China Observations – Medicine

When we were in Africa, there was a lot of attention on Rhinos and not to take pictures/post pictures of them. (If you do, poachers can see where you were and hunt for the rhino there).


The poachers were always said to be the Chinese… Wanting the Rhino horn because it cured diseases or something.


This is NOT an entry about rhino horn… but it *IS* an article about the Chinese having “herbal” remedies that we (probably don’t) have.

“Very clever, these Chinese!” I was just a small kid, but that’s the phrase I can remember my father saying a lot. I have absolutely no memory of what he was referring to, but in his Philly-faux-Asian accent, he would constantly point out that the Chinese people were much more clever (in his opinion) than the rest of the world. Or, at least, us. Or, at least, him.


This past Sunday morning I awoke with a sore throat and runny nose. By nightfall, it had gotten worse. (How in the world did I leave home without my favorite cold remedies? Without even an aspirin?!!) By Monday morning I was certain that death was near: I couldn’t breathe, sneezing made my chest hurt, and my nose was dripping off my face. I have no memory of teaching that day.


By Tuesday morning I was pretty sure I was dying. On the way to school someone suggested I visit the school’s nurse. I had my doubts, but other American teachers had found great success with Chinese remedies, so I gave it a whirl.


The nurse didn’t speak a lick of English but we managed to communicate through facial expressions. First she took my temperature and stuck a thermometer under my armpit. Once I got over the shock of this, I began to hope that her other Chinese practices would be just as unconventional (but more brilliantly effective than western medicine has been) in curing the common cold.


She gave me three medications, each of which I was to take three times during that day. The pills were easy: two (horse sized) pills to stop my nose from running, dripping, and being much more trouble than it’s worth. The other two medications were liquid — what there was of them. They were in teeny, tiny little vials: two inches tall and half an inch wide. The bottles were a smoky brown color and looked like a perfect “movie” prop for an illicit or illegal substance. The bottles were topped with a tough foil cap, and the way into the medicine below was with a tiny straw (designed to puncture the foil – yeah – right. I had to puncture it with a pencil point.). I was told that one of the vials was for my cough. The other one was to fight the “virus” that was inflaming me.


Wow!! An eyedropper’s supply of bitter, brown “goo” three times a day would actually exterminate this virus?! These clever Chinese had figured out how to cure the common cold and had kept it under their hats all this time?! Thank goodness I was now in Shanghai where I could benefit from their clandestine innovations! I hungrily drew the brown goo up through its straw, and prayed that eastern medicine was everything my dad would have predicted.


And the darn stuff started to work its magic on me! I stopped coughing, sneezing, and blowing my nose. I returned to the classroom with vim and vigor (and I’m sure some students wished I was still ill). I began envisioning being in on the ground floor when the enterprising Chinese physicians began their marketing blitz: CURE FOR THE COMMON COLD DISCOVERED, DEVELOPED, DISRIBUTED BY CLEVER CHINESE. Watch out world. Breathing easily should never be overrated.


Of course, after two days I was blowing my nose again and coughing. How disappointing. I had such faith in brown goo.


This past week I celebrated an actual medical “anniversary”. Every day for the last five years I have taken a tiny pill hoping that this drug would prevent my body from making breast cancer cells ever again. This week, I consumed my final pill.


Those “C” words sure can be distressing, in both small inconvenient ways and large unnerving ways. But whether it’s the common cold or cancer, let’s hope we are all clever enough to keep searching for cures.

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