Shanghaied by the Chinese Treatment
by Joanne

Hello Ed: I'm a 19-year-old female who has been suffering from psoriasis for the past 10 or so years, in conjunction with annual fits of alopecia [loss of hair, baldness]. Let's just say public school wasn't a wonderful experience!! Anyway, I was reading through your excerpts and I had to laugh (you're right, we can laugh about it, or feel sorry for ourselves). I laughed most about your encounter with Chinese medicine [acupuncture & herb therapy]! I went through a similar treatment, of herb teas -- a month-and-a-half worth of bags full of all the good stuff you mentioned -- during which I also had to bathe [in something obnoxious?] after drinking [the "tea"]. Just the memory makes me sick. But the sad part was that the claims -- "It's amazing, it'll cure you of it!! He's cured my mom of this and my
sister of that. He's even got other people with psoriasis that he's cured!!" -- didn't pan out to anything except really really dry skin that lead to exzema and, like, I needed that! Of course, I wasn't to eat beef, fried things, hot peppers, egg plant, any kind of shell fish. This is all because these foods are supposed to be "hot." They're supposed to heat up the blood, and our skin conditions are supposedly caused by imbalances in the temperature of the blood... hm... Anyways!

Well, so now I'd given up totally on my derm, I hadn't used ointments or any kind of prescription for over a year. I spent most of that time in Italy and found their diet, which is comprised of 75% olive oil (just a little exaggeration, but not MUCH!), really helped my skin. A few of the mammoth spots on my back just decided to leave me alone, but the ever-present lesions on my shins still remained. So, basically all I've been doing now is keeping the flakes off by scratching (if you don't scratch to the point of bleeding, this seems to help) and throwing on some
moisturizer. I find that Vaseline Intensive Care, the blue bottle that says Oatmeal Formula, is good; it has menthol in it and usually lets me sleep well.

But I've kinda just given in to the inevitable, if it goes away, it goes, if not, well... And of course, recently, the occasional sun blasting has given it a bit of a fight. But
other than that, I'm in the same boat, no cures, just short lived reliefs...

So, here's to an awesome page, I'll have to go out and find your book! It's nice to actually have someone who totally understands for once...! -Joanne

~~~~~

Ed's Response:

Dear Joanne: Yeah, I can imagine what public school was like ... but the strength in your writing suggests you had more than enough fortitude to survive it, ego intact. Good for you!

Since Flake first appeared, I've been getting comments regularly about my Chinese acupuncture and herb tea experience. I've been told, and I can't refute it, that I didn't put enough effort into it. We occidentals seem to think that if a process doesn't come with a GUI and a help file (like a piece of Microsoft software) it's not worth the effort. Most of what I know about Chinese culture I've picked up from re-runs of "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues" -- which is to say I'm clueless.

Or, at least I WAS clueless until the November/December, 1995, issue of the NPF Bulletin. The cover story in that issue was headlined, "East Meets West: Looking at Chinese Medicine." The article contained an interview with Dr. John Koo, who (at the time, if not still) was director of the University of California at San Francisco Psoriasis Treatment Center. Dr. Koo also wrote a sidebar for the article headlined, "Traditional Chinese medicine for psoriasis in the U.S.?" Paraphrased, Dr. Koo's conclusion substantiated the old axiom that "east is east, and west is west," and the two haven't met, yet:

"[B]efore I can recommend the use of Chinese medicine in the U.S. to anyone," Dr. Koo wrote, "I think we need to learn to use it intelligently.... Even the ready-made kinds of psoriasis medications [used in China] are based on doses for the Chinese population, which is very different in many ways (such as body size and height) than the U.S. population. Before we start using this, we have to figure these things out. We don't even know how the dosage needs to be adjusted to make it appropriate for patients in the United States. I hope to find ways to study this further in the future."

I commend the whole article and sidebar to anyone considering acupuncture or herb therapies. (Ask the NPF for a reprint, or more current literature.)

Reflecting back on my own case -- and on yours, too, Joanne -- I've got to wonder if our "buy in" wasn't complete. Maybe you have got to live like a Chinese person to benefit completely from Chinese medicine. I mean, similar levels of exercise, similar diet, similar interpersonal relationships, similar expectancies, ambitions, etc. You may recall from the Flake excerpt posted here, my Chinese doctor told me not to have sex and not to eat shrimp. At the time, I was too blown away by the apparent unrelatedness of these recommendations to probe WHY they might be related. (I'm sure I was also a bit sheepish, fearing if I asked for an explanation the doctor would have shouted, "You stupid Occident! Don't you know ANYTHING?") At least you were curious enough to pry the "blood temperature" theory out of your doc!

If you're ever compelled to try the herb tea and baths route again, check your TV listings for reruns of "Kung Fu." I'm videotaping them so I'll have them on hand next time I'm ready to try. -Ed

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