Medicine man, Chinese needles

Medicine man, Chinese needles
Saturday, Sep 10, 2011
China Daily/Asia News Network
By Mike Peters

"You may not feel the needle going in," says Dr Roger Prida, "but once it's in, you've got to search for the energy layer. We've got to move the energy. If you don't feel it, you're not being helped."

Prida is talking about acupuncture, and how Westerners used to skin-deep pricking from practitioners at home may be in for a shock when they come to China.

In traditional medicine here, the acupuncturist won't be shy about pushing a needle deeper, probing a muscle or a joint.

That push to heal can hurt.

"Chinese have a tolerance of pain that is much higher than Westerners," he says, grinning. Patients on both sides of the world come to a clinic to restore health, says the young Mexican doctor who came to Beijing to study Chinese medicine four years ago.

"But at home, pain management can be as important as the cure. Here, getting to the cause of the disease is the goal, whatever it takes."

Acupuncturists in China accept that their Western patients have different expectations, and they ease their way into more aggressive treatments, and bigger needles.

That balance mirrors the approach he will take as he heads home to Mexico City this month, where he will resume his practice with a deeper and - he hopes - more enlightened sense of the therapy.

"We learn a lot of techniques in the West, and we are trained to base them on the patient," he says. Will surgery leave a permanent scar? Could there be legal issues if the doctor pushes a treatment despite a patient's reservations?

"But in this sort of practice, some things are common across cultures," Prida says. Many patients have come to acupuncture because they've faced a lot of pain, and in the West maybe they have taken a lot of painkillers. So they can handle the pain of the treatment.

"For them, it's a small price to pay - they are willing for that trade off," he says.

Prida has spent the past four years in China - the first two in intensive language study so that he could follow the medical lectures in Chinese for the next two.

His studies at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences have been that short because he is already a trained physician; students who come to the program without medical training face five or six years of courses and observation.

As a Mexican, he's found some things to be familiar.

"I saw my grandmother doing cupping when I was a small boy - that's part of the old tradition in Mexico, too," he says. It's done a little differently - his grandmother heated coins to help pull bad energy from the body - but the principle is the same, and so are the trophy bruise marks afterward.

"We don't have all of the Chinese herbs at home, of course," he says, "so that has been interesting for me. China has a whole theory and classification of herbs. You have to know the context of an herb's use. You have to know how to use different flavors interact with the body - spicy, salty, bitter, acidic. And you have to know the herb's nature. For example, is it hot or cold?"

Many Mexican teachers came to China in the 1980s to study acupuncture and traditional medicine, says Prida, and studying under them ignited a passion to go deeper with his own learning.

So he suspended his practice in the Mexican capital and came to China.

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