Why I Love Practicing Chinese Medicine
On the heels of Chinese Medical school the struggle is real, as is the panic. When doctors graduate medical school they get a residency, which adds to a resume that will likely land them a good job. For an acupuncturist there is no such thing.
Our options are part time gigs at community clinics where we pull in a bountiful range of $10-$40 per patient treated (yes, there are people making $10 for providing holistic medical care), or outside of New York you can get hired by a chiropractor. However most recent graduate students can barely afford rent, let alone a car to commute to Jersey. As if the practice of Chinese Medicine itself isn’t a great enough challenge, suddenly we are faced with having to build our practice, becoming a businessman, much like wannabe comedians and actors, and other holistic healers. It must be so easy to be a businessman. You just have to be a businessman. Amazing.
Eventually the lucky ones figure it out. We find ourselves in practice, treating patients, making a living, whether scraping by or blowing up the spot. Either way, the panic button finally calms down to a manageable pitch where we are thankfully able to focus on what we spent four years studying: Medicine.
I get to practice in The Bronx – what a gift! The birthplace of two of my favorite things, hip hop and the Yankees; and my Spanish is just short enough of fluent that it greatly benefits from the weekly practice.
I spend three days of my week in the BX and two in Columbus Circle, and the only greater gamut than sociological demographics and personalities I get to interact with is the gamut of physiological ailments I get to observe. What a gift. My patients range literally from ages 17 to 97. I have white and black, (mostly) Hispanics, but also some Asians, Europeans, gay and straights, men and women, and most of them are wonderful but I even have a few assholes; and it’s cool to watch their humanity and/or vulnerability slowly unfold to reveal the warmth that exists in all of our cores (almost all?).
In my previous career as a stand-up comedian I often bragged that because of the amount of people we get to speak to we have our finger more firmly on society’s pulse than any other profession. Nobody speaks to more people than comedians – not even professional speakers or politicians. First, because they just can’t do the volume we do. They don’t do 5-15 “shows” a week - plus their speeches are usually for audiences already on their side, specifically there to see them, making it a much easier room and impossible to ascertain an impartial response.
However, with the exception of the occasional drunken heckler, comedy crowds don’t talk back. We might tell them about our problems in the form of a 60-second quip, and we can gauge their collective feelings about it based on laughter, silence or the dreaded, “Ooh,” that was too much. But we don’t actually get to know them. We don’t hear anything about their problems, their gravest pains or greatest fears, or surely ever how “all these symptoms started last year after my son was killed,” like I heard from a patient just a few weeks ago. What an awful tragedy. What an incredible gift, to be shared this within five minutes of meeting someone new.
She didn’t fully cry, neither did she make an effort to hold back, which I appreciated.
I offered her a tissue that she accepted to just blot the corners of her eyes and my head hung towards the floor.
This woman and I couldn’t possibly know less about one another. All I can say was that she had warm energy – not because I “read auras,” or “observe energy fields” around people or anything like that – but because of her smile when I greeted her. Her manners as we shook hands and walked into the treatment room together, and her pleasant demeanor as we began to talk. If she’s hurt people in her life then she’s in good company, present company included. But in the moment she is the one in pain and has come to me for help. What a gift.
What a gift, to have complete strangers from all walks of life come into our office and both literally and figuratively undress, baring to us their physical and mental imbalances and willfully coming along on our journey of investigation as to the root cause of it all. To sit across from all types of strangers everyday and have the opportunity to observe them at their most vulnerable and transparent, the dimensions of self generally reserved only for loved ones, we are so lucky. I probably learn as much about humanity and myself in any given week as I do about acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, and for that (unexpected) gift I am so grateful.
If only my patients knew how much they help me each week, by sharing so openly and engaging so genuinely. If only they knew how often it is that they’re the one brightening my day and healing my ill temper, even occasionally enlightening me with some piece of (medical) information.
I admire my patients so much, their open-mindedness to explore less conventional medicine, their strength for enduring their conditions, their courage to allow me to insert needles all over their bodies (some parts more sensitive than others), their attentive patience in listening to me drone on about why Chinese Medicine disagrees with what they’ve been told about nutrition, and finally their determined will to evolve and improve.
At least once a week I find myself in awe of how many positive changes some patient has made. What a gift, to experience humility because a complete stranger heeded my advice, and more importantly is “seeing a difference.” It’s so cliché, but I hadn’t experienced the gift of helping others in such volume before practicing Chinese Medicine, and I can’t put into words how special it feels.
I previously thought love was reserved for people we spend hours of each day with for years on end. People we share the same tastes with in music and movies, and the same hate for those shitty, overrated movies that “all the dumb people like.” Practicing medicine has taught me that there are different expressions of love, as I doubt most of my patients see eye to eye with me on who the best ten rappers of all time are or why there hasn’t been a good comedy show since Seinfeld. It hasn't come up yet in intake. But somehow I love them. This is something I am only starting to understand.
I never thought anything could feel more rewarding than hearing 1000 strangers laugh hysterically at every word out of my mouth, then stand in applause as I disappear off stage after 10 or 40 minutes of more of the same. It doesn’t compare to one stranger returning to my office glowing with gratitude for making their suffering disappear from their body. What. A. Gift.