Okay, what if I am starting to feel that I am coming down with something and am feeling like I’m getting very sick?  What do I do?  The message we are all getting is to stay home in isolation until or unless our symptoms become critical.  In the main media, there is not much offered as to how to care for each other when we are in the in-between time of sick but not critical.

Although I know Chinese herbal medicine can be helpful to people before you are sick and in the critical period, it is this in-between time that is super important for us Chinese herbalists now.  We have the possibility of preventing the illness from becoming critical and of relieving a tremendous amount of suffering.  We may have the skill to keep people off of respirators and out of hospitals.

However, before talking about how we might best treat this issue as our patients come down with it (which I’ll do in the next posts), I’d like to offer a note of caution:

As practitioners we want to help.  But be careful.  I’ve been noticing lots of herbal products being offered.  In Chinese medicine, there is no one formula or product for “the immune system” or any illness, much less this one.  Formulas are not for diseases. Formulas are for patterns and those patterns vary a lot and include the nature of the patient.  Each person starts with different weakness and tendencies and those are going to effect what herbs are right for them.  In addition, the stages of the disease change quickly and so the herbs should shift as well.  We have to diagnose each patient at each stage individually and write formulas that match the particular pattern.  Otherwise, with such critical symptoms, we could easily do more harm than good.

For example a western herbalist recommended their immune support/anti-viral product made of Lian Qiao, Jin Yin Hua and Huang Lian to a patient of mine, saying it would “boost her immune system.”  All of the ingredients are bitter cold or cold ingredients.    This patient is thin and very cold.  I have treated her with formulas such Xiao Jian Zhong Tang with Fu Zi.  An approach like this product is representing is exactly what Zhang Zhong-Jing warned us against.  Bitter cold herbs are exactly wrong for this patient and would weaken her and make her more susceptible.  Our “immune systems” are only as good as our weakest link and everyone’s weakest link is different.  Again, for responsible practitioners, there is no way around individualized careful diagnosis.  If you are not confident in your abilities to diagnose, I’d suggest consulting with a senior practitioner or referring people if you think they may have this virus.

There is no magic, one-size-fits-all remedy for this.  I suggest avoiding purchasing any “products” from practitioners who have a financial stake in what they are telling you will work.  I’ve been seeing flippant claims that over-simplify the illness so that they can sell a product.  Look out for things like “Wen Bing Defense Immune System Support.” As much as we wish it would be this simple, it’s not.  Please learn to be discerning herbalist and recognize profiteering.  Learn to recognize over-simplification.  I would trust practitioners who are offering a teaching about how to think about this and who are not simply attempting to sell you their product.  See that they are recommending strategies to work with various presentations, the herbs for which you would buy from a variety of herb shops. Make sure that, if they do have a financial interest in what they are recommending, they are also sharing the individual herbs and dosages in their formulas, making it easy for you to make it with your own or another pharmacy.

At White Pine Healing Arts, we’ve set up our pharmacy so that it only pays for itself and does not make a profit.  It pays for our pharmacist and it pays some rent for the space it takes up.  Every year we calculate what we have spent on herbs and what we made on herbs.  We want these figures to match.  If we spent more than we made, we raise prices.  If we made more than we spent, we get a new grinder!  We make our living off of the time we spend with people.  We have no added financial motivation to sell herbs.  This protects us from a conflict of interest and more, it protects our patients from being given products they don’t need or having their diagnosis pigeon-holed to fit a formula we profit from.

More to come about formulas for In-Between-Times.