Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Traditional Chinese Doctor

Yesterday I mentioned Traditional Chinese Medicine. In my book The Cockroach Catcher, I wrote:
“… in this cutting edge work everything counts and the trust and respect of your patient and his or her parents is of paramount importance, just like the trust and respect my parents used to have for the Chinese doctor that they used to take me to.”
When I was growing up, the Traditional Chinese Doctor was possibly the most respected person a child was ever going to meet. More so than his teacher, grand-father, or father. That was the pecking order of respect.
In the unfortunate event of a child having a fever and needing to visit a doctor, he would be taken to the consulting room of a Traditional Chinese Doctor. The room was generally sparsely equipped, with a redwood consulting desk in the middle, set with some calligraphy brushes, an ink well and Chinese rice paper. On the wall behind the doctor you could expect a giant calligraphy piece extolling his skills – literally translated as “kind heart, kind skills”. On another wall there would perhaps be a Chinese water-colour with a theme relating to doctoring. Doctors were said to have the “heart of a parent”.

This is a Chinese painting that used to hang in my consulting room. The Chinese characters can be translated as "the warmth of spring in almond groves". In the Chinese tradition, "almond groves" signify medicine, originating from a Chinese legend of a doctor who lived in the Three Kingdoms era. Instead of paying him, his patients were asked to plant almond trees, five for a serious illness cured, and one for a minor ailment and so on. Both the painter and calligrapher were leading figures in the literary/art world of their times.

The doctor himself usually had a solemn and yet kind look and wore a traditional Chinese costume. No, the mother did not have to tell him anything. All he had to do was to check the child’s pulse and his tongue. There would be no listening to the chest, or any other examination, and definitely no X-ray or ECG.The respected doctor would write his prescription of around ten to twelve medicinal herbs. The mother would thank him and then get the prescription from the Herbal Counter outside his consulting room. Each herb would be carefully weighed and individually wrapped in paper. Back home, the herb mixture would be boiled in water in special pots. Generally three bowls of liquid had to be reduced to eight tenth of a bowl. During the boiling process the pungent stench could be smelt from a block away.The sick child who was kept in his bed could certainly smell it. I always thought that was part of the treatment. A black bitter tasting liquid would eventually be presented to the sick child. How we ever managed to down these potions I was never quite sure. The one possible inducement could be the two preserved plums at the end, given as a sort of reward for the child who managed to drink the full portion. These preserved plums came from the Herbal Counter with the medicinal herbs.
One thing was for sure. Children did not fake illness. Not often anyway unless they wanted to drink that black potion.

In my first ever visit to Beijing, one member of our tour group consulted a famous Traditional Chinese Doctor in the Capital City. Seeing that I was a doctor myself, he told me what happened. He was in awe. He really was. The doctor only checked his pulse and looked at his tongue. Then he told him he had gall bladder problem. My new found friend pulled out some X-ray films from his doctor in Reunion Island. There were gall stones.

I too was impressed.

Alas, I fear that the respect for and trust in doctors in today’s world is waning fast. In my book, I wrote:
“…. Those were the days when doctors in U.K. were amongst the top three most respected professions and Members of Parliament shared the bottom ranking with Estate Agents.
The doctor’s position had over the last ten years moved nearer the bottom end with no such counter moves by Politicians….”

I would love to hear from any reader who disagrees.


Anonymous said...

A MORI poll in the UK in 2005 showed that doctors remained the most trusted profession. Next came teachers then, substantially lower, TV newsreaders.

Good enough?

Am Ang Zhang said...

Thank you. I wonder if trusting doctors to tell the truth is the same as trusting doctors to be competent in their job. Will another opinion poll taken today show similar results? Perhaps it is only the media who has been doing the doctor bashing, and according to the poll, journalists are the least trusted!

Am Ang Zhang