Chinese Medicine

A tall pink candle burns on the table next to a vase of orange and yellow-crested tulips, as the aroma of freshly made applesauce wafts near my nose. Life is good again. I’m emerging from the dark underworld of disease. I have my life back. Half the month I’ve been ill and today about five o’clock it lifted. I could speak again and felt like doing something besides sleeping and complaining to anyone who would listen.

Yesterday I went back to my doctor insisting she pull out all the stops. “I leave for Mexico in two days, what shall I do?”  Nina is gentle and soft-spoken, competent and knowledgeable.  “Take what I prescribe and this should be gone before you leave. In Chinese medicine they say that your liver is biting your lungs.”  She inserted more needles into my body, as I imagined a big brown gooey organ with a fiery temper reaching up to nip at my lungs, like some ill-tempered dog. When the treatment was finished, she offered medicinals.  

First came a sweet little bottle of tablets from Seven Forests called Qing Yin Bai Du Pian. Who knows what that means, but it’s suppose to help my lungs defend against the attack, then she added individually wrapped throat lozenges from Golden Lotus in shiny green paper with artwork worth framing stamped on each piece. I  love the art and poetry of Chinese medicine. The finale came in a large red box from Hong Kong, the splendor of which is difficult to describe. The box contained a cough syrup delivered with foldout images of Chinese architecture, colored illustrations of each herb used to make the formula and a circular graphic of medicine being offered on a tray to a man sitting in bed, light streaming through a near-by window. I don’t know about you, but seeing and receiving beauty in the medicine I take has a very positive effect, not unlike the tulips and candle light gracing the table.  

For me it’s a no-brainer. I can be treated tenderly and with respect, receiving ancient remedies from the hand of a gentle healer or stand in long pharmacy lines to receive prescriptions delivered in cheap plastic bottles with labels spit out by computers. The cost of drugs is ten times the amount and the possible side-effects even higher. “Here’s your medicine. Oh and by the way, this can make you sterile, drowsy, impotent or bald, cause a heart attack, or make the roof of your house collapse on your head. Have a nice day!” 

If I get splattered on the highway by a passing truck and arrive unconscious, I’ll let the medical establishment sew me back together. Anything short of that, I vote for a competent healer, herbs from the arms of the earth, and beauty, always beauty, especially in illness.


I am sick today, recovering from an insistent virus that canceled my life and ordered me to bed. I find it difficult to allow the luxury of utter stillness, to withdraw and rebuild my strength. Illness is a demanding guest. I must stay in the moment and be vigilant, guarding against negative thoughts I mistake as my own, when they are nothing more than missiles weighed down with infection.  

The sun is out, shining bright, inviting me into the world, but I won’t leave the quilt. My job is to eat chicken soup, drink immune system tea and take more herbs than I can count. I see Hannah’s outline near the front door. She’s been waiting for the past several days, sleeping on the welcome mat and wondering if I have forgotten her, wondering when we’ll walk the library paths again. I slip her a treat and shake my head. “Not today, sorry.” 

I saw my acupuncturist, Nina, yesterday who told me to breathe into my belly and get out of my head. She asked me to be mindful of my body several times a day, so I don’t die of a brain cramp sorting through my To Do list. She placed needles in my legs and arms while quoting the Buddhist teacher Dipa Ma. “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” I thought of the folks I nearly crashed into on the drive over, and knew she was right. So I slowed down, let it all go, and began to breathe, breathe into the belly and up though the soles of my feet. I thought of my own favorite saying, “There is so much to do, I must go very slowly.”  She gave me a prescription for Oregon Grape and I left better than I arrived, driving home in a different state of mind. I took time to feel my hands on the steering wheel and the heated seat against my back.

 I hadn’t realized I’d flown so far out of my body before illness brought me home, like a jet crashing on the runway. Now I need to stop, repair and recover, not what I want to be doing. But I yield, with little choice. The wind is gentle and soft as I reach for the mail before climbing back into bed. The sun is gone now, leaving with undelivered promises, just like me.