Chinese Herbal Medicine

I’ve had this cold that won’t go away for about a month now, so I decided to see a Chinese medicine doctor when I was in Queens this weekend. I was kind of debating putting it up here, but Chinese medicine is pretty much herbs and dried food, so it’s kind of food related. And if nothing else, you get an American experience of going to a Chinese herbalist. Feel free to skip this post if that kind of thing is a little too hippy dippy or boring for you.

I asked my Dad to ask around Flushing, NY for some recommendations for a Chinese medicine doctor. He got some, and as we were walking, he noticed a sign in the window of Shing Fat Trading Inc. that said they had a Chinese medicine doctor on staff. Not the most scientific method ever, but we walked in to give it a see. It’s located at 13357 39th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354 on the corner of Prince St.

Tip #1 for going to see a Chinese herbalist is to bring someone who speaks and reads Chinese. I don’t, so I never would have known.

It’s a very tiny store packed with dried herbs and vegetables, some food, and some tea. It looks pretty much like a trading store. We got there early and spoke with a woman at the counter, who said the doctor was very good, had a lot of clients, and said he was a retired professor (of herbs or Chinese medicine, I’m guessing?) from China. This and all subsequent conversations were in Chinese (I want to say Mandarain, but maybe it was Cantonese. I don’t know. I’m terrible). My Dad translated for me.

I sat down near the doctor/professor’s counter. It’s all visible in the store, not back room or anything. It’s the back right counter. He checked the pulse in both of my wrists, used a stethoscope to listen to my lungs, looked at my eyes and throat, and also checked my blood pressure. Pretty legit. No puffery or anything. He also asked me/my Dad some questions. This is where you really need to have someone who speaks Chinese. The English is really limited there, and the questions are complex. The Dr/Professor asks a lot of pretty in-depth medical questions that I’d normally be a little embarassed to answer in front of my Dad (bodily functions, etc), but I was so miserable that what little shame I had was gone.

Here were some of my symptoms: stuffed/clogged ears with lots of pressure; eye pain, discharge/crusting, and pressure; swollen throat; fever; congestion; head pressure. Basically, a lot of head stuff going on. Not fun.

He listened thoughtfully for a while. This wasn’t a quickie once-over. It didn’t take a super-long time, but I felt like it was more attention and concern given than my usual experience in a typical doctor’s office (and bonus, I didn’t have to change into one of those stupid gowns) where they usually look at these symptoms and go “Yep, you’re sick. Nothing we can do. $200 please.” I’m not discounting MDs, but I just know my body and this is the type of sickness I usually get, so I’ve learned that going to an MD for these symptoms usually does nothing for me other than cost money, and tie up staff over people they can actually cure. I’ve generally been the sickly sort with ear, nose, and throat stuff, so… yeah. Can’t hurt to give it a try!

Any way, after the analysis, they discussed a course of treatment. At first there was talk of 30 days of medicine, but then we realized I’d be back in a little over a week, so we settled on 15 days of medicine and some accupunture.

The cost was $10 for the consultation, $20 for accupunture, and $7 per day for the prescriptions ($105 total for 15 days) for a total of $135. Not exactly cheap, but… cheaper than it would be for me to visit a regular doctor (and omg, prescriptions would be another arm & leg).

I’m pretty sure it was cash only (most places in Chinatowns are cash only). I’ve learned to carry cash on me when I’m visiting my family in Flushing so I can quickly throw down money to cover at least some of my expenses so they don’t generously pay for everything.

I paid up and went to breakfast with family while they prepared my “prescriptions”. We got there a little before 11 am on a Sunday, I think when they just opened up, and the dr/prof mentioned something about blood sugar levels and wanting to do accupunture on me.

Above is a picture of some other prescriptions being made. The woman in the store we initially spoke to is like the pharmacist. The doctor/professor gives her the (long) prescription and she starts weighing and portioning it out on to paper plates (they get reused, so if you have allergy concerns, just FYI).

The accupunture was really quick. And clean. I was kind of iffy about it, because $20 for accupunture is stupid cheap. But all of the needles used were from sterile commercial packages, and the professor/doctor wiped his hands down with alcohol, as well as the areas I was poked, hee hee. He took one needle and poked it in my right hand, kind of near the web between thumb and pointer finger. It was like he lassoed some kind of ligament or tendon or whatever – it didn’t hurt, but there was a bit of a tingle and some movement. That was really quick. Maybe 30 seconds. Then he poked behind an ear with some kind of a lance a couple of times and that was it. Maybe 1 minute tops of accupuncture. He said it should help with eye pressure and drainage (also that I have an eye infection).

An hour or so later, I noticed that my eyes weren’t incredibly painful when I wiped them. Wait, no eye pain at all. Psychosomatic, or real effect? Heck, I didn’t care at that point.

I had to do a LOT of driving that day, and all weekend I hadn’t slept very much. Exertion related to travel is generally a spell for me to relapse into sickness/get way sicker. Always is. I was like “Great, now tomorrow I’m going to feel terrible or worse.” When I got home I made some medicine, and the pressure in my head was a lot better the next day. I thought it was odd it would work so quickly. There are two baggies for my “medicine”. They handily stapled them together, and I have baggies for every day I need to take the medicine. The big baggie is supposed to help my ear, nose, and throat (cold) problems. The smaller baggie is… um… for constipation. Whatever. My herbalist told me to take it. It’s the internet. Maybe you have these same problems if you find this page. At any rate, here is the process for making the medicine: You can use a clay pot. I didn’t really feel the need to, but then Yeh-Yeh insisted I take his, so my Dad packed it up for me. They said it was safe to use on a gas stove, but… I’m not sure if it already had a crack in it or I broke it, because it had a little hairline crack on the bottom when I heated it up. Ugh, so clumsy. I used metallic pots instead.

So here is the inside of the bag. Looks like a bag of yard clippings, I know.

Here is what the bag says. If you can read Chinese feel free to translate it for me, ’cause I have no idea what it says. Any way, we’ll dump it out and see what it looks like out of the bag:

Oh, now it looks like dried mulch, wood chips, and yard clippings. Hee hee. Yeh-Yeh warned me that Chinese herbal medicine would be stinky, and bitter. This didn’t have much smell. Granted, my sense of smell and taste are rather limited with this cold, but Albany John didn’t really notice anything either.

Soak the big bag of herbs with water for 30 minutes before boiling. They said to soak it with 2 pints to 5 cups of water and then have it lightly boil down for 30 minutes to reduce to 1 cup of liquid. I’m not sure if maybe I misunderstood something, but I cannot get it to boil down to 1 cup of liquid from 2 pints in 30 minutes at a low boil. Maybe I should be using 2 cups.

Then boil it for 25 minutes. Toss the small bag in and boil an additional 5 minutes (30 minutes total). No real smell while boiling, either.

I pour it into a bowl with a strainer, in case any large pieces fall out.

Then you’re left with this. Bowl of hot dark brown. It doesn’t exactly scream delicious. And it is pretty potent stuff. It’s got a vicosity somewhere between water and milk. Not quite as thick as milk, but thicker than water. Flavor-wise, it’s bitter, but not unbearably so. It tastes better than liquid cough syrup, but I’m not going to be craving the stuff once the course of treatment is complete. There’s a brightness in it that makes it a little more bearable. Kind of lemony/tart. I try to think of it as tea that’s been steeped for way too long. You know how if you make a cup of tea and then forget about it for an hour and leave the bag in and it tastes super bitter? That’s kind of like what this tastes like (or what I’m making myself say it tastes like to keep drinking it, heh).

It’s not the best stuff in the world, but I’ve been noticing I’m feeling less sick the day after I take it. I’ve been drinking it at night before dinner, so I feel better in the morning when I wake up. I’m still maintaining a skeptical observation, because it could very likely just be psychosomatic wishing. But when you’ve been sick for 4 weeks psychosomatic cures are totally fine with me because I just. want. to. be. not. sick.

I’m also supposed to not eat fried or spicy foods for the next 13 days (remaining days in my treatment). Yeah, we’ll see how well that works. Any way, I congratulate you if you’ve made it this far!