I’m not fond of hospitals. The only times I’ve been in one was either for the births of my children or the seeing out of elderly relatives – all of them traumatic experiences, though in different ways of course. This was why I felt nervous sitting in the waiting room yesterday with a complaint of my own, the prospect of surgery hanging over me, and the knowledge that the last few times I’d seen a hospital doctor they’d told me there was nothing more they could do and someone was going to die. Doctors, I assured myself, were useless. All of this was irrational of course, but analysing it into stillness passed the time.
It was my nose.
Years of Anosmia (no sense of smell) had finally led me to the Ear Nose and Throat department of my local hospital. My GP – not the most reassuring of characters – had referred me there somewhat half heartedly and with the caveat there probably wasn’t much anyone could do. It was partly his negative outlook that had led me to explore all the complementary therapies first, including acupuncture. The acupuncture had worked, but only briefly – a three week window of scented delights, late last year, but which had then closed, and in spite of the continuing administrations of my TCM practitioner, had refused to open again.
So, there I was, waiting to see the doctor – not your ordinary doctor this time – not like my GP who was merely a “Dr”. This guy was a “Dr Mr”. A surgeon. A proper sawbones!
My GP had told me off for wasting time and money on acupuncture. Complementary stuff definitely doesn’t compute with him. On previous occasions when he’d asked me if I exercised, and I’d replied I do Tai Chi and Qigong, he’d looked blank. When he’d asked if I was taking any medication he was unaware of and I’d replied: “Does Ginseng count?” again he’d looked blank.
He wasn’t entirely to blame, poor guy; it was as much my own insecurity, perceiving his credentials as materialist and stereotypically unsympathetic to the traditional eastern world view, while I feared my own approach still lacked the proper grounding in verifiable fact. So, I was guarded when the Dr. Mr. Sawbones asked me these same questions and I muttered the words Tai Chi, Qigong and Ginseng in an almost apologetic tone.
He was a young man – late twenties I guessed, studious, smart, clean looking coupled with an easy smile and an effortless sense of humour. His manner, his energy, was a world away from that of my GP – which always left me feeling slightly depressed. I’d gone to the hospital that day jumping at shadows, ready to run if anyone came near me with a scalpel, but I decided at once this guy could stick a scalpel in me any time he liked. I trusted him.
He then astonished me by saying he thought Qigong was a remarkably effective mind-body technique, that he practiced it himself, and highly recommended it. I said I was surprised, given his background in western medicine and its traditional antipathy towards the non-materialist world view. He replied that things were slowly changing, then went on to discuss the Chinese meridian system – this while he slid a camera up my nose.
I wondered if he was having me on. Don’t tell me you support that as well, I said – though it’s not easy to talk with a camera up your nose. He replied that given the amount of compelling research data, western medicine really had no choice now but to find a way of assimilating at least certain aspects of traditional energy medicine into modern practice, though he admitted ruefully it would probably take another hundred years. His own view was that emotion played a large part in determining both the nature, and the incidence of a body’s malfunction, that he equated “emotion” with the term “energy”. The meridian system, talk of chi or whatever, was a tangible way of getting a handle on the emotions, thereby curing ills that were unresponsive to medicine alone, or for simply preventing illness in the first place. It was all related to the so called Relaxation Response, which we need to be able to balance out the other side of the mind-body equation – the Fight or Flight response.
Healthy mind equals healthy body.
As for my own ills, he announced I had a load of polyps up my nose – little non-malignant growths that stop the air from getting to the smelling apparatus, and there was a good chance he could get rid of them without surgery. He said I looked fairly fit off my Tai Chi and Qigong, and I should keep it up, otherwise the sackload of medication he was about to prescribe would be laying me pretty low.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about my encounter with this guy – almost forgetting I’d been to see him over my nose. But as well as identifying a concrete reason for my Anosmia, and a frankly positive assessment of the likelihood of curing it, my ten minutes with this highly educated western surgeon, working at the sharp end of the British National Health System had unexpectedly deepened my understanding and appreciation of eastern energy yogas as well.
Any form of exercise is good for you. It doesn’t matter what it is – if it moves the body, it’ll improve the circulation of the blood and the lymph, and the body cannot help but respond in positive ways. But if, as well as moving the body, you can move the mind,… now there you have a powerful technique – and not just as a health system, but also as a means of taking a human being to the very edge of what is possible.
I do hope this bag of pharmaceuticals helps me smell the world again, and they don’t make me too ill in the process. But I’ll also be taking my Tai Chi and Qigong practice far less self consciously in future.