Several years ago, Tony, a businessman in his early 50’s came to me to be treated for stress and weight issues. In some ways, Tony was larger than life. He was a large man with a commanding presence and a strong voice. He shared with me that in his younger days, he put in his full measure of time on the party circuit. In his past, he struggled with alcohol abuse, but had quit drinking many years ago.
During his first appointment, Tony told me that he frequently felt like he was trying to fight his way out of a wet paper bag. Wow! In that one sentence, Tony divulged more about the underlying cause of his health problems than if I had interviewed him for an hour.
Tony was struggling with something called dampness, which is the body’s inability to metabolize fluids very well. The result is a feeling of heaviness, and can also be associated with problems like weight gain, poor digestion, edema, and moist skin problems like athletes foot. Tony’s comment alluded to the moisture associated with dampness, as well as its constriction or heaviness.
Listening is something that practitioners of Chinese medicine do very well. If I hadn’t given Tony the time to go beyond talking about his symptoms to share his story, he might never have made the comment which so quickly pointed me to his diagnosis.
If you visit a practitioner of Chinese medicine, you’ll find yourself discussing more than your symptoms. A practitioner will likely ask you about when your illness or condition began, as well as things like how well you sleep, your appetite and digestion, the level of your energy, and your emotional health.
In developing a diagnosis, a practitioner is also listening for non verbal clues. For example, Tony had a loud voice that filled up my treatment room, which told me that his problem was excess in nature—he had too much of something—in his case it was dampness. I have also had patients who are so difficult to hear because their voice is soft. This tells me that their condition is likely one of depletion—their energy or some other vital substance is low, causing their symptoms.
How a patient breathes can also tell me quite a bit about their health. If they sound nasal, it’s obvious that they’re suffering from sinus issues. The sound of a cough can be wet and productive, or dry and chronic, or accompanied by wheezing—each pointing to a different diagnosis.
In Chinese medicine, listening is the beginning of the healing process. It goes beyond arriving at a diagnosis. Being able to talk about a health condition and sharing concerns is therapeutic on many levels. People who are suffering from chronic conditions need to be able to share their frustration or worries. People who are isolated or living alone need to be able to talk to somebody. People who are depressed need to describe what they’re going through. And people who are worried about their health need to be heard and reassured. Listening is an important par of the healing art of acupuncture.