Chinese Herbal Medicine

A Visit to a Chinese Doctor

With me sitting at the left side of his desk, the doctor in front, he took my left arm and turned it palm facing him, outside edge of my wrist resting gently on a small cushion on the desk. He placed his thumb on my inside wrist, fingers on the back as if he was taking my pulse.  He sat there for several minutes, eyes looking into space in concentration.  After several minutes the repeated with my right wrist.  He took my left wrist again, briefly, peered into my eyes and asked me to stick out my tongue. He used a stethoscope and blood-pressure tester on me, then his examination was finished.

In his halting English, he explained that my liver was very “weak,” as were my kidneys.  He asked me about my drinking.  By then, I had already cut back my drinking to 2 – 3 glasses of wine or beers per day, but was honest in telling him my history.  He nodded and suggested that I should not have more than one or two glasses of red wine or rice wine each night as that was “good for my blood.”  He then asked my permission to prescribe an herbal treatment, and after looking at Winnie I agreed.  The doctor explained that he would work on making my liver and kidneys stronger for this first time.

He performed the same examinations on Winnie, and had another Chinese-language discussion with her.  Then he pulled out a small notepad with his letterhead and wrote out herbal prescriptions in Mandarin for both of us.  He faxed it over to the Chinese shop and gave us the originals.

Our examination was then completed.  We had spent about 45 minutes total for two exams, for which we were charged $40.00 apiece.  The doctor explained that any follow-up appointments would only be $20.00 apiece. We left the doctor’s office and walked back to the Chinese shop to pick-up our prescriptions.

Chinese Herbal Prescriptions

Our initial prescriptions were for a one week supply.  As Winnie and I watched, the pharmacist placed seven sheets of brown paper each about 12 inches square across his counter.  He would look at the doctor’s prescription mumbling to himself, then pull a plastic storage jar off his back shelves or pull out a wooden drawer from his pharmacy cabinet.  He would place the contents into a scale, and when he apparently had the correct amount would divide the material equally across all the paper squares.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal Pharmacy

The materials ranged from a white mineral-looking substance to tree bark, plant roots, and what looked to be dried insects. Then there were things I didn’t recognize at all.  On this first visit there were perhaps a dozen different items placed in each of our prescriptions.  I couldn’t help but think the contents of each paper looked like a bizarre salad.  When the pharmacist was finished, he poured the contents of each paper into a small brown bag, did a lock fold on each bag, then placed each of our prescriptions into a different plastic grocery bag.

At the cash register, the shop owner weighted each grocery bag and charged us based on the weight.  For this first set of two one-week prescriptions, we were charged a total of $120.00 cash.  The pharmacist and the shop owner gave Winnie long detailed instructions on how to prepare the prescriptions and provided a printed set of instructions.  After buying a few other items from the shop we went home.

That night Winnie prepared my first dose of Chinese medicine.  She poured the contents of one of the small paper bags into one of our smaller stainless-steel pot.  She covered the contents with water, brought it to a boil and allowed the mix to simmer for about 30 minutes.  The mix gave off an indescribable order.

After simmering for 30 minutes she turned off the stove and opened the pot to reveal a liquid that simmered with colors ranging from “puke brown” to “tar-oil black.” Winnie poured the still-warm liquid into a soup bowl, and instructed me to drink the contents while it was still hot “so it wouldn’t taste so bad.”

I still can’t imagine how bad it might have tasted when cold, but drinking this first batch of herbal medicine warm made me gag and nearly vomit.  I choked it down while Winnie prepared the batch for herself in a different pot, so she could save our batches for a second dosage.  A few hours later we went to bed, me feeling a bit dizzy and light-headed.

The next morning she got up with me and prepared the same batch used the previous night.  This time around, the mix tasted stronger and even nastier that the first.  The taste in my mouth afterwards was too strong to be neutralized by my morning coffee.

We repeated this process for the next six days.  Winnie prepared a batch of medicine for me each night using a fresh bag, and reused it the next morning for a second dosage. By the end of the week, I did begin to feel different.  I apparently began to get used to the taste as after the second night, I no longer had the urge to vomit when I drank the liquid.  We finished the prescriptions by the Sunday following our first visit.  After a brief discussion Winnie made an appointment for me for a return visit to the Chinese doctor on the next Saturday for both of us, which thankfully meant a one-week gap in taking the herbal prescription.

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