Whacky Qi

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If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I Corinthians 12:26(NIV)

I suffer from psoriasis. There is no known cure for this disorder but that hasn’t stopped me or any of my fellow psoriasis patients from looking for one. I have tried so many treatments that I’ve lost count over the years. I’ve seen so many doctors and they have all told me the same thing; that there is no cure for this disorder. I can walk into any dermatologist’s office and predict what they will prescribe for me; cortisones and treatments that could possibly kill me, and a lot of sunshine.

That is western medicine.

I used to live in China an hour outside of Shanghai. China is a very conservative and deeply Confucian society. You just don’t sunbathe in a bikini among 1.3 billion people. Privacy is in short supply. And if you happen to live in a very temperate climate getting the necessary UV rays of the sun isn’t always possible.

Fortunately there is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), something I had yet to try.

A colleague of mine who also had psoriasis recommended that I see his TCM practitioner. I took the train to Shanghai and found the practitioner’s apartment. He invited me into his tiny living room which also served as his office.

I sat on the sofa not really expecting any great news. I’ve heard it all before. There’s no cure for psoriasis.

Why should this man be any different?

Then he got straight to the point. “I’ve had very limited success with skin problems like yours” he said.

Nothing new there I thought.

It was his diagnosis, however, that got me thinking about my overall health.

“How many times do you use the bathroom at night?”

What?! I thought. What does that have to do with my skin?

“Twice,” I replied, still unsure about his question.

Then he gets a Popsicle stick from a cup on the coffee table. “Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.”

I did as he ordered. I open my mouth. He takes his stick and starts patting down my very wet tongue.

“气是错了” Qi shi cuo le.

Your qi is out of whack.

My what? I couldn’t quite comprehend what he was saying. I could understand his words. He meant my life force was off balance. But no doctor has ever said that to me before. I was quite puzzled by his prognosis.

“Your qi is out of whack,” he said. “You need to cut down on caffeine, alcohol, and seafood.”

Ok, but what does food and drink have to do with my skin? How is that going to help? I was trying to keep my composure after hearing that my life force was off.

It took me a while to understand what this practitioner was trying to do. He was trying to treat my skin by looking at my entire body, not just my skin. That is why he was asking me the obtrusive toilet question and why he was patting down my sticky tongue. Surely I was hydrated. Yet I was not retaining that moisture. My mouth kept salivating and I had to urinate in the middle of the night. Why wasn’t my skin absorbing all that moisture?

Your qi is out of whack.

His diagnosis was finally making sense. My skin was dry. Yet my body was not absorbing any moisture. My practitioner may not have been able to prescribe a cure for my psoriasis, but he definitely got me thinking about the differences between western medicine and TCM.

I was reminded of these differences on a recent visit to my optometrist in Costco. After writing my prescription for my contact lenses and glasses, he noticed the skin on my arm. “What’s wrong with your skin?”

“Psoriasis,” I replied.

“Your skin will eventually affect your vision.”

What? I thought. What does my skin have to do with my eyes? It took me a second to realize this doctor was using his culture to treat me. My optometrist is originally from Beijing, China. Although he went to medical school in Texas, he was treating me like my TCM practitioner did; looking at one body part to treat another.

Every dermatologist I have visited would just look at my skin. They don’t ask me to open my mouth and stick out my tongue to see how wet it is. They certainly don’t ask me how many times I pass urine at night. They also rarely order me to abstain from certain food and drink. They would just write up a prescription – usually a steroid cream or cortisone – and send me off to the pharmacy.

It’s been months since I’ve seen a dermatologist. I have no desire to see one. But if I did I’m tempted to ask the following question:

Why does western medicine treat only the affected body part? Why don’t western
doctors look as the patient’s body as a whole?

I wonder what she’ll say.

Your qi is out of whack.


3 thoughts on “Whacky Qi

  1. Qi is very important to Chinese culture, not exclusively for medicine. It’s the balance between you and the environment around you. Are you a coffee drinker? I’m surprised the doctor didn’t specifically call you out on that!


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