Confessions of a TCM practitioner
Ms Zhang Ruifen, 30, a registered traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician with Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic, sees patients, prescribes Chinese medicine and does acupuncture, among other treatments.
In her five years in the profession, she has seen a gamut of patients.
Among them are macho guys who exude an air of nonchalance and calm, but the facade quickly fades when acupuncture needles appear.
Says Ms Zhang: "Sometimes, they are so scared, they kick."
Her reflexes are quick enough so she has not gotten hurt so far.
When asked about the weirdest experience, she talks about the time a male patient had to have treatment on his lower back.
She told him to pull down his pants a little.
He could have misunderstood because the next thing she knew, he'd dropped his pants entirely and yes, he was sans underwear.
Ms Zhang was shocked, but maintained her cool.
"It would have been quite embarrassing if I had reacted and made him put on his pants again. So I just laid a towel over him and continued with the treatment.
"His back was facing me. I was okay - it wasn't embarrassing," says the married mother of one.
Ms Zhang graduated with a double degree - a Bachelor of Science in biomedical sciences from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and a Bachelor of Medicine (Chinese Medicine) from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. It is a joint programme - she spent three years at NTU, then two years in Beijing.
Her job is not easy. She works 12-hour days from 10am to 10pm, and one day of the weekend every week.
She says: "At the end of the day, you get quite tired as you have to do acupuncture, cupping and see patients."
But there are perks. She can take care of her family's health.
She says with a smile: "My husband has not seen a Western doctor for a long time."
Similarly for herself, she takes precautions to avoid falling sick, such as not eating spicy and fried foods.
"You know how to avoid certain foods and what to take if you are not feeling so good."
But she confesses that when prevention fails, she does visit a regular general practitioner.
She says: "Usually, if I know I am going to fall sick, I will treat myself first.
"If it is a very fast onset, such as a sudden high fever, and I have to work the next day, I will see a Western doctor to bring down the immediate symptoms first."
She is not allowed to prescribe medical certificates for herself.
She finds that people gravitate towards her for more information about their health.
Says Ms Zhang: "You always get enquiries from relatives or mum's friends. I'll share what they can do."
Whenever she meets someone new, they are surprised when she tells them she is a TCM physician.
Their immediate reaction?
"They would shove their wrists over and ask, 'Am I healthy?'"
TCM physicians use the pulse points in the wrists to make a diagnosis about a person's health.
In her work, she has seen patients ask oblique questions about terminating pregnancies with herbs: "They would be seeing me for other ailments, but they would slip the questions in and want to know more.
"We decline because it is against our code of ethics."
On the flip side, she's delivered good news to women who didn't know they were pregnant. She has seen three such cases in the last five years.
She says: "They seek treatment for indigestion and a bloated stomach. They didn't think they could be pregnant."
It turned out that all three were definitely pregnant - a good catch as certain herbs can be dangerous to them.
Her biggest satisfaction: when her patients recover. She says: "You get to see different sorts of people and it is nice to see them get well."
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
- Warm your hands up. Your patients will not appreciate the shock of cold hands on their body.
- When patients are afraid, distract them by talking to them.
- During a cupping treatment, have a timer handy so you don’t leave the cups on the patient for too long.