I’ve very much enjoyed researching and writing this series, and I’d like to end by answering a question that was asked in response to one of the earlier posts. “If you or your wife fell ill, would you seek treatment from a TCM or Western-style practitioner first?”
As with all things in China, there’s a simple answer and a more complicated one. My wife would (and does) seek treatment from a TCM therapist first. When, as it frequently does, this proves completely ineffective she will go to a hospital supposedly practicing Western medicine, where with absolute certainty she will be told to go and have an antibiotic drip once a day, every day for three days. Then when that fails, as it often does too because antibiotics don’t treat every disease only the ones which involve bacteria, she’ll ask me to look up the condition online and buy something appropriate from a pharmacy to treat it.
What I find strangest about this is not her reliance on traditional medicine, but her insistence on repeating this exact cycle even if she gets the same problem again – rather than go for what worked the first time; she has to try all the options once over in order to feel calm about it.
In my case and the instance of most (actually all – I think ) of the expatriates I know, it’s also a little complicated. In the year 2000 the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study of health care by country in the world – China came in at number 144 out of 190 countries in the world. That’s a performance worse than Burkina Faso or Azerbaijan.
I’m pretty certain this is improving, but not as much as people might like you to believe. The one and only time I visited a Chinese hospital was with and for my wife, it was one of the biggest most modern hospitals in the city. She was asked to disrobe in front of an audience of other patients – who I had to chase out of the room.
The Doctor (I use the term loosely) appeared to have no diagnostic skills whatsoever (it was a minor fungal skin rash) and then after a cursory look prescribed a sack full of pills. When I ran the names through my handy web search – none of them contained any form of recognized active ingredient. So despite the “Western” style hospital and “Western” style medicine – the treatment was a hugely complex placebo at best (the huge volume of pills is something Chinese patients expect so they can feel they have received value for money from their prescription fee). It was also ineffective.
So the answer here is; “Neither”. Mostly I use ibuprofen, and paracetamol if I’m struck with the cold/flu and water, I also keep a handy supply of loperamide around the house in case of the Beijing Belly but that’s it and fingers crossed it’s worked so far. But if I needed real medical treatment – I’d leave China and join the convoy of Westerners who do the very same thing each day and go to Hong Kong for it. Because Hong Kong offers the complete Western medicine experience and the level of training its doctors receive is the same as back home and unlike Chinese doctors they have no incentive to sell me pills, antibiotic drips (which became the rage here just after my visit to the hospital), etc.
My final words on this subject are that if Mr. Chen’s sugar pills work for you or any aspect of TCM works for you – then keep doing it, there’s no reason to discontinue a placebo because it’s a placebo, but only because it’s failing to do its job. In China itself you might want to consider the use of animal parts and resist that strenuously because of the impact that’s having on wildlife, and you might want to take care about which herbs are being put in your potion too in case they’re poisonous.