Soon after I began practising acupuncture, my mentor Dr Mary Austin gave me one of her patients.
I now think it was probably a little test, but also I realised later on that perhaps she and he didn’t really get on.
He was in his fifties, grey-haired and, I thought, very self-possessed. He said he had a slight headache.
For me, a slight headache usually gets better overnight, so just needs rest. He said, firmly, this was not the case; sleep did not help.
So I dutifully took his case. Time went by with me enquiring politely about his reaction to the weather (enjoy the sun), his temper (very good), his bowel actions (perfectly regular thank-you), what position he slept in (very comfortably so I tend to forget but thank you for asking), what he felt like during a headache (want to get rid of it), his parents and grandparents and their health (I think he rolled his eyes but out of loyalty to Mary Austin he soldiered on) and lots more like that.
Used as he was to Mary Austin’s immediate diagnoses, he eventually got a little restless.
Looking Back …!
Looking back on it, I’m a bit embarrassed, but that is how I’d been taught and I felt I should leave no stone unturned.
Eventually, with remarkable control, I now realise, he asked me whether he had told me enough about his headache and did I have a diagnosis.
I thought it perhaps time to take his pulses. Now, at that stage of training in the UK we had hardly heard of the huge and sophisticated benefits from Chinese medicine’s contribution to understanding the pulses, and I could just about distinguish between a fast and a slow pulse and between a strong and a weak pulse.
Remembering that he was a mild-mannered man with a slight headache, I took his wrist and approached his radial artery with confidence that his pulse would be a little weak and perhaps slow.
I have to report to you that so strong was his pulse that it nearly knocked my fingers off his wrist. Not just strong, but fast.
Slowly putting things together in my brain, I began asking better questions.
Could he tell me more about his headache?
‘NO HE BLOODY WELL COULD NOT!’ (Those capitals should be quadruple size – he was yelling at me.)
Now I began realising everything I’d missed.
The redness in his eyes which I had thought was due to a little alcohol earlier – but probably was a measure of a lot of alcohol daily.
The colour of his face, which I had thought was a healthy ruddy colour but was much more than that.
Did he take any medication?
YES HE BLOODY WELL DID AND I SHOULD HAVE ASKED BEFORE: FOR INSOMNIA; CONSTIPATION; BLOOD IN HIS URINE; TINNITUS AND DIZZINESS. (Quadruple Capitals, multiplied by now.) (There may have been other medications but I’ve forgotten – this was probably 1980.)
Although I wasn’t familiar with Liver Fire, I certainly knew what to do – call Mary Austin! Together we worked out a treatment plan, using points that, when I learned about it later, I realised benefit Liver Fire.
I’m glad to say they worked, and he became a loyal patient until he retired and moved abroad.
So learn to ask the right questions. Know your theory and syndromes. Be Observant.
And if you’re an acupuncturist and just starting, be very suspicious if you’re sent patients by your mentor.