Over the weekend, I had a headache, which is unusual. Unprecedented, however, was that my hands and feet were so cold, that I needed to get into bed â€” twice â€” to warm up. I phoned my naturopath / Chinese doctor, David Lam, and went over to see what he could do.
I’ve been under the care of Dr. Lam since 1996. He’s dean of the Institute for Traditional Chinese Medicine, the oldest teaching school of its domain in Canada. Dr. Lam was a pediatrician in a hospital in Shanghai, and has the advantage of being able to explain symptoms and problems in the contexts both of western and eastern philosophies. Since I’ve had eczema and allergies since childhood, I know that western medicine doesn’t have any answers. For most maladies, I generally prefer to see Dr. Lam and get some herbs. They seem to clear things up in a few days.
It was a nice day, so I decided to bike over to Dr. Lam’s office. It’s in the Dupont / Bathurst area, all the way cross town, so it’s ride over to the university and then beyond, about an hour in traffic. Dr. Lam is used to seeing me show up on a bike, and I could use the exercise, since I didn’t feel up to playing badminton on Sunday.
Dr. Lam asked about my symptoms. He first said that I must have a cold, and that a lot of his patients are coming in with colds because the winds have shifted. As we discussed more, he started the usual exam. The first step was taking my pulse. I don’t know how to read a pulse Chinese style — it’s a three-finger assessment on the right wrist and then the left wrist. Dr. Lam seemed to be taking a longer time on my right wrist. He then checked my left wrist, and said he wanted to check my right wrist, again. He opened up my file (which he usually doesn’t do).
On the last two visits, my resting pulse has been 84 beats per minute. That sounds about right, as the pulse I’ve had my entire life. Today, Dr. Lam said, my pulse was 60. This measurement was taken 5 minutes after bicycling for an hour. My energy is so low that it’s had systemic effect on my pulse!
The one thing that’s really unusual right now is, of course, the cataract in my left eye. Diana has pretty well taken away the keys to the car, and even drives Noah and me to badminton when we go. I’m not much in the mood to go out, and have been spending lots of time on the computer. I’ve taken the opportunity of staying at home to catch up on e-mail, and update my personal web sites, so I’m probably on the computer even more than usual. It’s productive, but since my left eye is a total blur, all of the information is coming through my right eye. I guess my body doesn’t like that. I assume that western medicine would say that there’s no connection between the cataract in my eye and my pulse. Diagnoses like that are why this is the third visit I’ve had with Dr. Lam since the beginning of the year.
If you’ve seen me at breakfast, you know that I usually have little canisters with lot of little pills — the modern way of taking Chinese herbs. I usually take an hour every two weeks to portion out the pills, because it’s annoying to count 8 of this, 5 of these, etc., every time. With this condition, however, I’m sticking close to Dr. Lam’s prescriptions, where I take some pills three times per day, and some pills four times per day.
Here’s what Dr. Lam has prescribed, this time.
- wuchaseng eleutherococcus senticosus:
- Dr. Lam says that this is a pseudo-ginseng. It’s not Korean Ginseng (that increases energy, but also increases heat massively), nor Chinese Ginseng (that increases energy and increases heat a lot), nor even Canadian ginseng (which would probably work, increasing heat while cooling). Wuchaseng is also known as Siberian ginseng, with an “anti-fatigue effect … stronger than that of ginseng” and published results in Soviet research showing positive results countering “heat, noise, motion, work load increase, exercise, [with] increased mental alertness, work output and the quality of work both under stress-inducing conditions and in athletic performance“.
- dangshen and astraglal tablets
- Since I had a “moss” on my tongue, Dr. Lam prescribed these for energy and digestion, reducing phlegm. Dangshen “promotes production of body fluid and blood circulation“. Astragali “warms the muscles and strengthens the striae as well as invigorates qi“.
- semen ziziphi spinosae
- I’ve been sleeping about 3 to 4 hours less each night, so Dr. Lam has prescribed this to dissolve the cycle of insomnia and fatigue. The herb “[nourishes] the heart to tranquilize the mind, promoting generation of body fluid and arresting sweating“.
- qin qi huatanwan
- Dr. Lam has prescribed this to take away my phlegm. It’s supposed to “clear heat, eliminate phlegm, redirect rebel qi“.
- zhang yian ming
- Dr. Lam suggested that these would nourish the eye. I think it’s less for the eye with the cataract, and more for the one that’s taking all of the load. (When I’m tired, that one gets blurry, too!)
- cataract vision-improving pills
- It seems a bit late for this, since I’m ready for surgery, but it “contain[s] mother of pearl, a calcium source, [and] blood building herbs … improve energy and circulation“.
I asked about the other herbs that I usually take, and Dr. Lam said that I should lay off them, until I get over this.
The primary symptom of being cold seems to have abated. I’m waiting for my energy to pick up.