Joe Mc Sweyn L.Ac. O.M.D.
The short story..
I’m an herbalist, acupuncturist. I’ve been in practice for almost 30 years. I make custom formulas from individual Chinese herbs. I’ve been into health foods and exercise since 1975 so I understand how important exercise and nutrition may be for a patient. And, I’ve been around the block long enough to understand the interplay of physiological and psychological conditions and how they influence each other to cause problems for my patients. I’m old enough to know the rules and the exceptions to them, and young enough to remember when all that doesn’t matter. The testimonials are a good representation of the effectiveness of what I’m lucky enough to get to participate in. OK that was short and sweet, here’s the long form….
How I got involved
What has now become quite some time ago, I started studying Chinese medicine. I was considering chiropractic college when my mother hurt her back. Her doctor took xrays and determined nothing was broken. So he gave her pain pills and sent her to a physical therapist. She wouldn’t take the pain pills, walked in to her first visit with a physical therapist and came out in a wheelchair. She could no longer lie down, because if she did she couldn’t get back up. She was sleeping in a chair for six days when we took her to an acupuncturist, and in one treatment she was fine again. That acupuncturist was also a chiropractor and when my mother mentioned to him that I was interested in chiropractic college he suggested I investigate acupuncture college. I stopped by the school one night and looked in on a class. The teacher had a guy laying on a table on his back with needles in his ears and wires clipped to them through which he applied DC current. I had been around the block a few times but that did raise my eyebrows. It probably set off a few alarms in my memory banks because having a needle pierce my skin was something I always tried to avoid. When I was growing up my family doctor preferred to give us an injection of antibiotics rather than pills. That experience no doubt imprinted enough negative reinforcement in me that I would never consider a tattoo or piercing in my life thus far. So when the option of pursuing a career where I would have to put needles into people presented itself, any trepidations were alleviated by the fact that I didn’t have to put them into myself. Then when I started school and found out I was going to have to be my own Guinea pig sometimes, I had to have a little man to man talk with myself about that. The result was that I still freaked out but not enough to lose it. And to this day I’m not first in line eager for acupuncture. Herbs, on the other hand….
Chinese Herbal Medicine
There’s an old blues song that talks about how nobody loves me except my mother and she might be jiving me too. Well I knew my mother wasn’t jiving me about the pain she was in and the improvement that she got from the acupuncture for her back. So I was already sold on the concept of acupuncture being effective for the relief of pain due to muscles that are in spasm. And I had a healthy respect for herbal medicine having gotten into a Health Foods and exercise about seven years before I started school. Herbal medicine was a natural offshoot of that endeavour. I experienced a “proving” if you will, that herbs could do amazing things. At the ripe old age of 25 my vision started to fail to the point where I couldn’t focus on the written word for the first time in my life. Everyone else in my family wore glasses and I figured it was my turn. I did some investigating found out about an herb called eyebright, bought some and used it, and my vision returned in three days. And I didn’t need glasses for about a decade after that. So I knew herbs could do some pretty powerful things, but after I started school I had one of those light bulb moments when I realized that the Chinese were the only vast population on this earth that have an unbroken line of communication stretching back thousands of years about the plants or substances that you can use therapeutically. Most other cultures were conquered by someone else and their information was destroyed. The Chinese on the other hand fought with themselves but preserved their medical knowledge. The great wall effectively insulated them from the outside world. That information survives to this day. The trial and error process that proved the usefulness of these herbs is based on millions of people over thousands of years. To me that carried a lot of weight because most of the information on the herbs that I studied up until that time did not have anywhere near that kind of track record. That was when the light bulb lit about standing the test of time and how much that validated the knowledge. It was quite the reinforcing epiphany to help with the nightmares and palpitations from the stress of school.
Pharmacological properties of herbs
So I knew the information was there and that it wasn’t going to be easy to acquire. I was fortunate enough to have some great teachers and connected with one in my second year of school who was to become my herbal mentor. He taught me a different way of justifying the application of Chinese herbs for the patient. One that is based on the pharmacological properties of the herbs. The rationale for the use of which particular Chinese herbs are best to prescribe for the patient is based on an understanding of the concepts and Chinese medicine. Dampness in the Spleen for example, is not a western Medical concept. But once you understand what it is in Chinese medicine you can translate the condition into a western Medical paradigm. Rather than dealing with a translation of a Chinese character, or written word, into a phonetic representation of what it’s supposed to sound like in English and applying it to the western concepts that your patients give you as their complaints, this alternative view allows you to have fewer things get lost in the translation from Chinese into English. If you speak another language fluently you can see the differences in the way things are said in one language, and how some things don’t translate very well. And when they don’t, the translator has to change the wording so that it makes sense in the other language. The skill of the translator is very important. When I started school there were two different translators that sometimes disagreed about the spelling of certain syllables that represented the phonetics of the spoken Chinese words. Which could muddy the waters, for example…Xiao, Ciao, and Shao might all sound the same to your ear that could be spelled differently depending on who translated it. When I was in school in China in Nanjing we had a patient in the hospital that my interpreter could not understand at all. She said it was because the patient spoke with a Shanghai dialect. Shanghai is not that far from Nanjing. I rest my case.
My view is…. The use of Chinese herbs based on their pharmacological properties, to me is like math, it’s logical, it makes sense, and there’s only one right answer… Mostly.