Friday, May 3, 2013

Getting the Needle in Birmingham

Just spent the weekend in Birmingham, not the first place in the world that would be associated with acupuncture but as a venue for a conference it was interesting.  Birmingham Midlands UK this is.
                                                              (shiny Birmingham)

Not Birmingham Alabama.
(a warm version  of Birmingham)

Birmingham is famous for three things at least.  Because I am about to list four.

Having more canals than Venice

Fabulous curry houses
                                                   is your  mouth watering yet?
                                                                        or yet?
Cadburys chocolate.

And this guy - Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra.

The other thing (five!) is the Bullring which has this famous statue.  Every time we walked past it, it had some drunk on top of it, under it, round it, sitting on its head. It has a lot to put up with. Scale wise, it's about four and a half meters long, made of solid bronze, weighs six and a half tonnes and still has to be nailed down.
The Bull Ring is the major commercial area of Birmingham, important to the local economy since the Middle Ages when the first market was held. The first shopping centre was built here in the 1960s.  Then another was built with more security and higher end shops and was renamed the Bullring - one word. I was surprised that it has such a collection of designer shops, jewellers and watch shops in a city that I would not have said  was rolling in wealth. I saw a ten thousand pound mobile phone. I mean, why?
I read that the Bullring is built in a sandstone ridge that drops 15 metres from New Street to St Martins Church. I think that's why we kept getting confused ... going in on the ground floor, up two escalators and still coming out on the ground floor. It has about 40 million visitors per annum.

Brummies, as the locals are known, have a strange accent. An associate of mine is a professor in something useless ... HR, or marketing, or advertising or some rubbish like that. He told me that he had done a lot of research into trusted accents for call centre location.  Scottish accents (Sean Connery) and the Newcastle accent (Cheryl Cole) are the most trusted accents for two reasons - they are  classless and perceived to be  friendly because they have an automatic Australian inflection. That wee uplift at the end of a sentence that psychologically invites a response.
 The conference was organised by the British Medical Acupuncture Society  who are summed up by this statement.
"  Acupuncture probably originated in China, where it is used as one of a range of treatments provided within Traditional Chinese Medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine is often called TCM. Although TCM is taught in medical schools in China, TCM doctors have a very different way of looking at how the human body works. The TCM idea of disease and symptoms is hard to reconcile with knowledge from modern medicine. You should note that China also trains large numbers of conventional medical doctors. It is a myth to believe that TCM is the only treatment available for the billions of people who live in modern day China. In fact, the Chinese seem to live with a mixture of both TCM and modern medicine.
Many Western doctors accept that acupuncture treatment does work in a wide range of conditions and for a variety of patients. We want to use this treatment to help our patients. However, our modern medical knowledge makes it very hard for Western doctors to accept the principles of TCM - which to many Western doctors do not fit with their understanding of how the body works."

One of the most interesting lectures  was by a western doctor and acupuncturist who had studied extensively in China exploring the cultural differences of medicine over time.
There is 'truth decay' of medicine- i.e. basically all medical knowledge has a half life, usually about thirty years. Fifty per cent of what a doctor was taught thirty years ago is now untrue.  In the fields of immunology and liver science, the half life is seven or eight years. So it's interesting to see how the language of China three thousand years ago is interpreted by us who do westernised acupuncture.  Just look at this picture, she is all we aspire to in western society, young, slim, fit, healthy and hydrating.
Our ancient Chinese counterparts would see her as a TB victim - big sweats, weight loss,  thirst etc. If we sneeze we have the cold. If a terracotta warrior sneezed he would have the plague and no friends. A book written in the plague times of 1643 is still being used as a text book for TCM today so  you can see how that might  not work - or does it?
Practitioners of traditional Chinese acupuncture might never question that the population of old China was a very different population to ours. Many conditions are prescribed boiled food and eat  nothing fresh. That's because the soil contamination was so bad they needed to boil to kill the bugs.  Nowadays we do not eat enough fresh/raw food.

It's a case of 'junk and gems together'.  There are historical, linguistic issues and the perception of illness itself can be problematic. Two big drug companies noticed that their worldwide anti depressants were not selling in Japan, because Japanese do not consider depression an illness.  The direct translation might be stagnation ...  a time for personal reflection, a time for growth to a better character. But  not an 'illness' as such.
Chinese today still complain of running piglet disease (inguinal hernia) and a thing called stuffy chest - translated as that feeling in your chest just before a thunderstorm. But then we talk about butterflies in our stomach and everybody knows what we mean. Another favourite symptom is weak back and first glance it sounds weird but then ... does it sound like that feeling before you decide to sit down and have a cuppa? Because the Chinese have no history of psychology, their own 'psychology' is reflected on the body, not on the mind.   Stressed and depressed? They do yoga, tai chi. We take Prozac until it ceases to work proving that they might be short term treatments. In the long term depressed patients  are prescribed more exercise... tai chi and yoga come to mind.
Think of post traumatic stress disorder/ shellshock /hysterical paralysis or the awful phrase - low moral fibre. All these terms have been used in wartime in Britain over the last 100 years and the  diagnosis of 'low moral fibre' is more recent than you might suppose.
After the 2004 tsunami American psychologists and councillors flew out to help with the PTSD in Sri Lanka only to find that there wasn't any.  The locals were busy rebuilding their huts and their lives, they mourned loved ones and the loss of a society but the devastation meant they had to 'act'.  And that makes sense to me - a huge trauma, then a kinship, a feeling of in this boat together, physically being busy and useful ... needed and wanted. A sense of belonging. It reminded me of the three people I know with PTSD from war time, they all complain of feeling useless. But they were all removed from their  bigger society, the army, and brought back to a society where nobody can understand what they have been through, knowing that the army has no use for them in the short or long term.
But maybe there is no difference at all in the culture of medicine, just the same thing from a different perspective.  The disease Koro is a shrinking of one part of the male anatomy that they do not want to shrink.  If westerners do not suffer from that then why is all spam about Viagra?  But Koro is  so prevalent in some African societies it has now been identified as a possible "cultural relative" of body dysmorphic disorder.
Do you think that ten grand mobile phone has an app that cures such shrinkage? Or if you can afford a phone at ten grand maybe the shrinkage does not matter! :)

Caro GB 03 05 2013


  1. Very interesting-maybe some of mental disturbance is matter of definition. Love the pictures, and, yes, they made me hungry.

  2. Ta, it was an interesting few days. Good to see very traditional British Drs having a look at a bigger picture, and I think we all walked away with a better point of view.

  3. Jeff Lynne! nice to see him getting a mention - a hugely underrated musician/songwriter.

  4. You could have titled this "Koro Sutures," and spanned all sides of the argument. Sounds like a fascinating conference, so pleased do me a favor, Caro, and bring your needles to Bristol as my knee is killing me.

  5. Jeff Lynne's work with ELO was thoroughly professional, fluffy, sweet empty-calorie pop music.

    His first band, The Move, in which he was partnered with Roy Wood, was kind of amazing. They made a noise like a smart, sly brontosaurus on acid.

    That last sentence might seem odd, until you hear a cut by the Move.