My lychee plant is alive!
I can hardly believe it, because I've almost certainly killed it at
least four distinct times. Dr. Cai gave several of us AOM students
a small branch -- a twig, really -- around 18 months ago, and those
of us arrogant enough to think we could grow them proceeded to take
them home and plant them in something.
"Don't worry," Dr. Cai
kept telling us. "It's easy to grow." I felt so reassured that I
would be growing my bush/tree in my own yard and harvesting
handfuls of lychee berries in the fall. I was definitely wrong.
Although I pride myself as a master novice gardener of vegetables,
the lychee proved to be a new beast. Sure, I've grown a few potted
herbs for cooking. Yes, I dry my own peppermint leaves and make
tea. These small feats in no way prepared me to raise a baby
For most of its 18-month life with me, the twig remained a twig.
Yes, it sprouted a couple of leaves here and there, only to be
killed off again with the next cold night. Did I mention I tried to
grow it outdoors in Chicagoland? Technically I forgot about it a
few times, leaving it out in the snow and hard frost. Ooops, sorry
This October I pledged to
be a more responsible lychee parent. Sure, I'm successfully raising
two actual human children, but that's different. They scream when
they're cold and hungry. The lychee just sits there and practically
dies in silence. So this October, I brought it inside. I placed it
lovingly next to my dining room window, and I think I managed to
water it every few weeks or so.
This week, the unspeakable
happened. Out of the corner of my eye, while speed walking through
the room in a late, chaotic frenzy as always, I thought I saw
something different about the lychee...something...red?! Could it
be? Did I facilitate the birth of the first Baby Lychee Yelnick
berry? I leaned in for closer inspection, and I couldn't believe
it. Not one, but TWO berries had grown on my tiny, twig-like
Who cares about lychees anyway? Well, the Chinese do. They use
it to tonify the Spleen, improving transportation and
transportation functions around the body. Lately, the West has been
turned on to the powerful anti-oxidant feature of the gogi berry,
as we tend to call it.
How many names can one fruit have, you might ask? Well, let's
take a look:
So, lychee, lycii, goji, gou qi zi, whatever your name is...Grow
on! I'm happy to have you in my humble home for the winter. In the
spring I will place you back outside in my herb garden, and I will
probably almost kill you again (sadly). I'll try not to, but I'm
just being honest.
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
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
Pray on, prayers!
When they ask you why you
came in for an appointment today, go ahead and let them know that
your urine is coming out in long, clear streams, and that your
dreams have been creepily vivid this week. Tell them that your
bowel movements are light brown, formed, and coming with ease twice
per day in forearm lengths that would make Dr. Yurasek proud.
Mention that you've been feeling kind of cold and that you can't
stand being out in the wind. That heaviness in your arms? Mention
Dive straight into the rest of Oriental Medicine's famed "Ten
Questions," noting whether you've been extra hungry, not so
thirsty, frigidly anti-sexual, exhausted from periods with
quarter-sized black clots, or muzzy-headed in the afternoons. It
all matters. If you're in an AOM clinic, these are the types of
things you can expect to be asked by your acupuncturist or
herbalist. No one here bats an eye when patients share the color
and consistency of their bowel movements. In fact, if you withhold
that information, we can't really help you very well.
Here they are, in detail but translated by me:
The Ten Questions
Your acupuncturist or herbalist not only wants to know these
things, but also actuallyneedsto know many of these things in order
to properly diagnose your condition and begin a treatment plan. If
you have long, clear streams of urine, loose stool, weak knees, a
sore lower back, and feel cold all the time...well, we know what's
going on. No, I'm not going to tell you here. Look it up. Better
yet, visit an acupuncturist!
So, if you're in an AOM clinic, have your thoughts on these
vital topics prepared beforehand. Otherwise, you might be so thrown
off guard by some of the Ten Questions that you can't formulate
sentences. That's actually fine, because none of the 10 questions
directly correlate to grammar skill level. Thank goodness, right?
However, if you find yourself in the office of an MD, keep in mind
that you might not want to just jump right in with details about
where you are in your menstrual cycle and how gassy you've been, if
your chief complaint is seasonal allergies. Just a tip, from me to
Think it's too difficult for you? I think you're wrong. File
this post away under the "if I can do it, you can do it" series.
Unfortunately, this practical how-to post is the result of someone
actually needing to use raw Chinese herbs to feel better--and that
someone is me.
Remember that whole "damp-heat
in the gall bladder" thing from a couple of weeks ago? Yep, me
too. Turns out, I still have that going on. Yes, I self-diagnosed
and self-treated in near silence. Did I say I was good at this? I'm
sorry. No. I'm a student. I know close to nothing. In my defense,
upon an actual visit to the NUHS AOM clinic to exercise my
student-access-to-free-care privilege, I learned that I nailed my
diagnosis and was only one off in my acupoints selection plan.
Ingredients for Treatment
I was indeed on my way towards getting back to normal, but not
quite there yet. No. What I needed was a boost -- a big powerful
boost in the health direction. I needed herbs from Dr. Cai. After
showing my tongue and displaying my pulsating wrists to the masses
of interns, I left the clinic with my trusty sack of Chinese herbs.
At Dr. Cai's request, I also needed to add in a slice of fresh
ginger and three red dates with each batch, which I happened to
have on hand.
Many people would peer into this bag thinking, "What the heck do
I do with this pile of roots, bark, mushrooms, berries, and other
unidentifiables? Technically, there could be geckos and cicada
shells in there...shudder. In fact I refuse to look up everything
in the formula shown on my receipt just in case therearegeckos and
cicada shells in there.... So, here it is--your pictorial
step-by-step guide to using raw Chinese herbs in a decoction. This
is the instruction sheet that goes home with the patient.
Instructions for Cooking Chinese Herbal Formula
What this is trying to say is dump one batch of the herbs into a
pot, soak it, bring it to a boil, then simmer to reduce the liquid
to a drinkable amount. Now, you'll want to find the perfect balance
between "disgusting taste" and "effective dose," and that
isnoteasy. You know you want to concentrate the liquid for potency,
but you also know that you're increasing the taste by the same
Before Cooking and After Cooking
Most herbal decoctions do not taste good. Face it. Most of us
are damp. We eat dairy and fried foods (mmmm...fried dairy), and we
end up with damp-heat. Thus, we need bitter herbs much of the time.
Who's the lucky fella who gets a simple Spleen Qi deficiency
diagnosis that results in a sweet licorice and berries formula to
take home? Not this guy!
So, I soak my bitter herbs, I boil my bitter herbs, I simmer my
bitter herbs. I drink my powerful decoction, and I go to sleep to
let my body do its thing. I wake up a little better, and I know I
have five more nights of chugging down my "bedtime tea" before my
tongue can register just how gross it really tastes.
I could avoid much of the "hard work" in this process by
requesting my herbs in granule form (like a dusty powder that you
stir in warm water to dissolve). But then I'd lose a little
potency. I could avoid all the work and the taste
by requesting a patent pill formula, but then I'd lose even more
potency. No thanks, weak sauce. I need the most full-strength
option known to man -- ancient Chinese man, specifically. I need to
decoct my raw herbs!
I get really annoyed when I'm reading the results of a
scientific study about the effectiveness of acupuncture, and the
author concludes that actual acupuncture was "not significantly
more effective than sham acupuncture." What they seem to be saying
is that acupuncture is not effective at treating X condition. What
they are actual discovering is that needle insertion almost
anywhere in the body will have an effect on the body's condition,
often providing relief from X condition.
I like this part. As Dr. Kwon always told us in
Point Location class, you can still help the patient even if you
don't stick the needle in the exact acupoint. This realization
saved my sanity on more than one occasion when trying to palpate
and count thoracic vertebrae to locate the oh-so-important points
of the Governing Vessel running up the spinal column. It's supposed
to be located at T6, but T7 will be good enough? Awesome. Thank you
for your flexibility, ancient wisdom.
So, back to the studies that drive me nuts. Here's how they
commonly shake out:
Exactly 100 patients were studied for chronic knee pain, with 25
receiving no treatment, 50 receiving actual acupuncture (inserting
needles at specifically proscribed points), and 25 receiving sham
acupuncture (inserting needles randomly in the body). Guess what?
The patients receiving no treatment did not experience improvement.
The patients receiving actual acupuncture reported a 50%
improvement, and those receiving sham acupuncture reported a 45%
I call that good news. The study concludes, instead, that actual
acupuncture is not significantly more effective than sham
acupuncture at treating knee pain. Wrong. What they actually did is
prove Dr. Kwon right -- not that he needs any additional
validation, seriously -- that even when needles are inserted at the
"incorrect" location, acupuncture still has therapeutic benefits
for the patient. Is the goal of an acupuncture treatment for knee
pain simply to eliminate the knee pain? Not exactly.
Any time acupuncture happens, that patient's body experiences a
shift in energy. We can usually feel a difference in the person's
pulse after treatment, compared to before. The qi (energy) has
moved, and in western terms, circulation usually improves. Sure,
the knee pain is improved, but the patient might also sleep better
than usual that night, awake with more energy than usual the next
day, or even notice that a new head cold has resolved
Were these other effects coincidental?
Maybe, but probably not. Any acupuncture is better than no
acupuncture, and the results of studies comparing no treatment,
sham acupuncture, and actual acupuncture will often reveal this
truth. In fact, this little "secret" is why I'm not against other
practitioners doing acupuncture on patients. We've all heard the
buzzword "dry needling," which is when say, your physical therapist
needles your arm when your elbow isn't healing as nicely as you'd
like. I know several chiropractors who have completed the 100-hour
certification in acupuncture, and they can often be seen sticking
some needles into a sore back muscle.
Some acupuncturists are completely against this concept of
non-acupuncturists needling patients, but I'm pretty much OK with
it. I know the patient is probably receiving some benefit
regardless of whether or not the needle goes in at an exact
acupoints. What's important to me is that the patient is aware that
dry needling or someone sticking some needles in where it hurts is
not all that acupuncture has to offer. Those techniques have
benefits, but not the full array of benefits that needling specific
acupoints on specific meridians can produce.
So, if you know someone who's been needled before and didn't
experience a great symptom reduction, it's still worth their time
to try acupuncture from an acupuncturist. Crazy, I know. It's not
that other providers are doing anything wrong; it's just that they
aren't receiving the more complete system of treatment via
acupuncture that we acupuncture students use.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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