Medicine: Yang, Yin and Needles

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What do Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, Premier Lon Nol of Cambodia and Columnist James Reston of the New York Times have in common with uncounted, unknown Asians? All have recently undergone acupuncture, the ancient Chinese practice of inserting needles into various parts of the body to treat a catalogue of ills from arthritis to impotence. The prominence of these patients, and displays of acupuncture for the benefit of American visitors to mainland China, have increased interest in the treatment without diminishing its mystery.

> Bernhard's first experience with acupuncture dates back a year. Visiting Singapore, he suffered a recurrence of the severe pain in his back, left shoulder and arm that dates from a 1937 auto accident. Bernhard was treated by Yong Keng-ngoh, a Chinese acupuncturist, and immediately felt better. Two months ago, again afflicted, Bernhard wrote to the Singapore doctor and was referred to Yong's son, Dr. Yong Chai-siow, of London's Harley Street. The younger Yong diagnosed the problem as constipation, not the accident's legacy. Yong worked his needles for two days, after which the patient, 60, proclaimed that he felt ten years younger.

> Lon Nol had a massive stroke last winter and was flown to Honolulu, where he got the best treatment that Western medicine can offer. He made a good but partial recovery. Back in Phnom-Penh, he asked for acupuncture. For a month a Taiwanese doctor inserted needles as deep as three inches in Lon Nol's muscles and joints; the patient improved further. Of course, a stroke victim who is fortunate enough to have a good initial recovery usually will continue to progress for a year or two; added benefit from treatment cannot be assessed.

> Reston's emergency operation for appendicitis* at Peking's Anti-Imperialist Hospital went smoothly, but 36 hours later he was "in considerable discomfort if not pain" from gas pressure distending his stomach and intestines. With the patient's approval, the hospital's acupuncture specialist inserted three needles in Reston's right elbow and below the knee. He twisted them "to stimulate the intestine." Reported Reston: "That sent ripples of pain racing through my limbs and at least had the effect of diverting my attention from the distress in my stomach." Next, the doctor resorted to another traditional Chinese treatment called moxibustion: he lit two pieces of an herb called ai or ngai (Artemisia vulgaris, or wormwood) and held the smoldering wads near Reston's abdomen. Reston soon felt better, but could not attempt to explain why.

Red Revival. For these VIPs, the acupuncturists used only their traditional methods. For many Chinese patients, the doctors now show greater daring. They use acupuncture as the only apparent anaesthetic for surgery, including heart operations. Western minds cannot fathom how this can possibly work.

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