Cupping therapy: no pain and no noticeable gain

During the hottest part of summer, temperatures in Beijing regularly soar above 95 F (35 C). To cope with the heat, women shed pants and long-sleeved shirts for tank tops and skirts, while the less fashion-conscious men simply roll up their shirts, exposing their midriff, however rotund.

The Beijing summer look for men that never goes out of style.

The summer look for men in Beijing that never goes out of style.

A few summers ago, one of the these bare-bellied men walked past me on the street. As I turned to look at him, I noticed a series of purple and pink bruises on his back, each about the size of a baseball. At first glance, it looked like he had been the victim of a brutal assault. But each of the bruises was the same size, and perfectly circular.

I told one of my friends what I had seen, and she said the bruises were from cupping, a form of traditional Chinese medicine commonly used in Asia and the Middle East. In China, cupping is known as baguan, and is used to alleviate everything from headaches to back pain. Continue reading

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Chinese healthcare: a bargain with a bother

I went to Peking Union College Medical Center on Tuesday to have my ankle examined. I sprained it over the weekend and wanted to make sure I didn’t break anything.

The traffic outside the hospital was bumper to bumper, and most of the parking spaces for bikes and electric scooters were taken. It’s like this every day, said Liang, a nurse who met me at the entrance. Liang works for Vista Medical Center, which provides medical translation when my company’s foreign employees need to visit local hospitals. 

Peking Union College Medical Center was set up in 1921 by the Rockefeller Foundation. It’s regarded as one of the best in China, and is where the Communist Party leaders go for medical treatment. Continue reading

My heart will go on

After a lengthy attempt to lower the quality of my life, hypertension died last week. It was 1 and a half.

Hypertension was declared dead in an email I received from my doctor. “Great news. You don’t need medications now. This was a good ‘scare’, so you will have a healthy lifestyle now!” she wrote.

It is survived by the half empty boxes of blood pressure medication scattered around my apartment: 30 mg of Adalat, 12.5 mg of Carvedilol and 5 mg of a generic beta blocker.

I met with a doctor in Beijing for a follow-up checkup earlier this year.

I met with a doctor in Beijing for a follow-up checkup earlier this year.

Hypertension was born in my body in January 2012, after a doctor in the Philippines discovered my blood pressure was dangerously high following a severe bout of lightheadedness. Its interests included wrecking havoc on my body, including heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. Continue reading

Smile and say “CT”

Before moving to China in 2010, I had always been a model of good health. Not overweight. Perfect blood pressure. I drank beer and rarely met a pizza I didn’t fall for, but almost always balanced it out with exercise and more than enough sleep.

Something changed in Beijing. Exactly what, I still can’t put my finger on. Dishes here tend to be on the oily and salty side. The air, water and streets are dirty. That can’t help. And I work nights – 5 to 12 most evenings – whereas most of my jobs in the U.S. were day shifts.

Whatever the cause, my body’s changed. My blood pressure runs high, and because of that I feel anxious. I find it harder to relax, and I spend more time worrying about what could be wrong with me instead of thinking about what to cook for dinner or what to buy my girlfriend for her birthday. Continue reading

An excuse a day keeps the doctor away

I was having dinner with friends one evening when I felt a numbness in my chest. I thought maybe it was from something spicy I had eaten, so I excused myself from the table and walked to the bathroom. I splashed water on my face and paced in the stall, hoping the feeling would go away. But it just got worse, spreading from my chest to my left arm. My hands grew cold and clammy.

I went to the hospital later that night, and found out that my blood pressure was unusually high: 160/90. She asked me to return the following morning for a laboratory tests, including a blood test. I, of course, didn’t go back.

I’ve always felt like I could take care of my health on my own, just by eating properly and getting plenty of exercise. I’m stubborn too, which I inherited from my parents. I’ve watched my mother drag herself into work for a 12-hour shift for the seventh day in a row, when most people would have been bedridden. My father didn’t like to go to the doctor either.

A few weeks before he died when I was 10, we were playing catch in front of our house when I hit accidentally him in the thigh with a baseball. A bruise that should have been the size of a golf ball swelled to the size of a grapefruit. He promised he’d get it checked out but kept putting off making an appointment. He didn’t realize it at the time, but his blood wasn’t clotting like it was supposed to. He finally made an appointment for a Tuesday. He suffered an abdominal aneurysm two days before the scheduled appointment, and died on a Sunday. Continue reading