It is a common belief that Chinese medicine focuses on healing and revitalizing the body, and that no patient would go to a Chinese medicine doctor in an emergency situation.
But that doesn’t mean that Chinese medicine doctors know less about the dying process than their Western counterparts.
During my years of practice, though I might not have held a dying hand, I have dealt with many dying hearts. I have ministered to patients facing a long battle with cancer and those suffering from depression and insomnia after their loved ones passed away.
All the sad stories have left me with a thought: it is harder to cure someone who is mentally unwell than someone who is physically ill because there is no medicine for unhappiness.
Mr. Liu, a stage 3 lung cancer patient, bravely told me as he struggled to breathe that he would use all his strength to fight the disease that is gnawing at his frail body.
His daughter who was pushing his wheelchair was moved to tears. About a month and a half later, Liu failed to show up at my clinic for his regular check-up. He had died two days before.
His gloomy daughter told me she had been taking sleeping pills over the past two years since her father was found to be ill. Occasionally she travels abroad to ease her loneliness, but when she returns to Hong Kong, her depression comes back, at times worse than before.
She is doing well in her job and by and large, she is physically well. But though her life seems running smoothly, she feels a deep void inside. She still misses her father, terribly.
“Is there any Chinese herbal medicine that can pull me out of the misery?” she asked me.
She confided to me that she feels her days are lifeless and meaningless, demonstrating how the death of a loved one could be so devastating. The fact is, her case is so common among bereaved family members of my former patients who have left this world.
There is this Chinese saying: “The person who removes the bell from the tiger must be the one who has fastened it.” It means that the best person to solve a problem is the one who created the problem in the first place.
If the pain is not caused by physical wounds, the cure must target the mental or emotional source of the injury. A doctor can only do so much. The best medicine for a wounded heart comes from within.
With that, let me wish you all a fresh start and good prospects in the Year of the Dog!
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 8
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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