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The art of Chinese medicine

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Hello everybody, thank you very much for inviting me to Bratislava. It's a funny story. I was coming backwards and forwards to Vienna and using the London - Bratislava line taking flights almost every other week. And a very nice woman set next to me on what I told her was my very last flight to Bratislava. And I said it with a little bit of relief because, you know, flying very frequently gets very tiring. And anyway as the flight progressed we had two hours from London to Bratislava she said: "What do you do?" I told her I was involved with Chinese medicine for twenty years of my life, and so we talked. And she said to me "Well how would you like to come back to Bratislava and talk to the TED conference about your experiences. And so never say never, here I am again and thank you very much because actually you have a very beautiful city with a wonderful castle. So I am very pleased to be here, thank you. (Applause) Anyway, I have a rather unconventional career. I in the mid 1980s decided I rather wanted to change my life and study Chinese medicine, which not too many people did in London in those days. I managed to learn Chinese medicine in London and I thought 'Wow! What a wonderful system of medicine!' It comes from China. It's almost three thousand years old and it works from a completely different basis to Western medicine. So I, you know - but there was a little bit of me that was rather cynical and I thought well 'How does it work?' Because what happens here is that we stick needles in people's bodies at different acupuncture points and suddenly they get better. And there is no scientific explanation for how this system of medicine actually works. So I thought 'It's time to go to China'. So in 1991 I went to China to Nanjing and I lived and worked in a busy hospital of traditional medicine and this really did changed my life. Hardly because - you know there was no private little room there was no sort of - you know, cozy intimate conversation about what happened when we were five or six years old that actually has made us ill maybe today you know - this was a system were you know - hundreds and hundreds of people were coming into this busy hospital and they were getting better. What I saw was very much like shingles, you know - very painful eruptions from the body that surrounded by acupuncture needles went away within two or three days. Things like facial paralysis, you know - very physical symptom when one half of the face is frozen and people got better. So I have no doubt in my mind that Chinese medicine has something. I came back to the UK and went into practice set up my own clinic with colleagues and really to some extent it was a big experiment in Britain we didn't really know what we could treat but people kept coming to us and people got better. And then, very hard to believe when I started all of this, acupuncture education moved into universities. And to cut a long story short I find myself at the University of East London and I am the head of Chinese medicine there. And I am very pleased to tell you I have one student from Bratislava who I hope will pass her exams this year so she is going to be bringing Chinese medicine back here. So, you know, here we are for me twenty years doing this, yet no scientific explanation for how this medicine could possibly work. And I want to tell you a short story about a patient to give you some idea of what's involved with acupuncture. Let's call her Nadine. She is thirty years old and she and her husband for two years have been trying to have a baby but she can't get pregnant. She goes for tests to her doctor and the tests reveal there is no problem, you should be able to get pregnant. So they continue to despair and she has two cycles of what's called AVF assisted conception and they don't work. So as a last resort she comes to me for acupuncture. And to be honest - you know this is quite a big job - you know to give this woman a baby with needles. (Laughter) No pun here. So... so anyway. We make a diagnosis, we listen to her pulse, I do all the things that Chinese doctors do. And we work together for about five months and nothing happens, she does not get pregnant. And you know, I am beginning to get uncomfortable because she is paying money for this treatment. And one day I say to her: "Look, I am not so sure that acupuncture is for you." And she looks at me and she said: "You are like my mother! You think I am useless, you think I can't do this." And you know, she welled up with anger. And I said "You mean, your mother doesn't think you can you can get pregnant? And she said "No" she said "I am so angry." Now in Chinese medicine the Chinese long recognize there is a connection between the mind and physical function. So on this particular occasion I changed the acupuncture treatment. And when I put the needles in there were little electric shocks it seemed to be different. And this is bearing in mind we've been working together for five months. And guess what? She got pregnant. You know, and there are many stories like this. This is why, you know, the Chinese have kept Chinese medicine going. And just - because I don't know how many people here know what... what really Chinese traditional medicine is. But acupuncture is one treatment, herbal medicine and massage, and also movement. For example in China I visited a council hospital and they don't lay their people down when they have cancer they keep them moving with things like Chi Gong and Tai Chi. It's different philosophy, different way of thinking. And you know, in China this medicine has been running for 3000 years. And the idea is that the body is a network of meridians or channels. And these channels carry something apparently called Chi. Now there is no definition for Chi. There is no explanation, you can't measure it. There is no science that explains what Chi is. And of course this makes people in the scientific establishment very very skeptical about what we do. In China Chi isn't energy, it isn't some primordial life force, it actually gives meaning to things. This conference today has good Chi, you know, it has huge energy behind it. It really gives purpose and meaning, it creates life, that's the idea of Chi. And Chinese medicine is really a system of clinical evidence based on a very different way of thinking about body. So that for example emotions in Chinese medicine can cause illness. So that, as with the patient I told you about, the idea that all this suppressed anger actually in Chinese medicine would have some relevance. So Chinese medicine is a huge success story. And I visited Cuba in my work because I heard that in Cuba Chinese medicine was a part of their integrated healthcare system. And you know, when Cuba was isolated from the rest of the world and they had no essential medicines, they had to try acupuncture. And they found it successful for things like strokes and heart attacks. And so now in Cuba today you'll find two systems of medicine. You will find traditional medicine as well as Western contemporary medicine. And I said in Cuba to the head of the Cuban acupuncture society: "Why, why acupuncture here?" And he said because Chinese medicine is one of the best systems in the world, one of the best medical systems and we want one of the best medical systems for Cuban people. So back in Britain - you know acupuncture very popular, Chinese medicine is a huge success story. But we in the last couple of years have fetched huge hostility from the scientific establishment. "Where is your evidence?" they say. "It must just be placebo." You know, the idea of suggestion. Well maybe because placebo runs in many medical systems but I think it's more than that. I'm quite convinced that one those needles go in something happens. And we do know certain things now, we do know that acupuncture effects certain the limbic part of the brain. We also know in the treatment of infertility that in the middle of the month if you do acupuncture it increases the blood flow to the uterus. So we're beginning to understand. But in the meantime with all the hostility in it it's quite serious in Britain. I mean for example there are people within the scientific establishment who would like to close down university courses like mine. There've been many books published saying 'What's happening in Britain? People are suddenly beginning to believe in things that are irrational!' So you know, there people ask good questions because I particularly as an educator have to ask myself you know, is something happening here? Or is this system of medicine which is 3000 years old, is it is it just a good idea or something that's based on on you know, on magic almost? But I think Chinese medicine has two things the Western medicine doesn't have. The first is that Chinese medicine is a real art. Any practitioner needs to listen and look. They listen to the pulse, they listen to a patient's life. But illness isn't just a collection of isolated symptoms. It's the way our lives and our histories and what we want to do impact and can actually cause ill health. It's a really, really creative process almost an art form and we know from art, just with the music we had before, how this can actually create change. It makes us think differently. The second thing for me about Chinese medicine, something that... that really came across in China and you know what we've done in the West is we've made a very hierarchical all important system of medicine with a language patients often don't understand. It's often frightening for patients, it's often invasive. But you know in China one doctor said to me: "You know, Charmian, here it's actually the patient that's the God not the doctor. And I found this over and over. The Chinese medicine tends to empower people and enables them to take much more responsibility for their health. And I think this is what it has to offer. So I'd like, just to finish, I'd like to show you a clip. I revisited China in... just before Christmas this year. And I was taken to a hospital in Shenyang which is in North of China and there is a doctor there who has developed a technique for treating low back pain. And I'd like to show you, I'd like to leave you with a clip, a quick clip. It looks very dramatic, it's very traditional treatment. It's for low back pain and sciatica. Have a look and if you are in trouble I hope in Bratislava you'll have a choice of having acupuncture. Thank you. (Applause) Now, it's some medicine. ...originated from North-East part of China. This medicine originates from North-East of China. So what kind of condition is just just pain, generally back pain? Yeah, yeah, yeah. (Chinese) ...wrinkled or traumatized. Excellent! can see the fire... Yeah, I can see it, it's fantastic. It's hot, just feel it. You can repeat, repeat the fire... ...and the medicine can be also very good.

Video Details

Duration: 13 minutes and 26 seconds
Country: Slovakia
Language: English
Producer: TEDxBratislava
Views: 105
Posted by: lucialukanova on Sep 4, 2010

Traditional Chinese medicine has been successful in curing people's diseases yet most modern healthcare systems struggle to embrace it. One exception - out of necessity - is Cuba were doctors look at what works and not at its rationality. Traditional Chinese medicine empowers people, it is an art which complements Western medicine, where one fails, the other works.

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