2011 Fall/Metal Editorial (Oriental Medicine Journal, Fall/Metal 2011)
Chris Titus has written a book called The God Complex about the arrogance and ignorance of Western and Eastern medical providers in their treatment of patients. From where I sit, as a practitioner of OM orthopedics and a member of the Illinois Board of Acupuncture, it is easy for me to see the arrogance and ignorance of practitioners of Western Medicine, as well as arrogance and ignorance in our own profession.
It is much harder for me to see and confront my own arrogance and ignorance, as I imagine it is harder for all of us. Occasional patients have taken me to task for not sending them to Western Medicine for an x-ray or a joint replacement. These criticisms felt misplaced, because an x-ray would not have changed my method of treatment (my arrogance, because it may have changed the patient’s decisions about treatment), nor did I feel qualified to suggest a joint replacement (my ignorance, because at the time I did not recognize the signs that my treatment would not provide the relief that the patient was seeking).
It is much easier to see, and much more difficult to confront, arrogance and ignorance in the treatment of our companion animals, over whose health care we have total control. Last issue I described the death of my 21-year-old cat, Kitty. As I prepare this issue, I have lost my 15-year old cat, Muc, and I struggle with a question of whether arrogance and ignorance on my part contributed to her demise. Six months ago I learned that Muc was hyperthyroid and that her kidney values were off. The vet thought the kidneys might take care of themselves if the thyroid were under control, and the herbs for her thyroid seemed to work well. Since herbal doses are weight-related, I started increasing her dose as she gained weight. She often refused the dose increase; but I thought I knew what was best for her and insisted that she take the herbs.
At around the same time, thinking that her signs of distress were a reaction to being alone for the first time in 15 years, I introduced a new companion for her, another older female. Two weeks later, she was dead. Was it because of my ignorance in not realizing that she was actually in chronic kidney failure, or not understanding that correcting a thyroid condition can make the kidneys worse, or not knowing that stressful conditions can also worsen the kidneys, and or missing the signs that she had a kidney infection?
The vet to whom I took Muc as she was dying asked me if I had ever heard the Kol Nidre, which is a Jewish prayer said during Yom Kippur, the Days of Atonement, which occur at this time of the year. The Kol Nidre asks forgiveness for all the things we have done wrong, but its other lesson is that it is just as much a sin to think that we can know everything. The Christian lesson being taught at this same time is that we are like seeds sown in a vineyard. We must be stewards of the vineyard, i.e., stewards of the talents we have been given. We are expected to use our talents, and to use them well. Here it is again, arrogance and ignorance. Arrogance to think we can know it all, ignorance not to use what we do know.
How well do we listen to patients’ objections? How willing are we to compromise when our patients do not want to do what we think is best? I cannot help but think that Muc would have lived longer had I not decided that she should take herbs that she did not want to take and had I trusted my own ability to diagnose the obvious symptoms she was having and taken responsibility for seeking assistance sooner.
OMJ’s Assistant Editor, Janet DeVallauris, L.Ac., offers the following comment:
True arrogance is forging ahead even when you know the outcome is going to hurt someone. Ignorance is
ignoring the facts and continuing on the same damaging course of action. Ignorance and arrogance are other
terms for greed and malice, and that is where the God Complex comes in. A God Complex says you know what
is best to the exclusion of all else and without consideration for the good of the other, whereas godliness is
holding your knowledge in one hand, the other hand empty, ready to accept new knowledge.
Our challenge is to realize that we cannot know everything, yet that not knowing everything is no excuse for not using the talents and knowledge that we do have. We must be wise enough to know when to take risks, when to be confident about what we know, and when to call on other professionals for assistance. We must be careful not to hide behind the mystique of the East to camouflage our own shortcomings because we, too, have the potential to fail our patients, to make them worse, and to waste their money.
Our first article in this issue looks at one solution to the problem of how to use our talents well. Greg Golden, L.Ac., explains Japanese Kampo methods, the history of Kampo, and why it is useful today. Kampo medicine is simple and effective, making it possible for health care practitioners to learn it well and use it widely, as Japanese practitioners have done for centuries and continue to do today.
The remainder of our issue is a discussion by Dennis Willmont, Acupuncture therapist and Herbalist, of Lung Yin Deficiency. Willmont’s article emphasizes the psychoemotional aspects of this imbalance. Using tuberculosis as an example of a Lung Yin Deficiency disease, he examines the history, characteristics, and treatments of the disease and the psychoemotional imbalances of famous people who had the disease. He goes on to discuss treatment strategies for Lung Yin Deficiency and ends with an extended case study of a patient.
As we move from the Center into the Yin time of Metal,