Friday, March 23, 2012

A Chance To Channel Qi

    It's another rainy Friday morning here in Atlanta, Georgia. I am sitting at the desk I share with my husband, the surface of which is littered with an array of books, bills, and my recently acquired credentialing paperwork, all waiting to be attended to. I wouldn't classify it as organized chaos; it's more like a lukewarm mess. Lurking in the depths of the file cabinet next to our desk are all the receipts and documents for our 2011 tax return, which I still haven't dealt with. I am hoping this will be the last time I ever have to file quarterly taxes. I went from being a W-2 employee to being a 1099 independent contractor a couple of years ago, and honestly, I've deplored every minute of it. Taxes went from being relatively easy to ridiculously complicated. Aside from going through all these receipts, I have to go back and calculate the square footage and energy expenditures for our home office deduction, and because we are both renting out our houses this year, there will be rental income, relevant expenditures, and depreciation to consider. Gee, I can hardly wait!
     What I'm pondering right now is this Acupuncture for Physicians Comprehensive Training Course brochure, sitting next to my coffee cup. For months now, I've been thinking about plunking down the $7,000 for this well regarded, intensive, six month program, organized by the University of California. I've already missed one early bird deadline. Several of my anesthesiologist friends have taken this course, all of whom thought it was excellent. One of my former partners developed a bustling acupuncture practice in his home state of Louisiana, and tells me he had patients who flew in from other states for treatment. Another friend of mine in Colorado is credentialed to treat post operative nausea and vomiting, as well as managing pre-operative anxiety, using her acupuncture skills. Although the course is expensive, it seems like a worthwhile investment. Aside from the home study with videotaped tutorials, there are several weeks of hands on clinical experience in San Francisco, as well as instruction in the concepts of traditional Chinese medicine.
     The further I advance in my profession, the more aware I'm becoming that Western medicine, particularly the current American system, has no real model for health. Instead, we do damage control: we treat disease. Because we've lost sight of our patients as whole persons, we break them down into manageable parts. We actually refer to them as a disease, e.g. "the perforated appendix in OR 4" or "the GI bleed in ICU." Not only is this disrespectful, it's primitive. In regarding the human body as a machine in need of repair, we ignore its maintenance, its equilibrium, its balance. Who's to say that our cellular infrastructure doesn't have a "mind" of its own? The scientific "cause and effect" approach does a lousy job of explaining phenomena which defy logic, but because we're so fixated on generating scholarly questions and innovative treatments, we routinely neglect the subtle signals and intrinsic healing capabilities which issue from within our own bodies and minds. In reducing our patients into "parts", we effectively rob them of their dignity. The paternalistic "doctor knows best" mentality precludes the opportunity for active collaboration between us and our patients; what we're left with is a sick, powerless, passive, pill-seeking monster. This is why I find integrating concepts of holistic, Eastern-based medicine into my practice of anesthesia so appealing.
     As an anesthesiologist, I am entrusted with each patient's mind, body, and life. I'm not just putting them to sleep. I administer medications which will profoundly alter or obliterate their consciousness, the seat of their egos. It's my job to ensure they don't experience awareness under anesthesia, to anticipate and manage their pain, and to prevent anesthetic side effects like nausea. It's really a pretty big deal. In the few minutes I spend with each patient pre-operatively, I try to learn as much as I can about him or her as a person, so I can develop a gestalt about the individual. Appreciating as much as I can about my patients as a whole helps guide my understanding of what's happening with them while they're under general anesthesia. I am in charge of caring for their souls. Although I am controlling much of their physiology, as well as temporarily disrupting their ego integrity, I respect that each cell which comprises that person's body houses the essence of who they are: their spirit. I take this responsibility very seriously. That's why I want my patients to understand exactly what it is I'm going to be doing to and for them while I am charged with their care. It's why I'm such a stickler about informed consent, and why I want my patients to be as involved in their anesthetic management as possible.
     We are all so much more than the sums of our parts. The mind-body connection is undeniable, and those of us who've been in medicine long enough have witnessed at least one or two miracles we simply can't explain. I'm convinced our bodies already know the answers. I'm excited at the prospect of learning an alternative means of treating my patients' symptoms, of channeling their own energy ("qi" pronounced chee) into wellness and healing that can extend beyond the post-operative period. I'm also curious about how acupuncture therapy might benefit my sons in their daily battle with cystic fibrosis. I can't wait to get started. What can I say? I'm proud to be a lifelong learner. As a perennial student in the study of life, class is always in session!


  1. I think you should do it. I've often wondered about this practice. If you need a subject to practice...I'm your girl. Always wanted to try but don't know who to trust. Deb Dunn

  2. I love your outlook. The points your mention are definitely key issues with modern Western medical practice. It follows that single-minded scientific way of thinking - reductionism!

    Such a framework for thinking is rather limiting. While it does have it's place, reductionistic thinking isn't a suitable way to explain our commplex world.

    Holism has its place too. Just as we purport to explain the whole by the sum of its parts, so we should be able to explain the parts due to their addition towards the whole.

    It sounds to me as though you have a very valuable outlook and belief to share with the world - go out there and do it!