Monday, April 23, 2012

Turning Western Medicine On Its Head

The roads were too crappy for me to make it up to Plattsburgh in time for morning prayers with the Buddhist monks this morning, but I did make it in time for my pulse reading.

I was very interested in this, once I learned that they were offering pulse readings as part of the festival. Those of you who have been following my blog know that I've been very interested in alternative and Chinese medicine since my illness last summer, and I'm a firm believer that acupuncture and other types of "alternative" medicine are just as, if not more, effective in treating illness and pain as Western medicine.

The monk who performed my pulse reading was the same one who led the meditation on Friday morning, so I was very happy to see him again. He shook my hand, and led me back to a little room they had set up off of the main gallery in the arts center. Next to us, two monks worked on sewing and stringing beads, but I couldn't see exactly what they were working on.

I sat down in front of the monk, placed both feet on the ground, and he picked up my left hand. He placed one hand on my arm below my wrist, and held my fingertips with his other hand. We stayed like that for a few minutes.

Now, I should tell you: he did not ask me about my medical history, my symptoms, or about anything that had been troubling me lately. He did not listen to my heart with a stethoscope, look in my mouth, my ears or my eyes. He just held my arm and my fingers and "listened". And since the cultural center did not take my name down for privacy reasons when I set up the pulse reading, they had no way of knowing who I was.

Before we continue this blog, I have to warn you: you might find the following contains a little too much information about my bodily functions, so if you're squeamish, just skip the next few paragraphs until you see the photograph.

After a few minutes, he said to me, "You have digestive problems." I nodded slowly. He continued, "You have a lot of acid, and you very often feel nauseous. And you've been constipated for the last few days."

I nodded more enthusiastically now. "That's absolutely right," I told him.

Then he felt my other hand and fingers. He continued by telling me that I had a lot of lower back pain, and a lot of tightness in my neck and shoulders. He also told me that my periods were very heavy and that I got very sick from them and had a lot of pain.

So now, I wanted to know how the hell he was doing this.

He also told me that high blood pressure and diabetes ran in my family, but not to worry because I didn't have problems with either of those. He also said that I used to have very bad headaches, but that they didn't bother me so much anymore.

At this point, I was biting my lip to keep from laughing out loud. This Buddhist monk who had traveled all the way to New York from southern India, without knowing my name, had just summed up everything about my medical history in about five minutes, just from feeling my arms, wrists, palms and fingers. Seriously?!

 Then he asked me if I wanted to try some traditional Tibetan medicine. Absolutely, I said. He went to the shelf behind him, which was stocked with what looked like dozens, maybe a hundred, little orange linen bags. He filled up three plastic bags with some pills for me, and gave me the instructions for how to take them and when to take them. He said that if my condition improved and I wanted more, I could contact him at the monastery in India to get more.

It took my other doctors weeks or months of blood tests, physical exams, CT scans, and ultrasounds to figure out what was bothering me. The "medicine" they prescribed for me made me even sicker. How did this monk figure out all of this within five minutes?

Now, there's something to be said for Western medicine. If it hadn't been for Western medicine, I wouldn't have been able to have given birth to Colden via c-section, and for that I will always be grateful. If you have a car accident, as my acupuncturist reminded me, you really want a good surgeon who can help put you back together.

But there's also something to be said for these "alternative" medicine practices. When I started acupuncture, I noticed how well I started feeling and noticed that my symptoms started to disappear quickly. I didn't have any of the side effects of the prescriptions. As I started to feel better, people started telling me that I was looking better, too.

Why are these traditional Chinese and Tibetan medical practices looked down upon by mainstream Western medicine? I read, in a report by NPR, that when a new drug is approved by the FDA, it has to be proven effective in at least 50% of patients. Compare that to studies done of the efficacy of acupuncture where it was noted that acupuncture is effective in over 50% of patients. But the difference is that acupuncture isn't really an accepted medical practice in this country. Insurance companies, except for very rare instances, do not cover acupuncture as an effective medical treatment, even though it is just as effective as the pharmaceuticals that they will pay for.

What gives? Is it because of all the big money behind Big Pharma and the AMA? Is it because we can't scientifically explain WHY acupuncture and some alternative medical practices work, even though it's obvious that they DO?

Let's face it: modern Western medicine is pretty awesome. But Western medicine tends to be more invasive and, quite frankly, riddled with flawed studies. Traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine have been around for thousands of years. Western medicine has either ignored their practices or bastardized them into some form so as to provide the greatest profit for a handful of shareholders and CEOs at the expense of patients.

After this experience with the pulse reading and the kind, quiet Buddhist monk who told me, "Don't worry, we can fix," I made an appointment for Tom to have a pulse reading tomorrow night before evening prayers. Crossing my fingers and toes and Mala beads that he gets as much out of it as I did today.

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