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
A friend once asked me if I knew how to make granola.
I'm sure I looked puzzled as I answered, "No...I thought granola
was...like...its own...thing...?" As in, I thought granola grew out
of the ground. Actually, it's not that I was firmly certain that
was the case. It's just that I hadn't given it a thought before I
was hit with this question.
Wrong! The farmer doesn't harvest a granola crop. Someone has to
make it, as in, out of other ingredients. This
same friend, who was at that point now fully aware of my ignorance
on the topic, was resourceful enough to send me over her family's
granola recipe. Turns out, it's easy, quick, and flexible for when
I'm out of half of the things the recipe actually calls for--as
Here's the basic ingredients list:
I translate that as old-fashioned oats (steel-cut definitely
doesn't work…oops), turbinado sugar, water, homemade vanilla (we
can talk about that another time), sea salt, sliced almonds, black
sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Start out by boiling the sugar
and water together, and then stir in the vanilla and salt. Combine
everything else, dump the wet mixture on top, stir, and spread
evenly across a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Finally,
sprinkle cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric on top, then slip into the
275º oven for one hour. Or, as my granola friend said, "sometimes I
do 30 minutes at 350º because I'm impatient."
It's glorious. After making my entire house smell like
Christmas, it comes out of the oven all golden brown and audibly
begging me to eat it. I do. I burn my tongue. It's just part of the
process. Then, I let it cool unattended on the counter for about an
hour, and then we pour what's left of it into Mason jars for the
Why do I make my own granola? I don't trust what any
commercially produced granola contains by the time it reaches my
mouth. I think mine tastes way better. I'm fairly sure it's cheaper
to make your own. Plus, my house smells like Christmas. I
think that's just the cinnamon, but I don't want to pin it
down and ruin the magic. In a larger way, making granola is just
one more small step that I've taken in the direction of natural
living. It's a process. I don't know anyone--certainly not
myself--who has been able to flip the switch one day from all
commercial products to all homemade products. The world in which we
circulate today is a mass-produced, globalized society. We want it
bigger, better, and right now.
I suggest taking a small step whenever you can. Relax. Make some
granola. Smell it. Eat it. Repeat.
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!
Yes, I said "we." I'm
lumping you all in with me and almost everyone else I know. We're
wimpy. My sister said it best several years ago in a comment about
the "wussification of America." No, I'm not sure how to spell that.
She was speaking about the general wussiness of people these days,
and I'll see that new word and raise it to
another contextual use.
I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. If you have had a baby
in the past 10 years, you've certainly had to explain to a
grandmother (your kid's or otherwise) why baby has to ride in the
car seat for every little trip. "Yes, grandma, I know
we're just riding up the street to the corner store. Yes, she still
needs to be strapped into her car seat. Just because." Grandma
undoubtedly replies, "I never strapped your father into a car seat,
and he lived. He would ride all the way to Florida to visit Aunt
Ida every year and nothing ever happened to him." Then simply to
justify my own wussiness, I make up something about how I'll be
arrested if the police see me with my kid riding on my lap.
Some of you might not be
convinced about the car seats. They're important. Even I strap my
kids into those things just to ride up the street, and I don't
consider myself a huge wussy. Just start extrapolating this theory,
though, and you'll surely jump onto the "wussification of America"
bandwagon. We all drink light beer. Every kid gets a trophy. They
cancel school when it snows. I'm so hot walking the 10 feet from my
air-conditioned car to my air-conditioned office. I have to wait 3
whole seconds for my Facebook page to load on this old phone.
How does this relate to Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine? Well,
the wimps don't leave their wimpiness at the door of the clinic.
That is for sure. I can write this post without fear of offending
anyone, because I, myself, am a needle wuss. That's right. I don't
want to feel the needles. I'll needle you, but don't you
try to needle me.
Clearly I am not alone. Sure, you have a few patients who never
flinch when you insert a needle. They never complain that something
hurts or feels weird. These are the lovely "exception" patients,
and they are few and far between. Most of us recoil in pain -- pain
that is really just an unfulfilled apprehension of pain --
with the insertion of each needle. At first, I liked seeing this
reaction from patients, because it justified my own wimpiness. Now,
though, I've evolved. As I become less wimpy about needling myself
and letting others needle me, I think I subconsciously expect more
of my patients, too.
The people in Nicaragua
never flinched. We would jab those needles right into the sore back
or the tired feet, and the patient would hardly notice. Are
Nicaraguans simply a stronger people than Americans? Probably, but
I didn't stop there. No, what about the Chinese needling? So deep,
so hard, so scary for most Americans. Are they inherently stronger
than us, too? They want to feel that moxa until it burns a
blackened memorial into ST36. I would move to Japan, home of
"shallow needling," to avoid those 6-inch needles I've been told so
much about from the Chinese professors and clinicians.
No, I don't think it's
that Nicaraguans are freakishly strong or that Chinese people are
particularly masochistic. I just think Americans are caught in the
throes of the recent trends towards wussification. Be careful,
don't get hurt; don't let the sunshine get you! I reject
wussification insofar as I legally can, but I am still and will
always be one of the wimpy ones in the clinic when I'm on the
receiving end of that needle business. So, if you're afraid of
needles and therefore have not yet tried acupuncture, this post is
for you. If I can do it, you can do it.
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
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!
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
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.
Once 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
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
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
I don't even like poetry, but this stuff is literally
So, 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
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
To read older blog posts, scroll to the bottom and click the "Older Posts" button.