TEDxBratislava – Charmian Wylde – The wonder of Chinese medicine
Reviewer: Tanya CushmanHello, everybody. Thank you very muchfor inviting me to Bratislava. You know, it’s a funny story. I was coming backwardsand forwards to Viennaand using the London-Bratislava line,taking flights almost every other week. And a very nice woman sat next to meon what I told her wasmy very last flight to Bratislava. And I said it with a little bit of reliefbecause, you know, flyingvery frequently gets very tiring. And anyway, as the flight progressed -we have two hoursfrom London to Bratislava -she said, “Well, what do you do?”And I told her I’d been involved inChinese medicine for 20 years of my life. So we talked, and she said to me,”Well, how would you liketo come back to Bratislavaand talk to the TED conferenceabout your experiences?”So, you know, never say never;here I am again,and thank you very muchbecause, actually, you havea very beautiful city herewith a wonderful castle. So, I’m very pleasedto be here. Thank you. Anyway, I have a ratherunconventional career. I, in the mid 1980s,decided I rather wanted to change my lifeand study Chinese medicine,which not too many peopledid in London in those days. I managed to learnChinese medicine in London,and I thought, “Wow,what a wonderful system of medicine. “It comes from China;it’s almost 3,000 years old,and it works on a completely differentbasis to Western medicine. But there was a little bit of methat was rather cynical,and I thought, “Well, how does it work?”Because what happens here isthat we stick needles in people’s bodiesin different acupuncture points,and suddenly they get better. And there’s no scientific explanationfor how this systemof medicine actually works. So I thought, “It’s time to go to China. “So in 1991, I went to China, to Nanjing,and I lived and worked in a busy hospitalof traditional medicine. And this really did change my life,partly because, you know,there was no private little room;there was no, you know, cozy,intimate conversationabout what happened when wewere five or six years old or such,and it made us ill, maybe, today. You know, this was a systemwhere hundreds and hundreds of peoplewere coming into this busy hospital,and they were getting better. What I saw was thingsvery much like shingles,very painful eruptions on the body,but surrounded by acupuncture needleswent away within two or three days. Things like facial paralysis, you know,very physical symptomwhere one half of the face is frozen,and people got better. So I had no doubt in my mindthat Chinese medicine had something. So I came back to the UK;I went into practice,set up my own clinic with colleagues,and really, to some extent,it was a big experiment in Britain;we didn’t really know what we could treat. But people kept coming to us,and people got better. And then, very hard to believewhen I started all of this,acupuncture educationmoved into universities,and to cut a long story short,I find myself atthe University of East London;I’m the head of Chinese medicine there. I’m very pleased to tell you,I have one student from Bratislavawho I hope will pass her exams this year. So she’s going to be bringingChinese medicine back here. So, here we are,for me 20 years doing this,yet no scientific explanationfor how this medicine could possibly work. And I want to tell youa short story about a patientto give you some ideaof what’s involved with acupuncture. Let’s call her Nadine. She’s 30 years old,and she and her husbandfor two years have been tryingto have a baby,but she can’t get pregnant. She goes for tests to her doctor,and the tests reveal there’s no problem:”You should be able to get pregnant. “So they continue to despair,and she has two cycles of what’s calledIVF, assisted conception,and they don’t work. So as a last resort,she comes to me for acupuncture. And to be honest, you know,this is quite a big job,you know, to give this womana baby, with needles. No, no pun here. So, anyway,we make a diagnosis;we listen to her pulse;I do all the thingsthat Chinese doctors do,and we work togetherfor about five months,and nothing happens –she doesn’t get pregnant. And I’m beginning to get uncomfortablebecause she’s paying moneyfor this treatment,and one day I say to her,”Look, I’m not so surethat acupuncture’s for you. “And she looks at me, and she said,”You’re like my mother:you think I’m useless;you think I can’t do this. “And, you know, she welled up with anger,and I said, “You mean your motherdoesn’t think you can get pregnant?”And she said, “No. “And she said, “I’m so angry. “Now, in Chinese medicine,the Chinese long recognizedthere’s a connectionbetween the mind and physical function. So on this particular occasion,I changed the acupuncture treatment. And when I put the needles in,there were little electric shocksthat seemed to be different,and this is bearing in mindwe’ve been working together five months. And guess what? She got pregnant. You know, and there aremany stories like this. This is why, you know, the Chinesehave kept Chinese medicine going. And just, because I don’t knowhow many people hereknow what reallytraditional Chinese medicine is,but acupuncture is one treatment;herbal medicine and massageand also movement. For example, in China,I visited a cancer hospital,and they don’t lay their people downwhen they have cancer;they keep them movingwith things like qigong and taiji -it’s a different philosophy,different way of thinking. And, you know, in China this medicinehas been running for 3,000 years. And the idea is that the bodyis a network of meridians, or channels,and these channels carry somethingapparently called “ch’i. “Now, there’s no definition for ch’i. There’s no explanation;you can’t measure it. There’s no sciencethat explains what ch’i is. And, of course, this makes peoplein the scientific establishmentvery, very skeptical about what we do. In China, ch’i isn’t energy;it isn’t some primordial life force. It actually gives meaning to things. This conference today has good ch’i. You know, it has huge energy behind it. It really gives purpose and meaning;it creates life – that’s the idea of ch’i. And Chinese medicineis really a system of clinical evidencebased on a very different wayof thinking about the body. So that, for example,emotions, in Chinese medicine,can cause illness. So that, as with the patientI told you about,the idea that all this suppressed anger,actually, in Chinese medicinewould have some relevance. So Chinese medicineis a huge success story. And I visited Cuba in my workbecause I heard that in CubaChinese medicine was a partof their integrated healthcare system. And, you know, when Cubawas isolated from the rest of the worldand they had no essential medicines,they had to try acupuncture. And they found it successfulfor things like strokes and heart attacks,and so now in Cuba today,you’ll find two systems of medicine:you’ll find traditional medicineas well as Western contemporary medicine. And I said, in Cuba, to the headof the Cuban Acupuncture Society,”Why? Why acupuncture here?”And he said, “Because Chinese medicineis one of the best systems in the world,one of the best medical systems,and we want one of the bestmedical systems for Cuban people. “So, back in Britain, you know,acupuncture’s very popular;Chinese medicine is a huge success story. But we, in the last couple of years,have faced huge hostilityfrom the scientific establishment. “Where’s your evidence?” they say. “It must just be placebo,”you know, the idea of suggestion. Well, maybe, because placeboruns in many medical systems,but I think it’s more than that. I’m quite convincedthat when those needles go in,something happens. And we do know certain things now. We do know that acupunctureaffects the limbic part of the brain. We also know inthe treatment of infertilitythat in the middle of the monthif you do acupuncture,it increases the blood flow to the uterus. So we’re beginning to understand. But in the meantime,with all the hostility -and it’s quite serious in Britain. I mean, for example, there are peoplewithin the scientific establishmentwho would like to close downuniversity courses like mine. There have been many books publishedsaying, “What’s happening in Britain?People are suddenly beginningto believe in things that are irrational. “So, you know, these peopleask good questions,because I particularly, as an educator,have to ask myself, you know:well, is something happening here?Or is this system of medicine,which is 3,000 years old,is it just a good ideaor something that’s based on,you know, on magic almost?But I think Chinese medicinehas two thingsthat Western medicine doesn’t have. The first is thatChinese medicine is a real art. Any practitioner needs to listen and look. They listen to the pulse;they listen to the patient’s life -that illness isn’t just a collectionof isolated symptoms;it’s the way our lives and our historiesand what we want to doimpact and can actually cause ill health. It’s a really, really creative process,almost an art form. And we know from art,just with the music we heard before,how this can actually create change –it makes us think differently. The second thing for meabout Chinese medicine,something that really cameacross in China -and you know what we’ve done in the Westis we’ve made it very hierarchical,all-important system of medicinewith a language patientsoften don’t understand. It’s often frightening for patients;it’s often invasive. But, you know, in China,one doctor said to me,”You know, Charmian,here it’s actually the patientthat’s the god, not the doctor. “And I found this over and over,that Chinese medicinetends to empower people;it enables them to takemuch more responsibility for their health,and I think this is what it has to offer. So I’d like, just to finish,I’d like to show you a clip. I revisited China justbefore Christmas this year,and I was taken to a hospital in Shenyang,which is in north of China,and there’s a doctor therewho has developed a techniquefor treating low back pain,and I’d like to leave youwith a quick clip. It looks very dramatic;it’s a very traditional treatment. It’s for low back pain and sciatica. Have a look,and if you’re in trouble,I hope in Bratislava you’ll have a choiceof having acupuncture. Thank you. Female voice: originated from northeast part of China. Charmian: So what kind of conditions?Just pain? Generally back pain?Female: Yeah Yeah Yeah. Male: Wrinkled and traumatized. Male: You can seethe fire along the channel. Charmian: Yeah,I can see it. It’s fantastic. Male: It’s hot. Just feel it. You can repeat the fire. Female: And the medicinecan be also very good.