Archive for tag: classes

My Salt, My Shen (and My SLEEP!)

2014-09-24_popcornI like to eat popcorn before bed at night...every night. I'm defended my position for years, so I'm ready for your attacks. No, I don't think it's bad for me. I air pop organic, non-GMO corn and drizzle on melted grass-fed organic butter. Most deliciously, I sprinkle sea salt all over the top.

Let me stop lying. It's more like I pour on the butter and the salt every one-inch tall increment of popcorn as it falls into the bowl. That's impressive, and it's a skill I've honed over several years. You have to stand at the ready, slowly spinning the bowl under the air popper with your left hand while gently drizzling on the butter from your right hand. Even coverage. Every time.

2014-09-24_butterNow I'll begin to unfold the secrets of my popcorn affair. Is it enough that my bedtime snack is free from pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and genetic modification? We all know I'm not making toxic microwave popcorn. Sure, it clears the "no bad things" screening fairly easily, but, as I always ask when someone proudly shows me a "100 calorie" pack of cookies, "What is actually in there that's good for you?"

Over the past couple of years here at NUHS in the AOM program, I've horrified more than a couple of peers by describing my nighttime ritual. Although we naturally-minded medical people are generally all in agreement that whole-fat butter is better for your body than any margarine-like alternative, I've still heard the "too much fat for your liver to clean" argument against my nightly popcorn.

2014-09-24_bedSeveral months ago, I decided to give it a try. Who wants a Liver or Gall Bladder channel obstructed by phlegm? Not me. So I cut down my popcorn to once every week or two. It was rough. It was sad. I felt incomplete in some way when laying down for bed at night. My kidneys cried me to sleep, begging for the tonification that salt provides my deficient little nephron bodies. They went hungry, as did I.

After a few weeks of my new deprivation lifestyle, I realized something shocking -- I wasn't sleeping well! I've always been a good sleeper, falling right to sleep each night and sleeping straight through until the morning. Nine hours or so was the glorious norm for me. Not anymore. Suddenly it was a struggle to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Transient insomnia? Definitely. Chronic insomnia? I didn't want to head down that road.

Luckily, I happened to be taking Eric Baker's "Nutrition and Food Therapy of Oriental Medicine" course at this very time. I glanced down at my handout during class, and what did I see? Salty (a flavor in TCM, but most specifically manifested in actual SALT) collects the Shen. The Shen in TCM is basically the spirit or mind of the person.

2014-09-24_seasaltI had been neatly collecting my overscheduled, chaotic Shen before bed each night by some sort of inexplicable subconscious desire to put my mental pieces back together in order to sleep well. Now what was I doing? I was trying to fall asleep and stay asleep while my Shen gallivanted around my body and my life, scattered in tiny pieces into all of my hats -- mother, wife, student, professor, friend, sister, etc. No wonder I was failing every night.

Upon making the core connection between my salt, my shen, and my sleep, I promptly began my nightly (or nearly nightly) ritual of devouring a bowl of salty, buttery popcorn. What do you think happened? Let's just say I sleep nicely once again. My body was speaking to me, and I needed to listen. Pop on, popcorn!

I Want It Now

Over the past four weeks in my "Nutrition and Food Therapy of Oriental Medicine" course, I've been frustrated and slightly puzzled over the subject matter. I'm usually more a go-with-the-flow student in class; I'm sure the instructor knows what we need to cover and how to cover it. This time around, I still think he knows what we need to cover and how to lay it out, but I'm not as easy going about the whole thing for some reason.

Maybe it's because it's springtime, so my Liver wind is swirling and I'm irritable. Perhaps I'm overly critical because dietetics is my personal favorite element of oriental medicine. Maybe I'm just a jerk. I don't know. I want to study therapeutic properties of foods, and I want to right now!

2014-06-04_statue

Let me start by saying how much I like this professor and every class I've had with him to date. The theory behind where we stick these needles and which herbal formulas we recommend is absolutely mind blowing. He taught me two years ago that winter has a color and a flavor -- black and salty, for the record. Yet each week, we seem to review the basics -- flavors and temperatures of substances. The course title indicates that the focus of the classwork will be nutrition and food therapy within the framework of oriental medicine, so I keep wanting more -- more detail, more examples, more ideas of how to alter a person's diet in order to improve health.

As we approach the famed Week Five Quiz that now makes an appearance in most classes, I'm starting to second-guess myself. Have we been just reviewing the basics of five-phase theory, or did the professor slip pages of new detail into the lectures when I wasn't looking? I'm sure he worked new information into the framework so smoothly that my associate learning didn't even know what was happening.

My frustration with this class is that I love the topic so much that I can't reach a satiation point. I will never have enough detail about food therapy to be content. I want more, I want it now, and I want to share it with everyone I know...and some people I don't even know yet.

2014-06-04_teaOnce again, springtime has duped me. I'm irritable, I'm impatient, and my Liver is out of control. Feel my pulse, second position on the left wrist. Can you say "wiry?"

As I do from time to time, I realize now it's time to reread the Dao de Jing, or the Tao Te Ching. Same book. Oh, pinyin, you are a beast that cannot be pinned down. The point is that this book, this short, easy to read, little book, can save your sanity. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, overstressed, over Livery in any way, I know it's time to pick it up.

Look at this thing. Lao Tzu, you genius!

"Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know."

I, and just about everyone else, could learn a little something from that eloquent one-liner (two-liner?).

"Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe."

I don't even like poetry, but this stuff is literally masterful.

2014-06-04_wordsSo, why I am frustrated in Nutrition class? Why do I want to rush it? Why am I desperately grasping at the next piece of information? It's that "forcing a project to completion" part, that part I love for personal reasons. My procrastination has been vindicated!

As a professor, I often wait until the deadline to return students' papers; as a student, I expect my professors to grade my paper today! Actually, I don't think Lao Tzu would like that part.

Jabbing Nerves with Needles

"I hope the points aren't just nerves being shocked by needles," I said to AOM classmate Irene. As one of the few AOM students who originally came into the program to focus on herbal preparations and dietetics, I felt particularly uninformed about this whole acupuncture thing. So, there in one of the first courses on the theory of point energetics -- what the acupoints do and how they do it -- I finally vocalized, albeit in a whisper-like fashion, my growing fear: Maybe there's no meridian or point energetics beyond just sticking a needle into a nerve and hoping it stimulates something productive in the patient's body. Sure, that might still help, but it certainly doesn't have the mystique that interested me in the first place.

2014-03-14_ancient"Moving blood and qi," "balancing energy," and "harmonizing yin and yang"...these concepts are intriguing, promising, and yes, darn near magical in my opinion. If we're just jabbing people with needles and shocking them wildly, then I'm not sure I have the buy-in that a 3-year master of science in oriental medicine degree requires. So there I sat, giving power to my secret fear by speaking it aloud, not knowing what Dr. Yihyun Kwon was going to say to pull me back over to his side of the fence, and hoping that there was something more -- more ancient, more Daoist, more qi-related in any way. (Spoiler Alert. Dr. Kwon wins!) 

Irene surprised me with her response, which I recall as being something along the lines of, "So what if acupuncture is just stimulating nerves with needles?" How could she be so callous to this deep fear that I'd been subconsciously fostering for the first three months of our program? Didn't she understand that I was sitting there, suffering in silence, desperate for some oriental medicine justification?

What Dr. Kwon went on to explain in that first Energetics class, and even more so the following year in Neurophysiology of Acupuncture class, was a concept that bridged the gap between the mysticism and the mundane. He simultaneously satisfied my cravings for evidence-based medicine as well as ancient tradition. Dr. Kwon = 2. Juli's irrational fears = 0.

Photo of Dr. Kwon with studentsYes, he explained, some points are located right beside or above a nerve -- grazing it ever so slightly and eliciting that loved or hated sensation we call "de qi," when energy arrives along that meridian. Further research and dissections have confirmed that many of those points not located at a nerve are actually located exceptionally close to an artery or vein. Here's where he blows my mind in 3...2...1....

Next, he tells us that these vessels and other structures harboring acupoints are essentially wrapped up in nerve fibers themselves. Yes, readers, we've come full circle in Juli's understanding of neurophysiology (which doesn't take long). Many acupoints are on a nerve; those that aren't, still kind of are.

And now to process this information.... Do I hate this answer? Does it ruin the grandeur of ancient energy meridian theory? Nah. I took the news fairly well, all ignorance and expectations considered. In today's health care climate, I like that modern science keeps proving acupuncture theory to be true. Time and time again, I see modern western research pointing to the validity of traditional medicine. At the end of the day, or the century, who doesn't like being told, "You're right"?

Doctors and Patients

What's the appropriate relationship for doctors to have with patients? How do you know when it's OK to accept a gift, meet for a coffee, or call a patient at home? What's the difference between being empathetic towards a patient's horrific home life and being taken advantage of by a patient who thinks you are her new best friend? 

2014-01-23_drpatient

In a recent "Doctor and Patient Relationship" class with the talented Dr. Dennis Delfosse, we explored the all-too-common gap between what patients might be experiencing in life compared to what we assume their lives are like. The point of the discussion was that everyone is dealing with something. Maybe you've heard the saying "Everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about," and its usual ending, "...so be kind." But are you?

Do you, interns of acupuncture and oriental medicine, treat your patients as important individuals, worthy of your time and energy? Have you ever groaned when you discovered that you suddenly have an "add-on" patient halfway through your shift? Do you dread treating that "difficult" patient who keeps scheduling with you, stealing your qi? Are you counting the minutes until your shift in clinic is over for the day?

Much like the general population of American doctors (of whom only 54% would choose medicine as their career if they could do it all over), practitioners of acupuncture and oriental medicine might find themselves unfulfilled, unchallenged, or unhappy at work from time to time. How can we refocus, reframe, and recharge ourselves and our passion for helping patients find balance and wellness? We must revisit our goals from time to time, remembering why we chose our respective field in the first place, realizing that our next step might be in a slightly different direction than we originally planned. It's OK to change treatment strategies, to move towards a different specialization, or to study under a different clinician this trimester.

2014-01-23_wheelOne way to change your personal energy dial-back to "Positive" is to remember that the patients, their oftentimes unfortunate circumstances and their health needs, are the reasons that we're here. They aren't in the way, they aren't the reason we can't finish our paperwork, and they aren't the problem. Helping them is the whole picture. The key is figuring out how to strike the perfect--or at least, a workable--balance with each individual patient to optimize their satisfaction and yours.

Do you want to make your patients happy? Start by being happy yourself!

  

References:

Physician Frustration Grows, Income Falls - But a Ray of Hope. Medscape. Apr 24, 2012. Retrieved 1/18/14 at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/761870