fredag 27 december 2013

Explaining Chinese medicine to The One Grumpy

I don´t believe in Chinese medicine. The evidence says it´s only good for
pain relief.”

This is a common personality-type in the West. When I lectured in the NHS in Sweden, I counted on having at least a couple of these in the crowd for every lecture – usually three out of ten, with one of those being openly disrespectful to other people (the question above is diplomatic compared to some versions). Of the rest of the audience, five would either have been treated and know it helped them or relatives to them, or they would realize they didn´t know enough to judge another system of medicine. Two out of the ten would have the ability to see the potential for helping patients through techniques that their own system of medicine didn´t include.

In many lectures, there were always stragglers, often doctors, who would come up afterwards and say ”Yes...I can see the potential in this, I´ve heard of things it treated that I can´t right now, but...the system is tying my hands to follow the rulebook no matter what it says. I might lose my license if I don´t. Sorry I didn´t say anything during the lecture.” Many of those were long-time biomedical doctors, who simply had seen what was possible or not in their own medical system in real life, over decades of practice, instead of learning it from textbooks.

So, if you meet The One Grumpy, what do you do?
First of all, you have to decide whether you are interested in investing time of your life to feed them. Most One Grumpies have little or no actual training in Western science. It is very rare that they are at research level of Western science. Interestingly, it seems quite common that some people who have very little training in Western science misunderstand this as an excuse for them to ask questions that everybody else has to answer. It is of course your choice whether you want to invest energy from your life and time on this planet to answering them instead of investing that time into, say, treating a patient who really needs help.
  I can give you some ideas and views here, but the choice itself is up to you.

Do you have to answer? Nope. My choice during those lectures would be based on how the person asked the question. Sometimes you can hear and see that they actually really do want to know but don´t have the mental vocabulary to ask the question in a polite way. Then it might be more worth taking your time to inform them. If it is someone who´s very demeanor, tone and attitude indicates that they don´t respect your knowledge, and that no matter how much time and effort you put in, they´re not going to listen, then I usually just change the subject or refer to the reading-list. Many One Grumpies really just want to be in the spotlight and steal time and energy from the lecture and the group. If you are talking to a group, remember, you are talking to all of them and to all the friends they will tell, not just giving time to one person who perhaps sadly got too little attention when they were a kid.

What can be useful if you do choose talk to the One Grumpy? You might change the attitude of that person concerning chinese medicine as a whole. If he or she is a doctor, this might mean that some patients down the line might get helped with health-issues Western medicine doesn´t have the skills to deal with. If you are interested in Chinese medicine as a whole in the West, your little piece of information to the Grumpy might be another drop of good information about the subject for the future.

Many of the times I chose to answer the One Grumpy, I actually wasn´t answering him (it was usually a him), but the rest of the audience. The One Grumpies I personally encountered were nine out of ten a waste of time and energy to engage with. They only wanted to be seen and heard. No matter how much information or time they were given, they weren´t satisfied. This is perhaps because they thought they were defenders of their faith, Western science or Western medicine, which thank god is much bigger and filled with more skilled and nice people to ever need defending by anyone.

I don´t believe in Chinese medicine. The evidence says it´s only good for pain relief.”
  Some gentler responses to this might be, ”You don´t have to belive in it. It works anyway if you get treated with it. If you book an appointment at my clinic I will be happy to show you.”
   Or, ”What have you seen of Chinese medicine?” or ”How much have you read about Chinese medicine?” which usually is answered by versions on the theme of ”Nothing”. This can be followed by, ”I´d be happy to give longer, in-depth answers, but can´t do it in this lecture. Read some of the books recommended in the paper – ” (remember to bring a paper with a good reading list on) ” – and then get back to me by e-mail, and I´ll try to help you.” No Grumpy I have met have ever wanted to actually read up on the subject before delivering their verdict.

I personally rarely quote case-studies to a One Grumpy. Chinese medicine needs no defending and no excuses. Offering them can often just increase the perception for the audience that it does. I have seen many acupuncturists in the West whose entire connection with Western science is to be on the defensive, excusing Chinese medicine and its long experience, instead of being intensely proud of the skills it has. I think excusing Chinese medicine has created a lot of damage for it in the West, and we need less of it.
Going into the long, complete answer to the actual question – how badly the studies are put together and how they ask the wrong questions due to a lack of knowledge about acupuncture and what seems to be a complete lack of interest to learn what it actually is – will take time and energy and patience, and will usually not pay off. But you never know, maybe it will for you, and for the One Grumpy you choose to invest energy in.

It is impossible to explain Chinese medicine through the current Western medicine´s views. People occasionally try, but all that frequently happens is that they cut off legs and one arm to explain the right hand. A more useful version is to see the two systems as two different paradigms to be dealt with in their own language and on their own merits. They both have pros and cons, they both have some brilliant solutions but in different parts of the playing field and with different views on how life, humans and the universe works. After writing and lecturing on this for a long time, I´ve realized that it comes down to two very different ways of seeing the universe. The difference between them is that fundamental. This fundamental difference, in turn, then shapes each system´s view of health, illness, humans, and how humans fit into nature or don´t.
If you do have the huge and positive intent to lecture, I would suggest you have some prepared answers to the questions above. Who knows – you might even meet a One Grumpy worth investing time in.

Daniel Skyle © 2013