From childhood, I have vivid memories of our Chinese doctor, Dr. Ong, who treated us for everything from LBM to high fever, measles and skin rashes. He was an austere man who occasionally gave what seemed like a condescending smile. He was shorter than my mother — who was five-two — and closed his eyes when he spoke.
He came to the house — we never went to his clinic, if he even had one — in a chauffeured white Benz, always garbed in black trousers and a white short-sleeved shirt, with a tie and a gold tie clip. His prescription pad was in a brown leather folder, zipped up on three sides.
Our body is an integrated whole, connected to nature and with a natural self-healing ability. It was this self-healing ability that I counted on to get me through a recent bout of COVID.
My mother would tell him what was wrong with me, and his diagnostic techniques involved feeling my forehead for signs of fever (no thermometer needed), telling me to stick out my tongue, then, most important, feeling my pulse. From all that he explained what was wrong with me and why, then took out his pad and wrote out a prescription with a gold fountain pen.
My mother would then send the driver to the apothecary in Binondo, the one she trusted to give accurate measures of genuine herbs. The concoctions came in artfully wrapped paper packages, the contents of which would go into the spouted clay pot to boil — two cups of water reduced to one, then the “second time” 1.5 cups boiled down to half.
I got a champuy to counter the taste of what was usually an ornery-looking dark brown brew; if I had a fever it would be particularly bitter. Otherwise, it wasn’t really all that bad, but I wanted that champuy. Sometimes there was a combination of two different concoctions.
My mother kept all the prescriptions, so sometimes she would make her own diagnosis based on symptoms and circumstances and just send the driver to the herbal shop with the appropriate prescription. I got well all these times, too, and there were never adverse reactions or lingering maladies.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the official term now used worldwide, has a history of thousands of years, dating back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1050 BCE), the earliest ruling dynasty in recorded history in China (it is also credited with the invention of writing).
In the Philippines, it is believed that the earliest interactions between Filipinos and Chinese traders involved not just commerce, food, art, but also healing practices, such as the use of herbs as medicine and hilot, which is similar to the Chinese tuina.
RA 8423, the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act, was enacted into law in December 1997 for the purpose of “promoting and advocating the use of traditional, alternative, preventive and curative health care modalities, with the end goal of improving the quality and delivery of health care services to the Filipino people.”
TCM is a system of medicine that not just heals but seeks to prevent disease by keeping — or restoring, in case of illness — balance in the body, a balance of opposing energies such as yin and yang, heat and coolness. It also seeks the unimpeded flow of qi, or energy, throughout the body, thus blockages to this flow that lead to illness should be cleared.
Our body is an integrated whole, connected to nature and with a natural self-healing ability. And it was this self-healing ability that I counted on to get me through a recent bout of COVID.
Since Dr. Ong is no longer around, I contacted the newly-established TCM Department at the Chinese General Hospital (CGH). The department is staffed with licensed doctors trained in Western medicine with varied fields of specialties who have undergone extensive training in TCM in the country as well as in China and elsewhere.
They offer various TCM treatments, including acupuncture and electroacupuncture, heat modalities like moxibustion, cupping, therapeutic massage, herbal nutrition, and movement therapy (qi gong, tai chi chuan, yin yoga).
The CGH-College of Medicine has incorporated into its curriculum a four-year TCM course that will enable graduates to incorporate TCM in their practice of Western medicine. This curriculum is recognized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and the Philippine Medical Association. It is accredited with the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care of the Department of Health.
Dr. Samuel Ang, CGH medical director, referred me to department head Dr. Nelson Lim, a general surgeon. Dr. Lim was introduced to TCM and acupuncture back in 1984 when he did rural service in his home province of Quezon. He encountered patients who had no money to pay for anesthesia. Someone had given Dr. Lim a book (which he still has) on acupuncture anesthesia.
“I was so enlightened and amazed at how this ancient art of healing works,” he shared. This led him to pursue both TCM and a surgical residency.
For COVID prevention, Dr. Lim said “a person’s well-being is of utmost importance.” A balance of yin and yang is a must.
“When there is any manifestation of losing the relative balance of yin and yang and failing to resume the balance, there results a preponderance or discomfiture of either yin or yang. And this is the causative factor of the occurrence of disease. So whether you are confronted with wind-cold or wind-heat as the etiological factor, maintaining the balance between yin and yang is first and foremost. No one can predict who will get COVID, but a balanced lifestyle, balanced diet will surely give an edge to prevention against COVID.”
And when one is infected, asymptomatic, or with mild symptoms? (Of course, more serious illness should be treated in hospital.)
“Aside from a balanced diet and a balanced lifestyle, acupuncture treatment can be applied. There are several points recommended, aiming at reconciling the imbalance of yin and yang and restoring them to a condition of relative balance. Herbal medicines can also be of great help, providing a holistic approach to treatment. It is a concoction of symptomatic relief (e.g. for fever, pain, nasal decongestant, etc.), an immuno-modulator too, a natural way of fighting COVID,” Dr. Lim explained.
Dr. Regina Talavera, an anesthesiologist who also trained in occupational medicine, palliative care and TCM (focusing on nutritional Chinese medicine), oversaw my COVID recovery. She sent me COVRelief tea, which was meant to dispel heat. It did just that, and apparently flushed out toxins in my system as well, for I felt so much better after two days of taking the tea.
She advised against taking any dairy products, which cause phlegm and dampness, the same “evils” that the coronavirus produces in the body when you are infected. Raw salad was also a no-no at this time, but blanched or cooked green leafy vegetables, as well as fruits like apples and bananas, were highly recommended.
She recommended a “master soup,” a pork or beef soup boiled for two hours with cabbage, Chinese pechay and other vegetables. “The qi that you will get there is fresh, to strengthen your body,” she said, adding that “chicken tinola is good, the ginger is very good for convalescence.”
I added goji berries (wolf berries) and red dates to my soup, which Dr. Talavera said are “very good for blood and for upright qi,” respectively.
From herbal concoctions to master soups, TCM has kept me healthy through all these years.