Some historians say that Western medicine, so named because it was developed in Western Europe, really became viable with the advent of vaccinations. When Edward Jenner discovered that milk maids who developed cow pox did not go on to catch smallpox, he realized that those milk workers' immune systems were fortified in some way against the more deadly human small pox disease. It didn't matter their age, sex, race or national origin, if a person was innoculated with the cow pox virus, a single pox or scar developed but the patient was immunized from a full blown case of the disease. Small pox was later wiped off planet earth by this vaccination process many centuries later. And vaccination is still a principle method of disease prevention for a host of deadly viral diseases like infantile paralysis, (more commonly know as polio) - the disease that finally killed America's only 4 term president - Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Jonas Salk polio vaccine was invented in 1952 and changed the medical landscape for a feared and dreaded disease.
Other medical historians would point to a more recent development that truly established Western medicine as the preeminent treatment modality in the West - antibiotics. Discovered from a mold, penicillin went on to be the true miracle drug of the mid 20th century. Staph infections, TB, strep throat and all manner of serious bacterial infections responded quickly, sometimes within hours to a penicillin shot. Later, doctors realized that some humans have allergies to antibiotics and now most antibiotics outside of the hospital are delivered orally in the form of pills. But antibiotics changed the treatment of acute illnesses especially from accidents, surgeries and contagious bacterial infections. Antibiotics also launched the pharmaceutical industry in the West, institutionalizing the notion that a medical problem could be cured with surgery or just a pill.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on thousands of years of meticulous observation of nature and the body transmitted through a centuries-old lineage. Treatments such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, dietary therapy, Tuina, Shiatsu and QiGong are closely associated with TCM.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the concept that the human body is a small universe of interconnected systems and that those systems usually work in balance to maintain the healthy function of the human body. Unlike the Western medical concept of a physical body divided into parts, the Chinese model is more concerned with function. For example, the spleen in Traditional Chinese Medicine is not a specific piece of flesh in the body, but an aspect of function related to transformation and transportation within the body and the mental functions of thinking and studying. I will save the discussion of the key functions in TCM for another article.
The point I want to make here is that the TCM approach does not look at the microscopic aspects of cells and anatomical function, but rather is a system based on microcosms of total understanding. The "science" of TCM is not necessarily deductive but inductive as well. Which means that diagnosis and treatment do not necessarily follow the same linear logic as in Western medicine.
Patients unfamiliar with TCM may come into my office quite surprised by the kinds of questions I may ask and the solutions that TCM may indicate. Western medicine concentrates on isolating a very specific problem and then measures to see if that isolated problem improves. The popularity of TCM as part of "alternative medicine" is that it is very good at treating health challenges that stymies Western medicine.
A good way to understand the compatibility and complementarity of TCM and Western medicine is to see how the 2 coexist today in China. Western medicine prevails for most acute conditions and medical emergencies, whereas TCM is sought for chronic, long-term illnesses and prevention. Because TCM is a "wholistic approach", it helps prevent you from getting sick in the first place and often can improve the quality of your life whether you are ill or not.
If you are not familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine, please come back and visit my website as I will be publishing more articles to help familiarize you with the process - a process that will reacquaint you with a part of yourself you didn't know was there to heal you and keep you well.
Bobbie Rene Parke, M.Ac.O.M., L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.