Sunday, August 26, 2012

And Now, When to Listen to Those Doctors

At the very moment I thought I'd entered the loony bin of alternative health care, I got well.  After the usual rounds made by the discombobulated menopausal woman to gynecologists #1, #2 and #3, plus what turned out to be a totally unnecessary and completely ineffective D&C, which was supposed to stop menopausal bleeding and did not do so, and after turning down yet another stern recommendation from two worried doctors to take progesterone, a Chinese friend studying cardiology mentioned that she knew someone who did "traditional Chinese medicine.  I really don't know anything about it, but it helped my mother in China."  Off I went as a frantic last resort to the Chinese medicine center, where incense burned, a statue of Buddha presided, and behind the incense seeped a horrible smell that I thought must be pot.  It wasn't pot, but I wouldn't want to go through an airport with the miraculous herb that stopped the bleeding:  mugwort, or moxa, legally grown in Holland and other European countries.  My doctor waltzed in wearing a white lab coat and started burning a cigar of that stuff over my big toe, explaining, as she did, that Western medical journals had documented that Moxa helped turn a breech baby, and also stopped bleeding.  She smiled the way you smile at an ornery two-year-old and advised me to relax.  If I hadn't had a headful of acupuncture needles, I might have bolted off the table.  I'd already been required, as part of their alternative medical examination, to stick out my tongue at a bunch of doctors--which is more embarrassing than a gynecology exam--and had heard much discussion of yin&yang, "toning," and the importance of walking in nature quietly, all of which made me long for the noisy streets of the Upper West Side of New York, the rattle of the subway, and the taste of heavily sugared regular coffee while reading the New York Times.  Although I did used to love hiking in Vermont, the most time I spend in nature occurs when I take our guinea pigs to their outdoor cage on sunny days, and watch them fight over bits of food.
I lay on the gurney listening to New Age music, which was supposed to relax me, almost gagging on the smell of Moxa, which I feared would not come out of my clothes, and despairing at the time wasted with these New Age freaky doctors.
And then the bleeding stopped, just like that.  It never returned.  I took bland and sometimes nasty-tasting teas; I took funny little greenish-black pills; I told concerned friends who repeatedly asked exactly what I was taking that I did not know--all the ingredients sounded like "Foo-wing-wah-po" or something.  And I began to read about Traditional Chinese Medicine from the practitioners point of view as well as from the point of view of websites like Quackwatch.  I wrote a long, infuriated letter to the Quackwatch folks defending acupuncture and moxa--an amusing position to be in for one who had been intuitively on the Quackwatch side of the argument right up until the Chinese treatment really worked.  I continued taking various Chinese herbs and experimenting with products from alternative health care sites like and have felt better--more energetic, more peaceful, and in a better mood.  When I didn't want my then four year old daughter to endure yet another operation on the adnoids that had grown back again, I tried the Chinese medicine center, and the Chrysanthemum-based liquid they gave her worked.  That, and a little acupuncture.  I never thought I'd see the day.   So what is the moral of this story?  I have several:

Moral #1: Either that stuff works or I am incredibly suggestible.  But did you know that most cures are suggestion?  And I would rather have some non-toxic herbs that suggest me to health than a bunch of hormones.

Moral #2: Whatever works!  Antibiotics worked when I was trying to conceive.   The Chinese medicine folks shook their heads, telling me that antibiotics weaken the body.  Meanwhile, when I mentioned to my fertility doctor, the King of Antibiotic Treatment, that Chinese medicine had really worked for menopause, oh, did he ever shake his head.  "These herbs are DRUGS!" he protested.

Moral #3: Doctors are artists, too.  They have their visions.  No good artist can be swayed by the vision of another artist, and that goes for scientists.  The original thinker who cooks up an herbal concoction to cure menopause will have a hard time understanding the vision of one who cooks up a batch of antibiotics to cure infertility.  Although one Chinese practitioner listened to my tales of lavages of the uterus with antibiotics with interest, saying he'd heard of herbs being used topically for fertility in China.
But hey, Einstein couldn't talk to Freud.  One always has to find one's own way among the doctors.


  1. God, know, not that I know of. You wrote something about me having aromatic children on Nantucket. I'll check. I didn't know you wanted a response--let me know if you do!

  2. Actually, I was curious why you think that "most cures are suggestions." I probably didn't enter it correctly the first time, sorry.

  3. I read an NY Times report--actually just Google cures are suggestion. I don't think this goes for a major illness but it does seem to hold true where there's a strong mind/body connection. The discussion is all about how much the mind holds sway in any illness. The alternative-care folks are always going to talk about mind and Western medical science is always going to talk about body--or almost always, it seems to me.