BM: So what do you do for their anxiety? You stick them with the needles in the proper points, and apply the proper electrical current, and–what else do you do for them? Do you tell them to go home and read a funny book?
CL: No, I try to go over a patient’s life-style when I initially evaluate them. I think it’s important to know whether they’re happy with their job; happy with their home; what kind of diet they have; their habits, whether they smoke, whether they drink, whether they exercise. It’s also important to know if a person’s determined, the person’s spirit level, and to understand what whatever disorder or disease they have means to them; how they feel about it emotionally, how it affects their sleep. I try to evaluate them in all these factors.
Using acupuncture points will help some of those aspects of the person, and if you can just help the person relax a little bit and de-stress a little bit, it can make a big difference. When people start feeling a little better, then they begin developing a little more confidence and they’re not as afraid.
Most people think of putting the needle in a part of the body as a purely physical treatment, but it’s not. Each point has an effect on a different organ, and in turn that organ has an effect on their emotions, and also ultimately their spirit. If you try to separate, say, the treatment of pain [from the emotional aspects], it won’t work. Pain is a subjective thing, and it means different things to different people. I don’t mean just in terms of what a person can tolerate–some people have better pain tolerance than others–but in terms of what it means to them: the effect on their life-style, their relationships with their family and friends, and their job, and their aspirations in life, what they can and can’t do anymore. No two people ever have the same kind of pain. You can’t just prescribe the same pain medicine to everyone who walks through the door and expect them to get better.
BM: So you wouldn’t have approved of the campus quack where I went to college. He gave everyone the same pills–blue and yellow antibiotics if they had the sniffles, and Darvon if they were depressed.
CL: Right. That’s what happened to me in college. I was depressed, and I went to the campus health care, and they gave me some antidepressant without really talking to me. And obviously [when taking the medication] I felt worse–I felt tired, I felt down. And I just stopped taking them. That was most people’s introduction to psychotherapy. Recently, there’s been so much publicity about [one particular] antidepressant drug, I think it’s kind of scary. Obviously, it’s a huge advertising promotion for the drug company. They can’t make the drug fast enough.
There are more people addicted to legal drugs than there are to illegal drugs. The number of iatrogenic injuries to patients and admissions to hospitals is just staggering. It’s not in the headlines; it’s not publicized–they suppress that kind of thought–but it’s there.
I think it’s criminal the way the pharmaceutical companies essentially bribe doctors and give them gifts, and trips, and free drugs. It’s corrupt. If a drug is good and it works, you don’t need salespeople.
BM: What do you think is the proper way to treat a condition such as asthma? I know that acupuncture can be used for it.
CL: In Western medicine, asthma is treated as a disease, whereas in Chinese medicine, asthma is a symptom of an organ misfunction. The organ misfunction may not necessarily be the lungs–it may be the kidneys or some other organ–and to treat all patients with the same asthma medication is pretty simplistic.
BM: So how do you treat it?
CL: The Chinese approach is that you have to determine where the organ weakness is, and in many cases it has to do with kidney function or even the spleen function. Obviously the immune system is low in these patients, and they tend to react to a lot of environmental stuff. I don’t think it’s as important what they react to as the fact that their immune system is weak. So if you just desensitize them to what they seem to be allergic to by these allergy tests, you’re missing the point. You need to strengthen the person’s organs and their immune system, and then they won’t react. And they won’t have the asthma attacks.
Another example is patients with headaches. A headache is a symptom and not a disease. But it’s treated as a disease, and it’s given pretty standard pharmaceutical treatment, with pain relievers and beta blockers and a lot of other drugs. Headaches, according to Chinese medicine, come from many different sources. One of them is fatigue. Another one is excessive stress. So you have to determine where the imbalance is; you just can’t treat everybody with a shotgun approach, treating them all the same.
The same thing with irritable bowel. A lot of these other syndromes that have been coined in Western terminology as diseases are only symptoms. They’re treated with drugs as purely symptomatic. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical companies like those kinds of disorders, because that means the person is going to be on [a medication] for a lifetime. A lifetime customer.
High blood pressure frequently is a stress reaction or a dietary problem. In Chinese medicine, it’s frequently an overactive-liver problem. Western patients start on medication–and usually the doctor makes them believe they’ll have to be on it for the rest of their lives. Whereas probably just a few changes in their life-style or their diet could lower it enough so that they wouldn’t have to use any drugs.
Then you get the side effects of the drugs, and they get treated with other drugs with their own side effects, and it’s just a medical nightmare. It’s a vicious cycle.
BM: I’m interested in the correlation between stress and medical problems. I have a friend with colitis whose physical situation has improved since she lost her extremely stressful job. Then there are the old people whose spouses die–and how, when it was a close and loving relationship, frequently the other will die within a few months.
CL: Right. There’s a bond, there’s a spiritual bond. It’s very true. It’s also true that more people die on Monday than on any other day of the week.