Tai Chi Sculpture; Taken in Montreal
I’m sick. I mean that literally for those readers who are saying, “Yes, I read your blog occasionally; I’m well aware that you’re a sick freak.”
I rarely get sick. I can usually knock colds out at the first sign of a scratchy throat with big does of zinc and remedies I’ll discuss below. I can’t remember the last time I had the flu. Let me say to any angry gods that I’m not bragging, so please don’t smite me. I hope I haven’t just fallen off some divine pestilence list (God: “Geewhiz, that boy hasn’t had the flu since like 2002, lets send him a doozy… plus throw in a side of locust plague.”) I’m just stating a fact; I’m blessed with a mighty immune system and a lack of those plague-bombs commonly called children.
However, before you, too, begin to wish evil upon me for my freakish good health, let me say that when I do get a full-bore cold, it’s a catastrophic train wreck. This is because I have a proclivity for sinusitis. That means that all those tiny little tubes by which mucus flows from one chamber to the next in my head so that it can eventually be expelled into a facial tissue become clogged up. This creates an effect similar to a trucker’s strike at a dildo factory. The phalli (phalluses?) keep coming off the line, but none of them are being shipped out, so soon everything is fucked. When I tap on the highest point on my head it sounds like one thumping on a perfectly ripe watermelon. GROSS CONTENT AHEAD: (If you’re disgusted easily, skip to the next paragraph.) So, last night my left side passages were so blocked that pus was oozing out around my left eye, and I began to have an earache as the pus tried to escape out my ear only to find my eardrum in the way. END GROSS-OUT ZONE.
So you might be expecting that I had a sleepless night and have a doctor’s appointment this morning. I’ve gone that route before. I know exactly what the doctor would do, she’d write a prescription or two: one for a round of antibiotics and one for something to reduce the pain. As a skeptic, this is the approach in which I should put my trust. They develop these medicines using the scientific method and double-blind studies.
What did I do? I diced up some ginger and made a steaming cup of ginger tea and, as it steeped, I ran through a couple qi gong exercises. Then, after drinking the tea, my passages opened up, I blew my nose and slept soundly for about four hours until it was time for me to get up and start my day. As a skeptic, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) isn’t the horse on which I should put my money. It all revolves around chi (qi), life energy, a substance whose existence is to the best of my knowledge is completely unsupported by direct observation. It’s chocked full of archaic sounding treatments like “Immortal spanks the naughty dragon.” (Okay, I made that one up, but you get my point.) TCM proposes that the kidneys are integral to sexual health.
So why am I pressing acupressure points, doing qi gong (life energy exercises), and making homemade tea? The easy answer would be that, if I hadn’t, I probably would have gotten five non-consecutive minutes of sleep last night, and I’d, at best, now be sitting in a waiting room with my skull in my hands hoping to be squeezed in to a doctor’s busy schedule. However, I have more of an explanation than that.
I don’t know much about medicine (either Western allopathic or TCM.) So in the absence of knowledge about what one doesn’t know, one seeks analogy in what one does know. First, everything I know makes me distrustful of the “free lunch.” To my mind, the Western approach, in which I don’t have to do anything but pop pills periodically, is a free lunch scenario. If I to be active (or even consciously passive, i.e. restful) to achieve my cure, I’m inherently more confident in it. In the martial arts, we groan at the sight of these “home-study black belt” courses. Any martial artist who is honest with himself or herself knows that the only way to develop the skills is by spending at least a couple of days a week in the dōjō and training outside the dōjō as well. One can’t learn martial arts like one learns music appreciation or business administration. As an economist, there’s always some hidden cost of the “free lunch.” So despite the vigorous use of the scientific method, I tend to be skeptical of Western medicine. I’m skeptical because nothing worthwhile I’ve ever done could be achieved by just popping a pill, and I see little reason why achieving a healthy state should be any different. [If anyone knows of a pill for manuscript revision, I’d be willing to try it.] (I’m particularly disconcerted by medicines like pain-killers that remove the symptoms while apparently doing nothing about the ailment itself.)
So I can’t say for sure whether the ginger tea, acupressure, and qi gong had anything to do with my passages opening up. It was, after all, a system under tension. GROSS-OUT BEGINS: At some point either the passage was going to open, my left eyeball was going to pop out of its socket, or my eardrum was going to rupture sending an avalanche of pus pouring onto my shoulder. GROSS-OUT COMPLETED. However, even if all the TCM approach did was to take my mind off of my misery while I was waiting, it did more for me than the pill-popping alternative.
Second, I also know a little something about systems, generically speaking. Another thing that appeals to me about TCM is its fundamental recognition that any problem will create feedback effects that reverberate through the system. In other words, the root cause may not be anywhere near where the problem is first noted. Because of this, one may end up having to fix a dysfunction distant from the symptom in order to fix the problem. This seems consistent with other systems with which I am familiar.
I have some arthritis from a lifetime of beatings–most notably in my lower back and my ankles. It occurred to me that my back problem might be exacerbated–if not caused–by a problem with my right foot and ankle. I suspected the damaged ankle and flat foot might cause my pelvis to tilt and my lower back to be off kilter, thus wearing through the cartilage on the side of my back that gives me problems. Maybe this was, in fact, wrong. However, when I asked the specialist who diagnosed my ankle arthritis about this possibility, he looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world. “You see, son, the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone and the shin bone is connected to the knee bone and the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the pelvic bone, and it’s not until this point that the pelvic bone is connected to the back bone. There’s like half a dozen things between those two problems. They couldn’t possible have anything to do with each other.”
Now let me be clear, I’m not dismissing Western medicine by any means. There are some things it does vastly better than TCM or Ayurvedic healing or any other holistic healing method. So if I show up in your Emergency Room with a piece of rebar sticking out of my skull, please don’t throw this back in my face. “Oh maybe you should massage the Valley of Harmony (LI-4), do some ‘Parting the Clouds,’ and drink a glass of lavender-infused carrot juice.”