Today I headed off to the Kunming Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine with my camera, notebook, and Chinese-English dictionary in hand. I could not help feeling anxious about being on my own without an interpreter. My mandarin is improving daily but the people here speak in a local dialect called “Kunming Hua” which is very difficult for me to understand. Additionally, there is medical terminology and vocabulary specific to TCM that I am not yet familiar with. Regardless, I was excited about my first day watching the doctors diagnose and treat patients and learning about traditional healing.
When I arrived at the entrance of the hospital, I was met by an overwhelming mass of people. Over one hundred filled the main lobby and many were lining up to collect their prescriptions from the pharmacy. TCM doctors will often prescribe a set of special ingredients that patients can purchase from the pharmacy to take home, with directions on how to prepare the medicine on their own. Prescriptions are unique to the individual as each patient is considered as a unique case. Followers of TCM believe that these treatments help to restore the balance of Yin and Yang in the body, two opposing energy forces in nature. Thus, the specific ingredients in a prescription will have different Yin and Yang properties.
I was soon introduced to a TCM student named Fredrik from Sweden. Fredrik has been living and studying in Kunming for over 6 years. With one year left to complete his degree at the Yunnan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, he plans to return to Sweden to open his own private practice. He explained that people from around the world come to Kunming to study TCM because many top practitioners and educators live here. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to study with one of these masters.
At 9:30AM I finally made my way to the outpatient clinic where I met Dr. Zhao who is the head of the clinic and a senior medical advisor at the Hospital. He is famous in Kunming for his ability to treat and cure patients with the most serious ailments. I was told of one story where he was able to successfully treat a patient who suffered from a full body bacterial infection. This patient was told by western trained physicians that his condition was untreatable and that death was imminent. Under the treatment and direction of Dr. Zhao, this patient survived and was able to make a full recovery.
Dr. Zhao explained to me how he was using both Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine in his clinic. He used MRI’s and blood tests to help him diagnose the patient’s condition. He then used TCM to treat the patient by injecting herbal formulas near the site of the injury in accordance with the meridians. In TCM, meridians are a series of complex, interconnected energy pathways that are related to the major organ systems in the body. Breaks in these pathways can cause energy stagnation which manifests itself in different forms of physical illnesses.