Dear Traditional Chinese Medicine,

Sometimes it seems like you can hardly realign your chakras these days without running into a practitioner or a patient of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or at the very least someone who's heard good things or is excited to try it for themselves. I can't say I blame them. Traditional Chinese Medicine sounds safer, more natural, and less invasive than Western Medicine. Western Medicine is all about poking, prodding, cutting, injecting, sterilizing, and medicating. There's so much forceful manipulation to it; so much action and reaction. One slip of the scalpel and you can't move half of your face for the rest of your life. One overlooked drug-interaction and you're dead. Western Medicine is always trying to change the body, fix something, replace something, etc. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine preaches that you aren't really sick, and your body isn't fundamentally broken. It just seems like it is because of disharmony, and you can reharmonize your body with spa treatments. I like the sound of that. Rebalancing a chi-yin disharmony caused by one of the six excesses sounds like an easier problem to tackle than diabetes. And drinking tea whilst tiny, springy needles are lodged in your scalp sounds like a much more pleasant cure than strapping on an insulin pump.

But as much as I like the idea of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I do wonder why it's always compared to that thing we call "Western Medicine." Why is the x-ray/chemo/vaccination medicine called "Western?" There are plenty of antibiotics and MRI machines and laboratories in China. Chinese medical researchers make myriad contributions to the field of "Western Medicine." Maybe it's time to stop referring to hospitals and gastroenterologists as "Western" and come up with a different term. And before you start wondering where I'm going with this and why I'm so insistent on a semantic shift, I'll tell you why I think it matters. 

Before "Western Medicine," we here in the West also had a system of traditional medicine, but no one seems to take it seriously anymore. The attention, and the name, "Western Medicine," has been relegated to syringes and radiation, and no one seems to have any time for a little thing I am going to start calling Traditional Western Medicine, or TWM. The West has a proud history of traditional medicine, and it's about time we started championing it instead of running to the local acupuncturist every week, completely unaware that we have our own, homegrown, ancient medicinal practices. It's time we here in the West had a real, apples-to-apples analogue to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and all we need to do is take a look back into the history books and rediscover this ancient wisdom.

Acupuncture is fine for some people, I guess, but why not relax after a long day with the Traditional Western Medicine practice of bloodletting? It's an ancient form of treatment created from thousands of years of collected wisdom and passed down from generation to generation. And as you can see from the smiling boy in the picture above, it's also a lot of fun. Even the doctor is having a good time.

Every school child can recognize the yin-yang symbol, but tell me; how many of our kids can name the four humors- black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood? Can we really afford to forget this ancient medical tradition, the collective knowledge of millions of people gathered over thousands of years? Can we afford to lose this precious philosophical heritage in an era of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, mercury-laced vaccinations, and carcinogenic pollutants that are leaking into our oceans, lungs, and food supplies? Just thinking about all the dangers out there today is enough to give me the vapours.

And it would be bad enough if this ancient medical wisdom were simply being lost to time over the generations, but in most medical communities, Traditional Western Medicine is actively being ostracized and repressed.

These ancient Western medicinal practices have so much to teach us, but the modern medical community can't grok anything that's not quantifiable in numbers or doesn't walk along the narrow path of traditional, hypothesis/test scientific methodology. Even radical, demonstrable success doesn't seem to be enough to make people start heeding the ancient wisdom of Traditional Western Medicine.

The Pharmaceutical industry has all but given up on developing new antibiotics because they aren't profitable enough. Why invest in something that people only take for three weeks when you could create the next boner pill or cholesterol drug that people will take for the rest of their lives? 

Fortunately for the countless people whose lives will be saved as a result, Dr. Christina Lee at the University of Nottingham wasn't as dismissive of Traditional Western Medicine as most of her peers. Together with a colleague, she recreated a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon ointment from an ancient manuscript which called for garlic, leek, onion, honey, wine and bovine bile to be boiled together in a brass pot, strained, and fermented for nine days. The result of this simple recipe that most modern M.D.s would have chuckled over condescendingly? A safe, powerful antibiotic that kills the deadly, antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA at much higher rates than anything the pharmaceutical industry or modern medicine has to offer. 

But even this medical miracle hasn't been enough to sway public opinion when it comes to Traditional Western Medicine. It's not only the medical community that refuses to take TWM seriously, event the justice system persecutes TWM at every opportunity.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm against Traditional Chinese Medicine. I tai chi with the best of them. Without TCM I would never have been able to diagnose my cousin with kidney disease based solely upon his prematurely graying hair. He still denies he has kidney disease, but it's only a matter of time until his blocked kidney chi manifests itself as clinical illness if he doesn't start drinking eight glasses of water per day like I told him to. How would I know that my center of self-esteem and decision-making, the gall bladder, replenishes its chi between 11:00 P.M. and 1:00 A.M., were it not for the Traditional Chinese Medicine organ clock? And without the 16th century Chinese pharmacist Li Shi Chen, I would never have known to take ground rhino horn with me on hikes for first aid use in the event of a venomous snake bite.

By the same token, those who are ignorant of Traditional Western Medicine are also missing out on an entire spectrum of potential healing. Can a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine make a diagnosis just by studying the shade of a sick patient's piss as it's slowly swirled in a snifter? Don't make me laugh.

Traditional Western Medicine has so much to teach us. Don't let spider lizards crawl up your urethra. Don't get shot through both legs with an arrow. Goats can also be great hats. Watch out for fish on the floor- they're a slipping hazard.

I wouldn't know that the alignment of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars foretells potential illness, were it not for the medieval Traditional Western Medicine practitioner Guy de Chauliac. I would have no idea that kidney stones can be treated with a hot plaster smeared with honey and pigeon dung were it not for TWM. Those who only appreciate the benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine have no inkling of the role that self-flagellation can play in relieving sin-induced maladies. And sure, every TCM patient knows that you can burn mugwort on the skin to treat yang deficiencies, but do they also know that you can place mugwort under your pillow to stimulate dreams? Not if they're ignorant of Traditional Western Medicine they don't.

All that to say, Traditional Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine are like yin and yang. We need both of these ancient founts of medicinal wisdom to reduce humanity's suffering. It's time for our society to stop ignoring a millennia-long medical tradition. It's time for us to stop limping along with the self-inflicted handicap of intentional ignorance. Give Traditional Western Medicine the place it deserves in the pantheon of the healing arts. Let's open our minds to every culture's truth. Our current definition of holistic medicine isn't hole enough.

Dr. Schnabel von Rom


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