Listening, Waiting, then Doing…

Tuning Into Patient Needs

There are many language barriers in our world, but especially in the domain of medicine.  When a person is trying to communicate that something is just not right, or their condition, the words are sometimes not all there to express what is actually going on.  Especially when the condition is worsening, or painful, it can be hard to express the cause, the emotion, the reality.  Words are not the end-all and be-all of the exchange, and listening with more than ears is required.

But how does one do this?  The so-called bedside manner is really just an ability to empathize.  When I was in training, instructors would talk about “active listening,” which meant repeating what was said, and acknowledging the person’s reality with appropriate comments. While this is helpful, a practitioner must also find a way to unearth all the needed information to make a correct diagnosis.

Chinese medicine diagnosis has certain benefits that allow for more and fuller understanding of a patient’s needs. For one, taking a more thorough pulse diagnosis than that performed by a physician is part of everyday practice. There are 8 positions in the pulse, and reading the organ health is both an art and a science. It can take years to polish this skill. By taking into account all the organ pulses (Spleen, Liver, Lung, Gallbladder, i.e.) one can find out where areas of circulatory blockage are located.

Oftentimes, palpation of the abdomen and back are also performed. These can offer useful information regarding the patient’s internal health. It is also good to ask about tension in the ribcage, shoulders, legs, and other areas.  We tend to hold tension in areas of disturbance. This might mean only muscle tension, but it can also indicate deeper issues involving Liver, Gallbladder, Spleen and Kidney.  The body will often show early signs of imbalance by creating tension along that meridian, and this is a good time to seek treatment.

Looking at the tongue shows presence of internal Cold, Heat, or Stagnation. The tongue is a map of all the internal organs. A blueish purple tongue body signifies internal Cold, meaning not enough blood is circulating to that particular area of the body.  Red shows heat, and this one often occurs with insomnia — a red tongue tip in the region of the Heart.  We also look at the coat, shape, and cracks or fissures.

All of these signs and symptoms, along with the patient’s health history reporting, leads to a more clear and understandable presentation of the problem.


In the world of medicine, listening is perhaps one of the most important skills, because it leads to knowledge, awareness, and understanding.




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