to come back next year?" Yep. Yes I would.

2014-11-14_boardingI'm hooked on the country, which is immediately to the north of my long-time favorite--Costa Rica. Nicaragua itself is absolutely beautiful, with beaches, surfing, mineral springs, mountains, and volcanos. Oh, the volcanoes -- talk about a love-fear relationship. This year I'm planning to venture off after the medical brigade and attempt the famous volcano-boarding, which is where you don a protective suit and surf down the scree of a semi-active volcano on a modified snow-board. I think that counts as exposure therapy.

2014-11-14_ppl1I'm hooked on the people, many of whom I know by name and family now. I see the same faces year after year, all who seem genuinely happy to have the natural medicine option on the island. They have options off the island, too, but they have to take a bus, then a ferry, then a bus, and then wait all day at a hospital that may or may not have time for them that day. It's an expense that most people can't meet. The children follow us around the village, giggling and holding up signs they made that say "Thank you."

2014-11-14_ppl2And finally, I'm hooked on the clinic. The clinic offers free acupuncture, botanicals, homeopathics, massage, chiropractic, and whatever else we volunteers bring down on the brigade. I've seen premature babies, clinging to life, which honestly wouldn't have made it had they not found their way into the NDI clinic that day. We treated pregnant women and farm laborers, both with excruciating back pain. Liliam, the local licensed psychologist, quietly walks the abuse victims over to her counseling area, where we really learn about the dark side of a community. We've called the police to pick up a rapist. We've escorted a barely teenage girl off the island to that distant hospital to get imaging done on the lemon-sized lump she found in her breast.

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If you want to give back, to experience another culture, and to see many types of case that you might have not exposure to at our clinics in Chicagoland, then contact me.

Check out www.ndimed.org for more information on the upcoming brigade -- a 10-day program including 1 orientation day, 4 clinic days, 1 farm day, 1 free day, 1 closing day, 2 travel days and informal evening courses in global health and natural medicine. Come back to school after your spring break with a certificate showing your 40 service hours of hard and rewarding work in a truly integrative medical setting.

2014-11-14_team2We need volunteers: medical students, providers, and Spanish speakers are preferred but not required. We need donations: vitamins, supplements, probiotics, botanicals, needles, and herbs preferred.

Want to learn more about this opportunity? Contact me anytime with questions, concerns, help with setting up the first-giving fundraising tool that most of us choose to use, or just stories about how we treat people even when there's no water or electricity for days. The group is forming NOW, and I hope to hear from YOU soon!

Kidney 1 -- You're Grounded!

Or, at least you should be, because that's basically your job. According to Deadman--our go-to acupuncture manual--"Gushing Spring," as it's called in English, has the primary function of "returning the unrooted back to its source." Actions include "descends excess from the head," "calms the spirit," and "rescues yang to revive consciousness." Pull escaping things down; root them back to the earth. Sounds pretty important...and it is.

The only point on the sole of the foot, KD1, as we short-handers call it, is also the Jing-well and wood point of the Kidney meridian. It has a strong descending power, and it can clear excess from the upper parts of the body particularly well. It's just too bad that it also happens to be perhaps the most painful acupoint to needle in the clinic. I say "in the clinic," because although this is perhaps the most painful point that we use in practice, there are at least two very intimate points--Du1 and Ren1--that would certainly be more sensitive. We. Never. Use. Those. Two. Points. But please do take a moment and look them up for your reading pleasure....

See, KD1 hardly even sounds painful now! So, why would we select KD1 to needle? In practice, it's used mostly to treat severe cases of Liver Yang Rising, Liver Wind, or Liver Fire.

Imagine a stressed out, irritable, hypertensive patient with a red face, red "whites" of the eyes, ringing ears, and an explosive headache. You're watching him, waiting for him to stroke out at any minute. Oh yeh, he's getting KD1, and make it bilateral! The process of bilaterally needling KD1 on any one patient always seems tricky. Why would they ever let you approach the second foot when the memory of how the first one went down is still so painfully fresh?

Why? Because it works. Let's revisit an account from an old--very old--2nd century Chinese doctor named Hua Tuo. He sees a General. One minute, the General has "head wind, confused mind, and visual dizziness." One minute and two KD1 needles later, the General "was immediately cured." How, you might be asking, can aKidney point so effectively resolveLiver signs and symptoms? As you might suspect, there's a short answer, reminiscent of Daoist simplicity, and then there's the longer, more complex answer that is more representative of most of Chinese medical theory.

"The Kidneys and Liver share the same origin." Well, OK then. There's our short answer. Or, for the longer version, we can go into detail about how Kidney is the mother of Liver, and water must nourish the wood to grow properly, and without the proper Kidney yin, the Liver yang cannot be held down. The way that Chinese medical theory has evolved, grown, changed, and revamped itself over the past couple of millennia is really impressive, because, as Dr. Kwon revealed to us in class, one right answer does not make the other answer wrong.

Our Western brains are trained to be logical at every turn. If energy comes from the external universe, then that's the right answer. If energy comes from within the human body, then that's the right answer. How can they both be the right answer at the same time? In Eastern philosophy, it just is. I sometimes have to remind myself that Chinese medicine isn't just a freak show of "everybody's right" or "anything goes." That would be completely ignorant of the intricacies of the system and the power of the medicine. But still, it's great that there's more than one way to the needle the patient.

To put this into action, consider some of the new ways that KD1 is treated in practice. Let's just be honest--nobody wants a needle in the bottom of the foot if they can help it. Recently, researchers have tested out the practice of making herbal plasters and applying them to the bottom of the foot over KD1, to treat such excess conditions as mouth ulcers and hypertension. Now that sounds good to me! You've turned a tortuous experience into a day at the spa.

And finally, let us not forget the power of acupressure on KD1, or as the laypeople call it--a foot massage!

Put Those Hands Together When You Pray

If you don't pray, put them together anyway. In the age of anything goes, I've taken to the lazy practice of praying silently in my head while lying in bed at night. I don't know where my hands are exactly, but they sure aren't folded nicely in front of my chest like the iconic prayer image of the olden days.

Who cares? Why bother pressing your hands together and holding them in that fairly awkward position that drove me nuts as a Catholic school kid? I'll be the first to admit that I let my fingers fall and intertwine into the sloppy prayer paws pose as soon as the priest looked the other direction.

Now I realize I was screwing myself out of some real benefits. Sure, God was probably disappointed in my faulty direction following, but I'm not focusing on the spiritual deficit here. I'm focusing on the physical and even the psychological benefits I -- and many other lazy prayers -- had been missing out on all my young life.

This whole conversation hinges on one important point -- an acupuncture point -- called Pericardium 6, or "PC6" as we call it, because again we're all too lazy to stick to the formalities in life. What does PC6 have to do with prayer paws (as my kids call them)? This now famous spot, two inches proximal to the inner wrist crease, has been dubbed the most researched acupoints of the modern day. You know those "anti-nausea" motion-sickness type bracelet bands, with the ball that presses into the inner wrist? That thing's stimulating good ole PC6.

Why is PC6 such a beneficial acupoint? Our trusty guide to acupuncture points and meridians and their energetic functions is a beefy, rust-colored book usually referred to by its author's last name, "Deadman." What does Deadman say about PC6? Oh, nothing too exciting. Just that it treats all diseases of the chest, particularly the heart, but also benefits the lungs, too. It can be used for heart surgery analgesia. What? Yes! No anesthesia necessary...just squeeze PC6 for me while I go under the knife!

In TCM terms, PC6 "unbinds the chest and regulates qi," "regulates the heart and calms the spirit," "harmonizes the stomach to relieve nausea," and "clears heat." It's indicated in conditions such as heart pain, palpitations, cough, asthma, insomnia, anxiety, abdominal masses, fevers, malaria, irregular menstruation, and swellings in the armpits. Nothing important there, right? Not! PC6 does just about everything you could want an acupoint to do.

During a recent advanced seminar class with Dr. Robin Fan, we discussed the benefit of stretching the Kidney meridian in cases of heel pain. Suddenly, all I could picture was the traditional prayer pose--hands out front, pressed gently together, stretching and stimulating the bulk of the Pericardium meridian!

It makes sense. What is the function of prayer if not to calm the mind and spirit? It's not just Catholics and other Christians who have always used this prayer pose, either. As my mind wandered -- sorry, Dr. Fan -- around the globe, I saw the Chinese practicing qi gong poses, the Indians practicing yoga poses, etc. Every tradition I could think of involved some use of this position.

In anthropology, when we see similar customs or values amongst a variety of cultural groups around the world, we call those core elements "cultural universals." In other words, everybody's doing it. Why? The answer is one that, despite my need to create an evidence-based practice, I've always secretly promulgated; sometimes, you don't need to sit around waiting for a formal research study to prove a truth. It's lovely that western medicine has put together some studies that do show the efficacy of PC6 in some conditions, but I'm not waiting for them to prove the rest. I'm going with Deadman and the ancient world traditions on this one.

Pray on, prayers!

Acupuncture Is Kind of a Big Deal

With at least two distinct "appreciation" events in the next two weeks, Acupuncture and oriental medicine seems to be powering its way into the integrative healthcare arena. Currently at NUHS, an acupuncture awareness campaign is giving AOM students, faculty, clinicians, and interns of all kinds of an excuse to sport an unmistakably fashionable bow tie. That's right, in addition to the pristine business professional wear and white coats, always part of our clinic attire, you can also catch us pinning on a snazzy white and black yin-yang bow tie from now through November 1st. It goes with everything.

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If gawking at odd bow ties isn't enough to grab your attention and get you thinking more about acupuncture and oriental medicine, then how about some free treatment? That's right. From October 27th to November 1st, all new patients to the NUHS AOM Clinic can receive a free treatment. This is a great opportunity for anyone who's been considering giving acupuncture a try, but hasn't been willing to shell out the usual $25. Just make sure to schedule ahead of time -- free generally means "busy" around the clinic!

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Why do we need to raise awareness about acupuncture (and all of oriental medicine)? In a 2014 National Health Interview Survey report, researchers revealed that 14 million Americans have tried acupuncture. That sounds like a lot, but it's really not. That's only 6% of Americans! What's holding back the other 94% of the American population? My guess is needle phobia. Who wants to be poked and pricked? Not even I like needles, and I use them every day.

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Neporent, Liz "A Close-Up Look at Acupuncture for Pain."
ABCNews.go.com. ABC News. April 22 2014. Web. April 25 2014

Thankfully, needlephobes like myself are not holding back the growth of acupuncture in the United States today. Lately we've been finding needles everywhere. The military is hiring acupuncturists, veterans' clinics are treating PTSD, and pain management and cancer treatment centers are flooded with requests for acupuncture services. Even research studies, in English, showing the efficacy and safety of acupuncture are appearing at a rapid clip. It seems like the west is doing a good job proving the east already knew what it was doing. Acupuncture can treat just about everything.

Ladies and gentlemen, the people have spoken. They want to be poked.

To find out more about these awareness events at NUHS, and to keep up with the happenings of our program on campus, check out the NUHS AOM Club Facebook page.

Derm Is Hard

If you've never heard that one before, then you've probably never tried to figure out a skin issue. Every time I've ever consulted with any kind of doctor about anything skin-related on anyone, the first comment is always "Derm is hard." Why are skin problems such a mystery? Sure, dermatologists have figured out how to treat most of them, but even they, in my experience, are not much concerned with how the skin eruption got there in the first place or why a rash keeps recurring.

If you have a child, then odds are high that you've run into some skin issues. Kids are just hotbeds for tons and tons of rashes, eruptions, vesicles, warts -- you name it. As a parent, rather than as a student, I've become familiar with eczema and molluscum. Is it flat or raised? Broken edges or a perfect circle? Red or flesh colored? These are all things that we parents become practical experts in, but only by default. It only takes about 10 trips to the pediatrician to have someone take a look at a pink or red spot on a toddler's leg to start concluding "eczema" at every turn.

Finally I came to realize that "eczema" was kind of a catchall, non-specific diagnosis. It was an easy name to drop, and an easy thing to slather with a steroid cream. Do you think I like to put steroid creams on my babies? No, no, I do not. Don't theylowerthe immune system's function? Plus, kids' kidneys and livers have enough toxins to filter these days from their pesticide-rich foods in plastic containers. Pass!

I don't want to use steroid creams, and of course I don't want my kids (and your kids) to walk around full of rashes and vesicles all of the time, either. But, there's a third thing that I'm just much more concerned with. WHY is the skin issue happening? What does a superficial reaction tell us about the inner workings (or dysfunctions) of the body? Chinese medicine has a lot to add in this realm, thank goodness.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the internal-external relation between the TCM conception of the Lung and the skin. In this model, the Lung controls the skin, giving us a hint that what shows up on our skin could be due to an imbalance in the Lung. For example, some Chinese references to "eczema" are translated as "skin asthma."

Generally, TCM traces most skin issues back to one of two issues -- heat or dampness. If that sounds too simple, that's because it is. It could be heat in the Lung, heat combined with wind, or heat combined with wind and dampness. The possibilities could be nearly endless. Luckily, both acupuncture and herbal medicines have a great track record for expelling these external pathogens and balancing the body. We help your body help itself.

What causes the internally generated heat or dampness? Or, what allows the body to be susceptible to the external invasion of heat or dampness? Again, possibilities are seemingly endless. Dietary and other lifestyle factors top the list, but constitutional predispositions (genetics) are also important in TCM's understanding of the whole person. It could be too much dairy (dampness), too much stress (constrained Liver heat), or a deficient Lung (protective qi).

An article in Acupuncture Today gives an in-depth look at one fairly common condition, psoriasis, and how acupuncture and herbal formulas have shown significant improvement. It also outlines some of those pesky, and sometimes life-threatening, side effects of western medicine's treatment plans for this and other skin conditions. Think you have your skin condition managed? Great! Still struggling to get it resolved? See what the AOM clinic has to offer!