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Patient Information - Healing Process - Peeling Away the Layers
First Visit   |   Healing Process   |  Asian Medicine Modalities - Treatment Types

"How poor are they who have not patience.                  
              What wound did ever heal but by degrees."
- William Shakespeare

Healing Process - Peeling Away the Layers

Justifiably, most patients are curious about the estimated duration of their treatments. However, seldom is there an elegantly compact answer. In most cases, it has taken many years of internal imbalance for symptoms to materialize. During this time of 'incubation' of a disorder, the body may accumulate layers of different types of disharmonies which are manifested in different ways, at different times, in different individuals.

I use the analogy of an onion to describe this process. An onion is not 'born' with all the layers we see when we purchase it ripe for eating. Rather, it has gone through a growth process whereby new layers of flesh are generated from its core and existing layers thicken and strengthen over time. If any one of its layers is compromised by external disease or internal disharmony, and if the onion lacks the innate resources to heal itself, the diseased layer may, in time, contaminate the surrounding layers either in part or in whole.

The healing process often requires going through a similar layering experience, but in the reverse direction. This may be thought of as peeling-away the layers of disharmonies. At each layer, it is possible to encounter a new or different set of symptoms altogether, or a more resistant aspect of a symptom-complex, or a less-resistant but slightly varying form, and so on.

The particular path taken by a disorder, as well as its layering behavior are unique to each individual. These occur in a manner similar to the way that the same disorder can manifest in slightly different ways in different individuals - according to one's unique attributes, age, constitution, stage of disease progression, environmental influences, mental-emotional states, lifestyle, nutritional aspects, and so on. The possible encounters with different symptom-complexes are especially applicable when medications and drugs are involved. As a result, the therapeutic approaches and strategy will vary throughout the healing process. For example, different combinations of acupuncture points may be employed at different times; different herbs selected; moxibustion (moxa) or electrical-stimulation may be employed or omitted; nutrition requirements modified; and so on. This de-layering of a condition to work through its many internal layers may take a few treatment sessions or it may take several months. In some instances, it can take a year or more.

The following examples may help to visualize some of the different ways pathology layering, and its de-layering through healing, can occur. The reader is reminded that these are merely my personal observations based on my own clinical experience.

Imagine, if you will, cutting open an onion to find one of these scenarios:

"Health and Balance"
This is a healthy onion representing a healthy and balanced mind, body and spirit.

"Superficial Disharmony"
In this scenario, only the outermost layer has decayed. As it applies to body-disharmonies, this may represent an early stage of a disease or a condition which affects the body in a temporary way, such as the common cold or flu, or a disorder affecting the superficial muscle layers such as a muscle strain induced by a one-time overexertion with no other internal causes. In this scenario, the symptoms are fairly overt and fairly self-contained. Once the disorder is successfully treated no other underlying iterations are encountered.

"Core Disharmony"
In this scenario, the core layer(s) have begun to decay. This represents a disharmony which may be either congenital (one is born with it) and the body has learned to overcome any possible deficits, or it can reflect the early incubation stage of a disorder. At this stage it is a fairly common occurrence that modern lab tests and other biomedical diagnostics methods fail to detect any abnormality. Left untreated however, symptoms and signs may materialize at a later time when the disease has progressed to a more complex state.

Even at the incubation stage, a skilled doctor of traditional Asian medicine may detect the internally hidden disharmony by examination of the individual and through the tongue and pulse diagnoses. However, it is difficult to convince most patients at this stage to undertake preventive therapy when no egregious symptoms are experienced. Those who do seek preventive treatment often experience an enhanced quality of life as a result of eradicating the potential threat, even when no overt symptoms existed to serve as a benchmark for wellness. The enhancements may be experienced as increased overall energy, better sleep quality, enhanced concentration, a sense of well being, regularity of the menstrual cycle in women, and so on.

"Deeply Rooted Disharmony"
In this scenario, a particular disease not only has taken root deeply, but has manifested in various ways through multiple layers in the symptom-complex spectrum. Most of the symptoms and signs in this scenario are viewed as related to the chief disharmony and reflects the occurrence of a more intense and more frequent symptom manifestations. As treatments progress and the symptom-complex layers are worked through, we may encounter a steadily declining and less-intense set of symptoms at the deeper layers. Alternatively, we may encounter fewer symptoms which are more resistant to therapy. It is important at this time to remain steadfast and continue with the treatments. Stopping prematurely may result in the possible reversal of progresses made, and the possible return to a pre-treatment state.

Assuming that treatments continue, the possible end-results may include an eventual break-through and complete healing, or the discovery that the few remaining symptoms are untreatable either through traditional Asian medicine or any other means. In the latter case, the available options may be to utilize this medicine for ongoing symptom management, or undertake other forms of therapy either concurrently or in entirety. In most cases, the benefit of continuing with traditional Asian medicine over drug therapy is its relative safety, fewer and less invasive side-effects, and the less likelihood of causing other disharmonies.

"Relapsing-Remitting Disharmony"
This scenario represents the pathology of relapsing-remitting disorders like certain forms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, sciatica, and so on. Such disorders often undergo periods of symptom-manifestation followed by periods of symptom-free states. Therefore, different treatment strategies are employed depending upon whether the patient is experiencing one or the other stage. For example, absent a cure, the disease is treated aggressively during a relapse stage to quell the symptoms and target the underlying root causes. During remission, the patient is put on a milder maintenance program to sustain a healthy state while reducing the intensity and frequency of future relapses.

After completing sufficient courses of therapy, it is possible that some patients may remain symptom-free indefinitely while others may continue to experience occasional relapses. A multitude of factors, including factors which are known and those yet to be scientifically discovered, affect one or the other outcome. In all cases, continued adherence to a healthy lifestyle with appropriate nutrition, moderate exercise, reduction of stress and adequate rest are all important factors affecting prognosis. Here, too, the benefit of continuing with traditional Asian medicine over drug therapy is its relative safety, fewer and less invasive side-effects, and the less likelihood of causing other disharmonies.

"Multiple Discrete Disharmonies"
This scenario reflects the layering of multiple different disharmonies at different periods of one's health-disorder spectrum. It is a common experience that people acquire a disorder that is treated by some medical modality, such as drug therapy, and later contract a different disorder. It is also common that the remnants or root cause of an old disease still exists even though symptoms and signs may be absent. Sometimes the symptoms and signs of one disorder may be masked by other disorders whose symptom-complex may be more aggressive and has a stronger propensity for manifesting. In all these cases it is possible that during the process of healing a current disorder, the symptoms of an old disorder resurface as the layers of disharmonies are worked through.

Alternatively, symptoms of an old disease may not be apparent but through the skillful diagnosis of the traditional Asian medicine doctor, the hidden remnants of the old disorder may be detected. In either case, both the current and resurfacing symptom-complexes should be addressed either concurrently or secondarily.

"Mixed Simultaneous Disharmonies"
This final scenario represents the occurrence of either multiple disorders or multiple symptom-complexes that are experienced simultaneously. Patients who are on drug therapy for one or more disorders often experience this phenomenon where symptoms and side-effects are produced by their medications. While, at the same time, the drugs often mask the true picture of the patient's condition.

This case presents challenges to both the patient and practitioner. In this scenario, more than with any other, the treatment strategy and priority of focus are highly specific to the individual patient. In most cases the patient can decide which aspect of his/her overall condition to treat first, mostly based on egregiousness. Sometimes, however, factors that are relevant to this medicine or those affecting short-term and/or long-term outcome may guide the treatment course.

Not surprisingly, the Mixed Simultaneous Disharmonies is a complex case requiring long-term therapy. What may be surprising is that, in clinic, this scenario is not uncommon. Patients experiencing this scenario are encouraged to have patience and persevere through the various iterations of their healing process. The outcome and reward for their endurance can be worthwhile, if not tremendous.

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