Want to Freak Out an MD?

2014-07-03_yurasekWhen 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 it.

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

  1. 2014-07-03_outlineDo you feel hot or cold, or do you experience fever or chills?
  2. Are you sweating and is it during the day or at night?
  3. What's up with your head and face? (EENT)
  4. Do you have any pain anywhere?
  5. How's your urine and stool coming out?
  6. Are you thirsty? Hungry? Got cravings?
  7. How've you been sleeping?
  8. Anything noteworthy going on in your abdomen/thorax? Who says "thorax"?
  9. What's up with your gynecology? If male, you can put "N/A," thank goodness.
  10. 10. General/Past Medical History (in case we didn't cover it all yet)

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 you.

How to Make Granola

2014-06-25_granolabowl

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 usual.

2014-06-25_ingredientsHere's the basic ingredients list:

  • 4 cups oats
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup nuts

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." 

2014-06-25_granolabefore

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 week. Yum.

2014-06-25_granoladone

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.

How to Use Chinese Herbs

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.

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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.

2014-06-17_instructions
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 stroke.

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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.

2014-06-17_tea
"Bedtime Tea"

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!

Why Are We So Wimpy?

2014-06-10_wimpYes, 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.

2014-06-10_signSome 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. Waaaah.

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.

2014-06-10_smokeThe 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.

2014-06-10_needleNo, 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.

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.