Chinese Physical Diagnosis and Western Medicine

Conversations with an Allopath

Carl Hendel, M.D. 9/98

I recently had the opportunity to re-connect to a long-time friend and colleague. He, in my opinion, is the best "Country Doc" I've ever known. His mind is clear and incisive, and his knowledge of allopathic medicine is superb.

Our lives have gone off in different directions, his toward expertise in providing the best allopathic medicine possible, mine toward exploring innate healing. We began discussing physical diagnosis, the art and science of learning what is happening in a person's body. In western medicine, there are opthalmoscopes and stethoscopes, and specific procedures for evaluating each system. Chinese medicine, since it is ancient, uses the physician's senses, especially touching and looking, in different ways.

As I began to "bridge the gap" in the two methods of physical diagnosis, he became quite interested in the amount we can learn by feeling a pulse and looking at a tongue. I was reminded of an experience I had over twenty years ago when I was teaching anesthesiology.

One day in 1977, I met a brilliant young resident,(who eventually went into research.) In those days, monitoring of patients undergoing anesthesia was in a great transition. This young doctor was intoxicated with his monitoring capabilities, and always wanted as many monitors in a patient as he could have. As his teacher, I encouraged him to clearly understand the limitations of the procedures. He did many procedures with lots of electronic assistance. I asked him what he would do if, per chance, his monitors all failed. He glibly replied that he has enough duplication that even if a few did not work, he could still have lots of data. And as you have guessed, one day the monitors all did fail. The arterial line was in the surgical field, the central monitors were giving weird results, and more. I was called into his room, and he was quite shaken. I quickly looked at the patient, and realized that the patient was fine. After I calmed the resident down, I re-assured him that we would get his monitors back in working order, but, in the meantime, look at the patient! Is her forehead warm or cold? (pleasantly warm he notes.) Is her skin wet or dry? (feels normal, he says.) What about he color, pale, red, or blue ?(looks pink is the reply.) Feel her pulse, I say. Is it fast or slow, urgent, weak, regular or not, etc. and he begins to quiet down. Is the breathing labored and noisy or is it quiet and easy?


The point of this story is to remind us that western doctors do have the ability to practice this kind of diagnosis, and while it is taught in some capacity in medical school, it has not been elevated to the high art of Chinese observation.


Back to my friend...we discussed what can be learned from the tongue about the inner physiologic environment and from the tongue coating about the fluid status of our very fluid bodies.


As we parted, I felt a bridge, a connection. Yes, Chinese physical diagnosis has a place in mainstream medicine.

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