Many people suggested that I could use a blog to present more information about some of the things that we discuss in the clinic, as well as some of the work that I am doing outside of the clinic work. So here is my first attempt.

These are some projects that I have had in the back of my mind since starting my TCM practice. None have seen the light of day yet.

I have never made a blog about anything before and this one is off to a rocky start (seems like hours or days to work out the technology). It is possible that this will be the only entry that I ever make and then someone reading this years from now will wonder if anything else is coming. Oh well.

Emotional Reactivity Mechanism – Book

Early in my practice, I started to notice long-term health problems coinciding frequently with distinct patterns of emotional reaction to stress. Many patients were aware of these reactions but were frustrated in their many efforts to change those reactions, and their physical health suffered correspondingly. I found that while I could often achieve short-term relief of their physical symptoms, emotional triggers would typically bring everything right back. Many patients, many colleagues, and the work of many researchers eventually led me to a series of steps that has proved remarkably effective in both turning off that reactivity and significantly decreasing the frequency and intensity of physically unhealthy episodes.

As I shared this approach with more and more people, I found it taking an inordinately increasing amount of time. So I went looking for a book to give people, instead of talking about it. After reading several dozen books on similar themes but without the specific steps that seemed so effective, I thought that my time could be better spent writing one. After all, how long would it take to write the things that we would cover in a couple hours?

It is now over 7 years since I first put pen to paper (and now is more of finger to keyboard, and sometimes even dictation to speech recognition!). Having just recently cleared 20,000 words (equivalent to about an 80-page book), I am hopeful that I might have something concrete in the near future. So far it has taken more than twice as long as my graduate thesis.

If I can avoid getting distracted by other projects …

Dietary health recommendations

Which kinds of food to avoid, and which to include are a long-time foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine therapy. For a long time, I have wanted to offer a comprehensive approach to dietary therapy. The theories of Chinese Medicine encompass which foods can help to alleviate or remedy certain conditions, which ones may aggravate them, and which foods are appropriate for certain constitutions and lifestyles.

Combining these TCM principles with the understanding of modern nutrition, the availability of previously scarce minerals, vitamins, and other supplements, and the cosmopolitan offering of foodstuffs from around the world could make dietary recommendations one of the easiest and most effective lifestyle ways to improve health on a large scale.

I had envisioned offering a database-type service with which I could generate lists of foods to include and avoid, customized to individual conditions. However, I was also aware that many of the foods that are traditionally recommended are unfamiliar to most Saskatchewan residents. People are willing to try new foods, but without knowing where to buy them, what form to buy, how to prepare them, etc., it has been mostly a non-starter.

Suppose you had a friend who had never seen pumpkin before. What would they do if you told them to try pumpkin? Maybe the only time they heard of it was in Harry Potter (“a few drops of Veritaserum in your evening pumpkin juice”). What would they think about kids climbing over mountains of pumpkins at the farmers’ markets, canned pumpkin, salted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie (9,000,000 hits on Google), carved scary pumpkins on neighbourhood doorsteps? Most people are unprepared to simply add a new unknown food to their daily menu.

So I had a great idea. I would build a classroom in my clinic with a kitchen where I could teach people how to cook new healthy foods. I envisioned running a series of classes in which the participants would actually cook the food, understand how it should turn out, and what the health benefits were. I even envisioned bonus classes of field trips to grocery stores to find the foods, compare offerings, etc.

A much simpler idea came from a famous TCM clinic where I worked during my internship in Hangzhou, China. Each morning, the staff would prepare a famous traditional tea, often from a dozen or so herbs, and it would be steeping in a giant urn in the reception area all day. Beside the urn would be a poster describing the tea ingredients and explaining what conditions it was recommended for. Patients and visitors could receive a healthful tea and learn about it at the same time. To date, my great idea has translated into a selection of tea bags and a hot water dispenser, without the accompanying education or daily novelty. And even that has been on hiatus in the past year.

Then there was the ultimate idea. A restaurant offering dishes specific to certain health conditions. This idea came from an actual restaurant where I dined often during my internship. The restaurant was loosely affiliated with the same clinic I mentioned above. It offered soups, stews, stir-fries and teas based on long-established dietary and herbal preparations. While many people went there simply for the novelty or the good food, you could also select dishes specifically recommended for your health conditions. And the decor in the restaurant was often descriptions of the original recipes, sometimes centuries old.

The hours I spent learning the building code to renovate my building, calculating suitable costs for classes, making up lesson plans, setting up field trips, preparing food databases, collecting recipes and cookbooks, investigating hiring cooks, … Perhaps my failing is being unable to take one simple idea and go with it. Instead I dwell on the idea as it grows until it is just too big to start, and then I don’t go anywhere, even with the simplest part of it.

Maybe I should have just highlighted menus from a bunch of restaurants and handed those out!

“Entrepreneurship isn’t about being perfect.” – Michelle Romanow, Dragons’ Den

Social connectivity for health

Many of my patients are single. Many of them are comfortable in their current lives, but a much larger proportion are alone by circumstance, and find it difficult if not paralyzing to try to change. While there are many facets of this situation, my specific interest is in the health effects of being alone.

We are biologically wired to be with people. Our physical survival depends on our being a part of a group, a community, a society. In TCM theory, we associate loneliness, difficulty in forming relationships, reduced interaction with others, with the Lung and related systems. One TCM aspect of the Lung system corresponds to the immune system in modern health theory.

As our social circles shrink in size, and our interactions with others dwindle, it is not unusual to see our health become more precarious. It becomes particularly apparent when those who describe themselves as introverts or those living in isolated communities suffer the loss of a driver’s license, the closing of a community gathering place, the death of a partner, the pandemic shutdown. It is prevalent in those who are sidelined by the breakneck speed of technological changes in daily business and communication, the multitudes who have been molded by computer algorithms to depend on the opinions of those who care nothing for us and to reject those who genuinely care for us. It is a hallmark of the forces that have changed us from the small independent intergenerational tribes from which we evolved into the “advanced” civilization in which millions of us will never know most of the people who live within a mile of us.

Although this role of human connection in our health is readily apparent, I did not see any avenue to address it in my work. Then I attended an event with an activity club in Vancouver. Members could both participate in and organize an activity, such as a dinner for half a dozen people to sailboat cruises for 30 people, and countless others. Some of the people got to know each other very well, some got involved in activities that were completely new to them with very little effort, some simply tried out things without committing. Then, I learned about an Ottawa church group that formed to provide a similar venue for its many single members. Activities included nature walks, tourist outings, book clubs, and restaurant sampling. Here in Regina, I learned about a food, travel, sport and social club with much the same objectives.

Finding out that some people are already organizing such groups is a great inspiration to me. Especially as I no longer feel pressure to organize something (at least not yet). Nevertheless, I still entertain the idea of following up on how increasing social contact can benefit our health.

Health Professionals Team approach

On the TV show House, patients show up with unknown conditions and a team with widely differing skills and experience comes together to work out the diagnosis. They also stay in contact during the treatment program. In another TV show, Private Practice, a group of conventional and complementary (alternative) health practitioners work together and can easily consult with each other on difficult cases.

Many of us sort of think that’s what happens when we go to a doctor and get a referral to a specialist who requests lab tests or scans and then perhaps a second opinion, and there might be some discussion with a pharmacist, a counsellor, a physical therapist. Maybe there is team huddle or a round-table discussion. And someone will get back to us with the hoped for “We have figured out what you have and here is the treatment plan.”

Some of us get the feeling that it is less of a team approach and more of being shuffled off to someone else to deal with. Some of my patients have kept meticulous notes of each professional that they have seen, and in some cases the number would fill a sizable conference room. They are pretty sure that most of the professionals have either closed their file or are no longer kept in the loop. I think that most of us are somewhere in between the “all hands on deck” dream and the “last man standing” nightmare.

Early on in my practice, I was incredibly fortunate to meet several established complementary health practitioners in osteopathy, naturopathy and physiotherapy as well as others in TCM. While they were unbelievably generous with their advice and support, by far the greatest benefit I received was their openness to collaborating on patient treatment. I saw very clear benefits in patients who followed two or three diverse practices, and I certainly felt far more confident knowing that there were several sets of eyes looking at the same patient.

Watching those TV shows, I started to wonder if a team approach was feasible here. I never did get beyond the thinking stage, so here are some of my thoughts, some propelling, some paralyzing.