Chinese Herbal Medicine

A Visit to a Chinese Doctor

This is a story about medicine, and healing, and doctors, and healthcare.

For most of my life I’ve been skeptical of doctors, recognizing that they’re only human and prone to making mistakes just like the rest of us mortals. At the same time I’ve also been even more skeptical of “alternative” (non-American medical Association approved) medical treatments and practices. I’ve also learned a lot about home remedies from my wife, a native Chinese lady who came to America for the first time in 2005.

In the Before Computer (BC) era, I learned how to use a Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) to check any medication I was prescribed before taking it; side effects, interactions with other medicines, and what I should expect for healing from whatever it was the doctor prescribed the medicine for. My practice of checking medicines became even easier with Mr Yahoo and Mr Google. The Internet also allowed me the opportunity to check out claims on alternative medicines, from which I learned a lot about alternative therapies, both positive and negative.

My experience with alternative medicines took a quantum leap between November 2006 to April 2007 when I had an experience with a licensed Chinese “Herbologist”; a doctor who is trained in traditional Chinese herbal medicines. This story is about my experience with this doctor, his examination routines, prescriptions, and the surprising positive impact on my health as an apparent result of his herbal medications.

I’ve thought long and hard about publishing this story, because to be accurate means sharing rather personal medical information. But given the level and tenor of “debate” over the past several years about healthcare in the United States I’ve decided my story needs to be told. So I’ll start with some personal background that is relevant to my health and this story.

Background

My health has normally been good, even now as I’m well on the downhill side of 50.  Although I’ve worn corrective lenses for extreme nearsightedness since the age of eight (until cataract surgery in early 2012), I was blessed with reasonably good genes.  I was taught to eat healthy while growing up and actually enjoy exercise in the form of running, bicycling, walks, and physical labor.  I do have a history of heavy coffee drinking (I switched to drinking tea in 2009) and excessive alcohol consumption, a vice I’ve alternatively battled against or indulged in guilt-free.  I’ve also been diagnosed with high cholesterol starting in my early 30’s when I was still on active duty with the U.S. Navy.

My first wife and I settled on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in early 1996.  We divorced in November 2001 and as part of my post-divorce recovery process I started heavy drinking on a regular basis.  I remarried in October 2003 but my new wife Weifang (“Winnie”) remained in China until we could get her visa. I essentially continued to live a bachelor’s life while waiting 20 months for visa to come through and join me in the US.  Winnie finally arrived in July 2005.

During the time between my divorce and Winnie arriving in the US, I was dealing with a lot of stress.  I was living alone and maintaining a large house, struggling with my finances and an unstable job situation, then fighting to get my wife’s visa issued.   I dealt with my stresses by more heavy drinking.

My average number of drinks for most of 2002 through early 2005 gradually increased to about 5 – 6 drinks per night, mostly in the form of red wine and rum (straight shots over ice so I wasn’t affected by the sugar from drink mixers).  With the heavy drinking I needed lots of coffee to keep me going during the day.  I gradually stopped any pretense of exercise and I was plagued with chronic diarrhea which I do believe was stress-related.

I had no children with my first wife; she was not interested in children so there was never any reason to seek medical help.  Winnie very much did want children, and part of the extreme stress I was dealing with during the 20 month wait for her visa was knowing that I was getting well past the age where starting a family would be possible.  More stress, more drinking.

Six weeks after Winnie arrived in the US, hurricane Katrina added a new dimension of excitement to our lives. We came through reasonably well all things considered; only three feet of flood water but at least the house was still intact.

Over the next several months of hurricane recovery efforts I suffered two serious cases of respiratory illness.  The first was from black mold inside our house as we struggled to get all the rotting drywall out.  I suspect the second case, just a few weeks after recovering from my first, was due to a combination of breathing the outside air (heavily contaminated with airborne mold and fungus), and breathing excessive gypsum-board dust inside our house while hanging new wall board.  I also developed a case of “Tennis Elbow” in my right arm so severe that at times it was too painful for me to even shake hands. I did cut back my drinking during this time to an average 3 – 4 drinks per night.

Our home rebuilding work lasted until August 2006. Starting in January 2006 Winnie landed a job working at a local Chinese Buffet style restaurant.  As part of the deal with her boss she brought home a take-out box for my supper an average of five nights each week.  The food was decent but heavy on greasy vegetables, fried meats, soy sauce, and oriental seasonings.  I suspect the MSG used was not excessive in comparison to other buffets in our area, but probably more than was healthy for a regular diet.  As Winnie was getting home about 9:30 PM each night, I was eating supper just before going to bed late.  I was getting up at 5:30 AM each morning for my job which meant averaging perhaps 6 – 6.5 hours sleep each night with no weekend “catch-up” time.

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