Posted by: corneliadavies | October 13, 2018

Acupuncture Training in China (2006) Part 4: Clinical Observation Begins

April 24th 2006

Clinical training starts today. There’s a cycle ride to the hospital, so I got to the garden to do my pre-breakfast Qi Gong earlier than I had last week, and all of a sudden the Chinese vision I had heard about for so many years materialised before my eyes: people doing Tai Chi, Qi Gong and other exercise in the early morning in a park. Hooray!

Some people were alone, like me; some were in groups. While I did my Qi Gong, a little way away a couple of chaps did some Tai Chi, and a group of middle aged Chinese ladies did Sword Form Tai Chi followed by what looked like a semi-acrobatic dance routine, waving red fans, all to the accompaniment of traditional music on their rather tinny ghetto blaster.


After breakfast came the moment we have all been waiting for: the first day of clinical observation. At the hospital, a pile of standard issue white coats awaited us. My little clinical group: Britta, Axel, Baihe and I looked great. Baihe looked very chic in her own white coat. The rest of us looked… authentic: in white coats that were a little too large and a little creased, just like all the pictures of Chinese doctors I have ever seen!

As I posed for a group photo, I realised how very excited I was. For twenty-five years, I have been involved in Chinese Medicine in one way or another and have had people say, too frequently to count, “Acupuncture? Does it work?” It’s infuriating, but an understandable viewpoint from ordinary members of the British public. Now, for the first time I was about to witness it practised live in a mainstream Chinese hospital: not fringe, not freaky, just normal.

We were assigned to follow Professor X in the acupuncture department as he saw an apparently endless round of people. He would sit at his desk for the diagnosis of a new patient, ask questions, take pulses, look at their tongue, and then write an acupuncture point or herb prescription. All the time, doctor and patient would be surrounded by a group of interested bystanders: other doctors, Chinese medical students, friends and family, other patients waiting, and, probably worst of all, us foreign students (can you imagine?)

I must say, the patients bore all of this very stoically: it was normal for them. However, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for one or two in particular, for whom the questioning got quite personal at times. My heart went out to one softly spoken young woman who was suffering from tiredness, and who also had dysmenorrhoea and chronic constipation. With the large, attentive audience and our interpreter following with an English version of her story, to my Western outlook it all seemed rather invasive.

In between these diagnostic sessions, Professor X would go around the clinic and put needles in half a dozen patients who had already been diagnosed or were there for follow up treatments. Each doctor clearly has his or her own style, and the professor seems to favour using lots of back points with deep needling, cups and electro-stimulation.

On several patients he used Huo Tuo Jia Ji points, which are located inside the bladder meridian on the back. Apparently he likes to use these points instead of the back shu points because they are not directly over organs, and therefore he can needle deeper. And, boy, did he needle deeper… I’m not certain I would ever dare to needle that deeply (or even feel the need to). Apart from my having been taught a very gentle acupuncture tradition, and apart from the litigious nature of Western society, they just looked so deep. He was using 3-inch needles, up to the hilt (yes, I do mean that: the hilt). We’ll see how I feel in a couple of months. (Update 2018… No, I do not needle that deeply, even now!)

Not everyone got this very strong back treatment, and I was surprised that one woman who was suffering from numb hands just had one point on each arm needled (Pericardium 6): nothing else – the perfect, elegant, one-needle treatment we were taught about at college? Whatever his reasons, it was certainly a contrast to some of the heavy-duty treatments for the back pain/sciatica group.
I hope that as time goes on we’ll get more explanation of what the differential diagnosis is for different patients, but for today, it was stimulating enough: the two and a half hours just flew by.

June 12th

In the park this evening I saw a man writing beautiful calligraphy on the slabs in a paved area, using a huge brush, dipped in water. The hairs of the brush were about 8 inches long, and in a bunch about 4 or 5 inches in diameter, and the handle was long enough that he could use the whole thing easily in a standing position, slightly bending. This was a proper calligraphy brush, elegant, and with an enormous water carrying capacity.

As he moved on down the pavement, presumably writing a traditional poem or text, the characters a few lines back dried and faded from view. This was artistry of true impermanence: here and flowing, lasting for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then gone. Perhaps the beginning of the stanza was gone before the end was reached – I don’t know. I’ve often admired the artistry and impermanence of the work of pavement artists who work in chalk, only to have their work fade or wash out within hours or days, but this was more transitory, even, than that.

With his big, water-holding brush, the artist was able to use blobs and strokes: delicate, thin lines and fat, satisfying strong lines. It was perfect: a calligraphy demonstration with no wastage of paper or ink. He had most likely scooped the water out of the park lake and into the recycled plastic bottle with the top cut off, which he was using as his water container. Exquisite: no stain on the planet, no throwaway, and a temporary addition of grace and beauty, leaving a permanent memory for me, at least, and probably for some others.

A slightly younger man stood watching him, clutching a wad of calligraphy texts, I think. His student? Possibly.

I think this may have been the original ‘poetry in motion’: for which the term was coined.


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