As a student of the East West Herb Course I have found that I have made many mistakes while attempting to correct imbalances. I prefer to think of them as learning what not to do and am posting this case in the hope that my experience will help others learn also.
Recently my husband developed a sore throat.
Mistake #1: This was the third sore throat that he has had in about one year’s time. I treated the past two bouts with a strong decoction of honeysuckle tea. He is a Pitta constitutional type and it seemed to work wonders. I did not, however, add cooling diaphoretics.
Mistake #2: I did exactly what an herbalist trained in energetics should NOT do. I made him another strong decoction of honeysuckle tea assuming that this sore throat was the same as others he had had in the past. I was not looking at the possibility it could actually be the old sore throat revisited after having moved inward and creating a Half Internal/ Half External disease. This time the honeysuckle made him much worse.
Mistake #3: Suddenly he started displaying signs of coldness. Feeling cold, fatigue, swollen glands, no appetite, etc. Did the first two mistakes dawn on me yet? Heavens no. Out of sheer confusion I decided to just “do the opposite” and decocted a strong brew of fresh ginger tea. He drank 3 cups throughout the day and by evening he was noticing improvement (although he had also taken aspirin). Unfortunately, the next morning his sore throat had returned and he was also having trouble with an earache as well. Is it any wonder? Had the original Wind/Heat sore throat progressed inward, resulting in Interior Cold with External Wind/Heat? The honeysuckle aggravated the Internal Cold and the ginger aggravated the External Wind/Heat. These two reactions would suggest that.
He decided that he had better see a doctor and was given an antibiotic. This was on a Monday and by Friday he had gone downhill fast with even more severe cold symptoms. He had now also developed a bad cough with a lot of mucus. His throat was just as bad and his ear was worse with a fever of 101 degrees.
Sunday night the fever was up to 102 and I gave him a few garlic pills thinking that if it was a cold disease the garlic might help to bring the fever down by equalizing his body temperature somewhat. His fever started to subside to 101 within an hour or two and that was the first night in days where his breathing and coughing didn’t keep both of us up half the night.
Mistake #4: I continued to not see this picture clearly. I was thinking that the antibiotic was exerting far too cooling of an effect on his body and was slowing down his metabolism. I still believe this part to be true, as antibiotics are from what I understand very cooling in nature, much like antibiotic herbs yet stronger. Throughout the weekend I had been using lots of garlic powder (I did not have fresh on hand) and fresh ginger in his food in an attempt to warm him up, but his temperature continued to rise. When I gave him the garlic pills they helped, but not for the reason that I originally thought.
Explanation: Viruses and bacteria are considered to be toxins, and toxins are considered to be heat. The antibiotic, although cooling in nature was doing nothing to combat the pathogen (whether it be bacterial or viral), it was merely slowing his body processes down to the point of where the pathogen could proliferate even more than if nothing had been done at all. Cold also creates a damp environment and the body is not able to adequately discharge invaders. Much like a stagnant pool of water, a breeding ground. The addition of ginger and garlic powder (zero therapeutic attributes) contributed to the heat and would have only encouraged the temperature to rise. The garlic pills may have retained some of their therapeutic properties (anti-bacterial/viral) resulting in a reduction in temperature by reducing the pathogen.
I asked him to go off of the antibiotic and let me treat him with herbs but he refused. He returned to the doctor the following day and was prescribed a different antibiotic. That night was horrid. Another 102 fever and he was literally up ALL night coughing. I was really starting to become frightened and the following morning I convinced him to stop taking the new antibiotic. I believe that he was simply too weak and frustrated to disagree.
Mistake #5: It was sink or swim time. I gave him garlic pills to take every four hours along with echinacea and half the amount of composition powder to be taken every two hours. I STILL WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION. The nature of the disease had changed. The previous night he was warm (throwing off covers) rather than shivering cold with his fever. That morning he had also developed a rash on his legs. By evening his fever rose to 103.
Fortunately the East West Study Group happened to be in session. Susan Kramer and the other students in the group were very kind to help me out and I followed their advice. I was now dealing with an unquestionable Wind/Heat disease. I could no longer incorporate anything that was heating in nature. I gave him 1000 mg of vitamin C, echinacea every two hours and I mixed up a cooling diaphoretic of boneset, mint, yarrow and chamomile. About an hour later, the fever went back down to 102 and his breathing was quiet, only waking up once in the middle of the night. I continued with the echinacea and the cooling diaphoretic (every two hours). His temperature gradually reduced back to normal in four days with his condition once again resembling a pattern of Interior Cold. At this point the sore throat was gone and mucus had turned from green to clear. He said that his ear didn’t hurt but that it still felt plugged up and continued to have trouble hearing. The cough showed no improvement.
Mistake #6: My husband is an engineer and has a difficult time accepting the concepts of Chinese Medicine. I knew that since he had passed the crisis point, he would no longer want my help unless I could make improvements in his ear and cough in a day’s time. I was so weary by then and felt so rushed that I guessed. I DID NOT RE-ASSESS THE SITUATION (you’d think I’d start learning by now). I went with the treatment listed in the course material for Otitis Media ‘¦ echinacea and composition powder. Knowing that he was prone to Wind/Heat, I should have seen that the composition powder would not be appropriate for him. I believe I should have looked for a harmonizing formula that would address the conditions that he would have exhibited at that time. Although his symptoms did not worsen, they did not improve and the next morning he went back on the antibiotic. That was five days ago, and his condition remains the same.
I have always read that a fever is the result of your body “fighting off the offenders” and could never quite grasp the concept. After this experience I am viewing fever in a very different way. In this case at least, it appeared as though the pathogen (a form of heat) proliferated to the point of overriding the internal cold, producing internal heat. The Yang became greater than the Yin. Whether the echinacea destroyed the pathogen on its own or merely prompted his body to fight it off is immaterial; the fever came down as a result of the toxins being eliminated. Had I continued with warming stimulants, I could see where an “anything in the extreme will ultimately produce the opposite” type of reaction would have occurred, but I don’t believe that to be the case here. The fact that he went back on the antibiotic five days ago and has not developed another fever like the first time, also suggests to me that at least the majority of the pathogen has been resolved. He’s just walking around like a zombie in a very cold, slow state, going nowhere fast. This certainly concerns me but I must let him “find his own way.” I will just continue to study, watch and learn.
The next time this happens, I intend to also take Michael’s advice on using a few different antibacterial/viral herbs. I was in such a tizzy. I can’t help but wonder now that if I had mixed the echinacea with olive leaf and goldenseal, would there have been improvement in the ear and cough symptoms? Guess I’ll have to wait for this “bug” to revisit to find out.
—- Lynn Durst
A postscript from Michael Tierra:
Often we can learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. When it comes to treating acute infectious diseases, no one, however experienced they may be, is always successful in treatment. One of the reasons, as seen by this candid real-life experience, is because the nature of such diseases can change even hourly. The lessons from this experience, all too familiar to me, remind us of several things:
1. Trust and believe the principles of diagnosis and treating these diseases — it is not simply a matter of take garlic or cayenne for a cold or fever. Sometimes they are right and sometimes, not.
2. While immersed in the labyrinthine reasoning of TCM theory and its extensive materia medica, don’t forget the potency and value of our local herbs such as boneset and lemon balm for treating such conditions. These are powerfully effective herbs and grow on our own continent.
3. Understand that anacin, vitamin C and antibiotics, besides being drugs, also have energies according to which they are probably just as often wrongly prescribed as they may be appropriate.
One other note: During the third century, one of the greatest herbalists of Chinese medicine, considered the “father of Chinese clinical herbalism,” Chang Chung Ching (142-220) developed his landmark work, the Shang Han Lun, on the treatment of acute diseases caused by external cold i.e. colds, flus and fevers. It describes 108 formulas and is considered the cornerstone of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine for treating these conditions. The book was written in response to the fact that during Chang’s lifetime, there was a plague of (probably) influenza that killed most of his extended family. The Shang Han Lun is an excellent basic resource for anyone wishing to become proficient at treating colds and flus.