Before a practitioner can start treating people, s/he must first find out what is wrong – as far as that is possible at all. Naturally there are many ways to do that and I am not going into the details of examination techniques. However, I am under the impression, that the Chinese with their intellectual world domination in this area have inspired many westerners in believing and practicing something that is usually “handled” (please observe the expression; there will be a few more instances of this kind of illuminating terms below) a little differently in Japan.
Since I have not had the opportunity to observe things directly in mainland China, reading through (Chinese influenced) reports, research material etc., or also material from China, I am also under the impression, that the authors gather information by taking the pulse, inspecting the tongue and some other bits of information to draw their conclusions based on the classifications the Chinese love so much and/or select the points for their treatment based on the theoretical instructions found in textbooks or the classics. It is of course laudable to know the textbooks and classics, but personally I very much doubt, they can tell you anything about any real patient. Just like the description of “pneumonia” in a textbook of medicine gives you an averaged, generalized model, but not the particular situation you encounter in patient “xxx”.
Although not all Japanese practitioners adhere to the practice I attempt to put into the words I chose below and which a patient of mine once has called “poking around”, I prefer it and believe a substantial number of other (Japanese) practitioners could offer the world here something, that may not really make the EBM enthusiasts happy, but provides a sometimes very enlightening “close encounter of the Japanese kind“.
Interface is a term usually used in relation to computer and machine technology. But I would like to express a few ideas pertaining to (physical) treatment, in particular acupuncture treatment, and borrow this expression for this particular purpose.
In the medical world it is common sense, that individual life forms, including single-celled microorganisms, plants, animals and man, have a body surface that forms the interface of this particular individual with the environment. Yet, in contrast to man-made devices, which are usually one out of a more or less large number of identical devices manufactured at a specific site with identical specifications, these life forms are always UNIQUE. Not one of these many “devices” (let’s call them units below) exactly matches any other unit, even if they are of the same species, like for example “man”.
Each individual unit is slightly different. For that reason the interface between the unit and the environment at any given moment in time is subject to a unique, highly specific set of parameters influencing both the unit and its environment. And because the specifications for each unit are unique, the interaction between the particular unit and the environment occurring at their common interface – in man the skin – also is subject to unique changes. That means, that no other unit would react in exactly the same way to a given, reproducible parameter/influence, like temperature or pressure.
In computer technology the status of the various devices and their respective hard- and software can be checked and a “digital output” of the relevant data prepared. In medicine, here I refer in particular to acupuncture, “running diagnostics” is also largely a “digital” process, because the practitioner uses his/her fingers = digits to literally READ information from the body surface of people/patients. But in contrast to this process in computer technology the diagnostic process in acupuncture exceeds the unidimensional digital level and becomes a “sensual” holistic process, in that it includes visual (inspection), audio (hearing, listening) and chemical (smell, but only RARELY taste) parameters.
In relation to the “EBM frenzy” currently almost everybody is looking for “reproducible, digital readouts” of this information: like temperature, pressure, electrical resistance etc. However, to the best of my knowledge, even if there are devices under development that may be able to test and measure some of these parameters like pressure, which would be essential for examining the pulse, these devices are still very far from reliably and meaningfully measuring the parameters they are designed for. The human touch still exceeds their capabilities.
Even if there were devices that would satisfactorily measure ONE particular parameter, a human (erratic as that may be!) practitioner would still integrate all the different modalities of into one whole (“holistic“) picture quite different from what any machine would produce. In addition, the practitioner him/herself too is a unique unit, which produces naturally a unique and not completely reproducible output. THAT is for all scientifically/technically inclined researchers believing in the holiness of EBM a horrible concept.
Now, the interface used for data collection, namely the two layers of the skin of both patient and practitioner approaching and in most instances also coming into contact with each other, are not unlike a telephone. (This is a metaphor I like to use, when I try to explain the situation to my patients and refer here only to palpation.)
On the “one hand” (please note THIS expression) the practitioner moves with his/her hand(s) over the body of the patient to collect = read the data written on the patient’s body surface. Although most patients are not really aware of them, for a practitioner with a little clinical experience there is a lot of information to read there, that will tell him/her about the past, present and future state/development(s) of the examinee. This is like listening to that person talking on the other end of a telephone.
During the treatment on the “other hand“, for which the hands do not even have to be lifted off the body = cut the connection, the same hand(s) of the practitioner provides some input for the system “patient”. That is then like responding to the person on the other end of the telephone line.
Modern telecommunication technology uses wired networks, where cables are used to connect different devices, and wireless networks using electromagnetic waves and fields. In medicine nothing substantially has changed in the technological setup of the wired and wireless networks (only our understanding of their functioning is growing) since their inception = billions of years ago. Practitioners use the hardware components for the wired networks, like nerves, muscles, bones etc. in order to receive/transmit physical stimuli/information = like nerve impulses traveling along nerves, or moxibustion induced chemical changes/substances propagated via the chemical transport system “blood”. For the wireless networks practitioners tap into energies and information in and also propagated along LAN channels that work without having their own hardware, in the field of acupuncture these are often referred to as meridians or also channels (note the similarity).
Actually, I have been called for help in my capacity as an acupuncturist via mail. However, as I said above, both patient and practitioner are unique individual units with their own unique specifications and therefore without exactly predictable reactions (to interventions). Thus, helping people over long distances is usually not working very well, because I as a practitioner have to do almost completely without data readouts from the malfunctioning unit (person). Therefore the attempts are in most cases bound to be unsuccessful.
The advice would be: get a piece of real “first-hand” human touch experience up close …… again those expressions …
The nails cut into the flesh!! The other day I was asked to “evaluate” a DVD to determine, whether its translation and eventually publication in Japan is worthwhile. While I was watching the DVD, featuring three professional therapists (all university graduates), I noted that ALL of them kept rings, watches etc. on their respective hands and at least two of the three had finger nails clearly extending beyond the finger cups. Probably I am very old-fashioned, but I learned “in school” – this in itself does not mean anything – that professionals are not supposed (I think even prohibited by (Japanese) law) to have rings, watches … anything metal … on their hands during the treatment. Personally I am very much in favor of this idea and NEVER have anything metal or otherwise hard on/at my hands. Again, when I was looking for some stuff and found on Wikipedia a picture of an acupuncture practitioner (see link). This clearly shows very long fingernails and even a mark on skin, where those finger nails have pressed into the flesh (of the patient/model).