all together, with feeling now

Window of relief.

So, remember how I told you I sought TCM for help with my eczema?

Well, here’s the update. Not entirely how I expected it to turn out, but nonetheless.

As a result of my consultation with a doctor at Eu Yan Sang Specialist TCM Centre at Camden Medical, I was prescribed sachets of herbal powder to take for a week. The doctor diagnosed my eczema as a cause of heatiness, as well as genetic make-up. She felt my eczema was going to be hard to treat, and I should not expect any miracles.

I went away a little saddened at another door half-closed in my face, but my mum and Marc persuaded me to cheer up and be optimistic. Less than two days into taking the powder, my eczema was getting angrier and redder. My skin had started to break into a bumpy, itchy rash. This was no eczema; it was allergic dermatitis. Also known as an allergic reaction to the medicines prescribed.

Great. So not only was my eczema not better, it gave me more problems. Now, this wouldn’t incense me as much if the physician had been helpful and constructive with his/her advice. This lady I saw was utterly unhelpful and negative. She gave plenty of ‘grey area’ answers to simple questions, such as “It’s hard to say”, “Maybe… maybe not”. (Was the rash a result of the medication? Hard to say. Can my eczema be treated? Hard to say. Should I continue with TCM? Maybe, maybe not.)

She told me point-blank she didn’t really think I could be treated (even though medical research and anecdotal evidence show that TCM has helped alleviate chronic eczema like mine), told me that “quite frankly, any TCM you approach is likely to tell you your condition can’t be cured”, and was very unwilling to offer any suggestions into how I could successfully manage the horrible symptoms of itch and pain that I suffer every day. 

 Only after much prompting and to-and-fro-ing, did she admit that acupuncture may help alleviate the itch. She did NOT tell this to me during my first consultation with me – only on a second phone call with her, did this advice emerge.

My issues are :

1. As my physician, she has been unhelpful and overly negative, emphasizing her own helplessness, to the point of abandoning treatment or assistance in alleviating physical symptoms. This is both psychologically demoralizing for me as the patient, and as a physician I believe she should have chosen either to refer me to someone who would believe in treating me (if your doctor doesn’t believe in the possibility of your healing, or in the management of your discomfort, what help can she possibly render you?), or tell me not to waste my time with TCM (since she ‘genuinely’ believes TCM won’t be of much help to me). 

2. I have consistently told her that if cure is not possible, what I seek is for control and management of the chronic itch and painful dryness. She has not voluntarily offered up any treatments in relation to managing patient discomfort – I had to ask her if acupuncture would help before she confirmed it. 

3. She claims surprise that I reacted to the TCM medicine, saying I’m a “rare and unique” case. A Nov-08 Singapore Institute of Dermatology paper on TCM in dermatology shows that such allergic reactions to TCM medication are common, especially allergic contact dermatitis like mine.

Anyhoooo. Sigh. So after all that sucky itching and putting up with the rash, I went to see a GP and get some oral corticosteroids and antihistamines. The rash has gone down now (Day 3 of medications), and thankfully my eczema has shown signs of improvement. But then, of course, corticosteroids do that to you, and in the long term they can be very harmful and worrying for your body. 

Having said that, however, I am for the first time in months, feeling relief. Relief from the constant compulsion and nagging physiological reflex to scratch an all-over itch that never subsides. Visual relief, in seeing the bumpy scars flatten out and subside a little. Mental relief from feeling that burden of resisting itch every minute, every day. 

It’s great to be on this side of the fence. I know it’s only temporary (probably till I discontinue my steroids), but this window of relief gives me a much-needed physical and mental ‘holiday’ to regroup, and breathe a little easier. This symptomatic relief gives me new (I’m not sure if it’s unfounded) hope  – even if this useless TCM physician cannot offer me any help, maybe there’re other ways out there. I cannot stop asking questions, I cannot stop seeking new information, I cannot stop listening to my body and its cries for help. Something’s not right, and I may be able to do something about it. Few things are more valuable to me than knowing that, right now.

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