I would like to make a few random observations about Chinese medicine. I am making them from the perspective of a completely untrained observer, a novice, a layman. I know nothing about medicine, Chinese or western for that matter. I must admit that my observations and speculations are 100% subjective.
First of all there is TCM, traditional Chinese medicine. I lived about two blocks from a very large TCM hospital. It was at least 20 stories tall and was visible from everywhere in my neighborhood. I didn’t know what TCM meant and felt very good about being so close to a hospital in case of emergency.
One day my girl friend asked me to accompany her to the TCM hospital. She had a pain in her shoulder that I assumed was arthritis. So we walked to the hospital. There was a large room to the right of the entrance hall where there were dozens of people sitting with IVs. It almost looked surreal.
We took the elevator to the 4th floor where My girl friend went to a window and was given a slip of paper which was her appointment to see a doctor. Then we went to the tenth floor and found the room. It was a smallish room with a doctor sitting behind a desk and four or five people milling around in the room. There was a stool next to the doctor’s desk where the current patient sat. After a short conversation the doctor wrote his prescription and the patient was replaced by someone already in the room, presumably the next patient.
We waited outside the doctor’s office until a couple of patients had been treated before my girlfriend entered. In a few minutes it was her turn and she took her place on the stool next to the desk. After a short talk she emerged with a prescription in hand. The consultation took much less than five minutes and the doctor never examined her shoulder in any way, at least by western standards.
She took the prescription to yet another window on yet another floor and paid for it. If I remember correctly it was about $15.00 USD. Finally we went to the dispensary, which was on a different floor. There she picked up a large bag full of teas, roots, and herbs and god knows what else. The entire time we spent in the hospital was about an hour. There were short lines in front of every window, and waiting in those lines is what took most of our time. All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience. We took the medicines home where she brewed a cup of boiling water and added the appropriate ingredients. She drank the concoction. Of course it didn’t work immediately. In fact, I’m not sure it worked at all. I’m a TCM skeptic, but am smart enough to keep my mouth shut about it.
TCM is widely accepted in China, especially by older people. Many of the pharmacies stock half modern drugs and half TCM roots, sea horses, herbs, mushrooms, and whatever. Because there is so much counterfeiting of medicine, and everything else, many people don’t trust the slickly packaged modern drugs. They prefer the TCM which can be seen, smelled and touched to insure it is what it should be. Some of the TCM medicines are extremely expensive and are kept under lock and key. Even stores like Wal-Mart and Carrefour sell traditional Chinese medicines, usually under lock and key.
Another aspect of TCM is it seems to be based on having a well balanced set of chemicals and nutrients in the body. These can be measured by analyzing the blood and the urine. If everything is in balance, you should be healthy. If things are out of balance, the can be corrected by adding the missing elements, most often by way of and IV, a drink, or a pill. Once things are in balance, one’s health should be restored. I can see elements of TCM in modern medicine.