On a recent trip to China, I found myself sitting in the hospital receiving IV antibiotics for a nasty kidney infection I had developed. I spent about three hours for five days receiving infusions of bacteria fighting medications. Tied to the IV stand by a mess of tangled tubing, I couldn’t do much to pass time but watch the slow and steady drip as the liquid from the glass bottle trickled into my bloodstream drop-by-drop.
One lonely night at the clinic after all the nurses had gone home, an old Chinese doctor administered my medications to me. He sat next to me as I received my last dose of antibiotics. He spoke absolutely no English, and the four Chinese phrases that I know didn’t make for much conversation. Out of boredom, I pulled out my computer and opened up Google Translate. This miraculous technology bridged our language gap, and the great debate began. Is Chinese Traditional Medicine, or Western/Modern medicine more effective?
Ironically, my Chinese physician responsible for administering antibiotics happened to be a hard core, Traditional Chinese Doctor. He mainly uses natural herbs, acupuncture, and massage to heal and treat his patients. Even amidst all of the “unjumbling” of the direct translations from the internet that often made little sense, he made it very clear that he very rarely uses modernized medicines in treatments for his patients. As a nursing student and laboratory assistant, I have seen Western Medications save countless lives. My question is, with all the technology, medical advancements and new medications that we have been blessed with, why do people cling to these traditional methods? And if they are effective, why don’t Western doctors still use them?
Chinese Traditional and Medicines date way back to the 11th century. It applies the Yin-Yang theory to the body, as well as the five elements: Fire, Wood, Water, Metal and Earth. In order to be healthy, all elements of the body must be balanced. Elements out of balance result in sickness or weakness. Acupuncture, herbal remedies and massage are common therapies used by Traditional Chinese Doctors used to correct these imbalances. These natural healing techniques are aimed toward healing and benefiting the body as a whole. I like the idea of treating illnesses naturally. There are no side effects and less risk involved. Much patience is required when using these techniques. Generally, natural healing takes time. Results aren’t as immediate as Western Medicines.
Modern Medicine is miraculous. There is a pill for everything in this day and age. If you go to the doctor with any complaint, chances are you’ll leave with that infamous, illegible doctor chicken scratch prescription paper to deliver to the pharmacy for medicine. With patients that have suffered strokes or heart attacks, timing is everything. They can’t wait for herbal medicines or acupuncture to take effect. For example, life-saving thrombolytic medication must be delivered to stroke patients with in four hours to be effective and restore blood flow to the brain. These, and many other Modern medications have saved countless lives where traditional medicines couldn’t have produced results in time. However, often time Modern Medicines may help short-term, but have harmful long-term effects. Ibuprofen for example is a very effective and widely used anti-inflammatory and painkiller but can be extremely harmful to the liver. Antibiotics are another example. They are very effective in killing bacteria and treating infections. Still, sometimes our bodies develop immunities to them and the bacteria learn to fight back stronger until nothing can kill it. Most medicines have adverse side effects. Drug addiction is another risk we take when using prescription medications unlike herbal medicines.
My doctor pulled out the IV needle, gave me a band-aid, and sent me on my way. So, East or West? Who wins this debate? Reflecting on our conversation as I walked out of the clinic I decided, perhaps a combination of Chinese Traditional and Western Medicine is most beneficial.