After writing last week’s post on our use of acupressure here at Centers for Healing, I was reminded of a true story about an even more dramatic application of Oriental meridian theory to contemporary medical practice.
A Distinguished Cardiologist
Dr. Bernard Lown, a world renowned cardiologist, tells the story in his book, “The Lost Art of Healing. Practicing Compassion in Medicine.” Lown has the distinction of being the inventor of the modern defibrillator, now a standard fixture in cardiac units around the globe.
Lown’s story so remarkable precisely because of his status as a classically-trained, Western physician. In other words, the bias against “alternative medicine” is nearly unavoidable.
West Meets East
However, in Chapter 9, “Extraordinary Healing Techniques,” Lown gives an eyewitness account of the use of acupuncture as a substitute for anesthesia in a heart surgery performed in the People’s Republic of China in 1973.
The story is so powerful that I have to quote it directly from the book. I want you to hear it in Lown’s own words, with my emphasis in bold type:
The patient, a young man in his early twenties with a ventricular septal defect, walked into the operating room of a leading Shanghai hospital. After shaking hands with each of the eight visiting Americans, he lay down on the operating table and surgery was performed. The room was bare except for an oxygen tank, a sphygomanometer, and a primitive-looking pump oxygenator. He was draped for the operation, an intravenous was started, and a thin rubber tubing to provide oxygen was inserted in a nostril. Several acupuncture needles were then inserted in his ear and in his left wrist. After about fifteen minutes he appeared to be dozing. He was then connected to the ancient bypass machine to provide external pumping of his blood.
The surgeon was masterfully skilled and extraordinarily quick. In no time at all he had opened the chest and electrically fibrillated the heart to stop its contractions. Ventricular fibrillation is an ultrarapid chaotic rhythm in which heart pumping ceases, enabling the surgeon to have a quiet field for his work. In the absence of an external assist pumping device, the patient would die within a few minutes.
Standing at the head of the operating table, I could intimately observe the patient’s face. The entire scene was eerie and totally unreal for those of us trained in Western medicine. Several times during the operation, the patient opened his eyes and talked, though he was without any cardiac contractions. A distinguished American surgeon standing close by kept nudging me in disbelief and repeating, ‘Are you seeing what I am seeing?’ He whispered that we were being subjected to some Chinese trick of mass hypnosis.
The patient moaned only twice, each time when the surgeon encountered excessive bleeding, which he had difficulty in clamping rapidly. As the patient was surgically draped and could not see what was going on in his own chest cavity, and as the surgeon remained silent, I was mystified as to the cues the patient was picking up. When the surgeon had the situation under control, the patient relaxed as well.
As the operation was coming to an end and they were closing the chest, I began to worry about how they would revert the fibrillating heart, for no cardiac defibrillator was in sight in the technologically empty operating theater. When the thoracic cage was closed, they rolled in a vintage defibrillator, indistinguishable from the one I had introduced more than a decade earlier (see Chapter 13). They placed the electrode paddles against the chest wall and delivered an electrical discharge, which instantly restored a normal rhythm. The doctors and nurses then lined up in front of me, bowed, and said, ‘Thank you for serving the people.’ The patient sat up, once again shook hands with everyone, seated himself in a wheelchair, and was rolled into the recovery room. (pp. 130-31)
The Tale Tells Itself
Wow! I don’t know about you, but this blows me away. In fact, I’m going to save my comments (you didn’t really think I wouldn’t have any, did you?) for next week’s post.
After all, Lown’s story speaks for itself.
Meridian theory, whether applied through acupressure or acupuncture, is powerful stuff, indeed.
Until next week,