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Dreaming About Finding Traditional Chinese Medicine in China

Before I went to China, I had indulged in a far-fetched fantasy in which I would find a wise Chinese doctor – perhaps down a little side street – who would welcome me, gently take my pulse, nod gravely, prepare my herbs and afterwards, I would be miraculously healed.

Last November, I arrived in Chongqing suffering from another bout of Borreliosis / Lyme disease (which is a debilitating disease, affects everyone differently and is caused by forest ticks). I started my search for this magical, mystical Chinese Doctor, looking through the city and expecting him to somehow “appear” before me. I asked many people for a traditional doctor only to find that many thought this was very old fashioned, and no one believed in it anymore. “What! No Traditional Chinese doctors in China?” I was confused.

After a time delay, my fantasy did in fact materialise, but not as I had imagined. It materialised into something far better than I could ever have dreamed of!  But not at first. At first, there was a twist in the road that I had to take:

I was advised to go to the integrated hospital. This sounded good, I thought, the old and the new fused together in a modern way. I was excited and full of hope and took a taxi which crisscrossed the Yangtze, eventually coming to, what looked like massive mushrooms of white concrete, steel and glass. Inside was a huge light-filled atrium with a glass roof and a mass of people, moving around and up and down the many flights of escalators, like shoals of fish. Many more were standing in long queues, which were twisting and swelling and thinning out again. I was in one of these queues that started from a window with a woman in a white uniform wearing plastic gloves, looking at a small computer on her desk.

I looked around me and noticed how everyone moved in a sort of orchestrated harmony and unison, and even though I was the only foreigner there, I felt safe and at ease. Then it was my turn at the window with the woman wearing the plastic gloves. She was irritated by my translation apps and waved me on to another queue. And so, it went that day, with nearly half the day taken up with registration. When I finally did reach the doctor, she was with patient number 76 and my ticket was number 168. I waited another half day and when, at last, I did see her, she sent me off for six blood tests, bone density scans and X-rays. I went back and forth to that integrated hospital over the next three days. I did not see one person with an acupuncture needle or any cupping. Where was the integration, I wondered?

On the third day, my time arrived to see my doctor who I thought would discuss a treatment program for my illness. She was again softly spoken, very warm and friendly. On this day of our appointment, she wore what looked like a military uniform in brown, with some colourful badges. She smiled at me, and smiled at my X-rays, smiled at my blood tests, typed out a prescription, printed it, and gave it to me. There was very little conversation, using the translation app. I imaged she had understood from my previous visits why I had come. But when I went to fetch my medication, I was to discover that she had prescribed calcium tablets and the Chinese version of Voltaren. As a treatment for Borreliosis, this would be the equivalent of giving someone an aspirin for a broken arm. Was there something that got lost in translation? I had no energy now to start the whole thing over again and went home.

The next day I told my sad story to my translator. I could hardly believe what she was telling me: She was studying TCM and would ask her teacher if I could attend their class on Saturday as a “guinea pig.” I took a deep breath and told her how I had longed for this moment and how happy and grateful I was.

With my doctor at the clinic in Chongqing

I went along the following Saturday. There were eight trainee doctors, sitting at a long wooden table and the teacher who stood in front and to one side of a whiteboard. I was asked to stand while he had a good look at me and told the class of his observations. He prodded my stomach and said it was too hard. Did I do any sport? No, I replied. Now they were all staring at me and he began to write the key points of my peculiarities on the whiteboard. Then I was asked to sit down and answer many unrelated questions like; did I like the wind and was I afraid of the mountains (yes to both). Now the trainee doctors came up to me and felt my pulse, all nodding gravely and some having to redo the pulse taking because they missed some faint impulse from my veins. The teacher added his diagnosis to the white board, writing on one large page after the other, with several calculations, and formulas for the kind of medicines I would need. The discussion about my condition continued. I found it quite daunting to have people discuss my intimate life with each other in such depth, without knowing one word of what they were saying. My translator added a few hints every now and again… “your body is too cold…. your blood is blocked…. no energy in your stomach”… and so it went on. Maybe I have a terminal disease, I thought, and they are not telling me! Afterwards I was taken to the nearby clinic to get my medicines.

This was the beginning of my healing and the beginning of my new life. At the clinic, I met some of the Doctors, who again took my pulse and refined my treatment. I have seldom met such warmth, care and kindness. I watched the pharmacist gather all my herbs together, from cupboards, shelves, bins and boxes. There were so many!  (Two large shopping bags stuffed full of dried plants which my dear translator would cook for me). I visited the clinic often after that and joined their Tai Chi classes in the mornings before they all started work. I was taught how to cook and what to eat. It was explained to me, that Chinese medicine presumes that if you reorganise the existing pattern of disharmony into a harmonic pattern, the original cause will disappear because the conditions in which it was rooted, cease to exist. Chinese medicine treats conditions, whereas Western medicine treats causes. They also told me that they cure many cases of cancer, applying the principle that disease is a challenge to the body with which it is unable to cope, whether it is a harmful substance or a bad feeling. Disease is a manifestation of an unstable process, a pattern of disharmony and when defenses are weakened and resources exhausted, a multiplicity of factors conspire to permit illness. The saying “the man is not sick because he has an illness but has an illness because he is sick” expresses this view.

The Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic in Chongqing

While taking my medicines, my condition became much worse before getting better. “This is normal and shows that your body is reacting well to the medicines”, they said. I often had my doubts, but they were right. Coming back to Zurich put me into panic mode because I was carrying 6 kg of dried plants. Would I be stopped at customs? Would they take my medicine away? Should I just declare it all? And then I was reminded of what one of the Doctors advised me to do; “always take the path on non-action” he said. There were no problems at the airport and when I got home, I realised that my dream had come true!

QUESTION: Do any of our readers know where I can continue my treatment with a TCM doctor in Zurich? (Krankenkasse approved)? Just leave a comment or write to info@zurich-chinatown.ch

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