A medicine cannot be truly effective without a successful paradigm. By that I mean, how can a system of medicine diagnose, treat, and heal an illness that it cannot even recognize. One of the many advantages Chinese medicine has over Western medicine, and most other medicine’s for that matter, is that its paradigm takes all observable phenomena into account. Rooted in the cycles of nature, sensitive to the effects of climactic influences, perceptive of the vicissitudes associated with the ever-changing nature of one’s emotions and spirit, Chinese medicine understands that an individual and his illness are, in fact, one in the same.
Thus, the paradigm allows for the inclusion of all information relevant to one’s being into the formation of a holistic diagnosis. One that takes into account not just the illness, but the terrain or environment that the illness resides within. To effectively diagnose an imbalance, one must understand what the balance is. One must understand the relationship of the signs and symptoms to the history and the terrain. One of the addages of Chinese medicine states (and I’m paraphrasing), “a dozen diseases, one diagnosis; one disease, a dozen diagnoses.” This statement expresses the notion above, that a diagnosis is only made once the signs, symptoms, history, and terrain (i.e., constitution and uniqueness of the patient) is taken into consideration.
With this in mind, how can we be satisfied with going to the doctor with a cold or flu only to know that we will be given an antibiotic just like every other patient that day/week/year has been given for the same symptoms.
As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, one must delve deeper. Besides questioning on the chief complaint, we must make a detailed inquiry into the onset, timing, nature of the illness. What makes it better or worse; signs or symptoms that come concurrently. We must ask about one’s energy, one’s sleep patterns, digestion and elimination, temperature, thirst and urination, areas of pain or discomfort, question the different systems of the body such as breathing, circulation, gynecology and reproduction (significant emphasis in placed upon the female menstrual cycle, including the number of days, regularity, pre-menstrual symptoms, quality of the bleeding, color of the blood, presence of clots, etc.), emotional/spiritual/psychological states, tendencies and overall outlook on the world, past medical history (with a detailed inquiry into birth history, prior traumas and childhood illnesses and stresses), family medical history.
Besides questioning, we must search for other objective data. This includes noticing one’s posture, gait and other structural imbalances, the quality of the voice and respiration, the shen (heart-spirit) as it radiates through the eyes and complexion, any odors emanating from the body, a visual inspection of the tongue (which includes the body color, size, shape, moisture, motility, location of cracks or fissures, coating, sublingual veins, etc.).
In addition, we must palpate. Touching the body allows us to directly perceive energetic imbalances. We palpate the channels of the body, the abdomen or hara, and especially the pulse at the radial artery. These topics will be discussed in greater detail in future blogs, but needless to say, they are the hallmark of the great diagnostician. Significant training is required to perceive and understand the subtlety of these messages.
Again, understanding the amount of information taken into consideration by the practitioner of Chinese medicine to understand your illness AND your direct perception of it, do you take the antibiotics your doctor prescribes for your cold or flu after hearing two minutes of your symptoms?