TCM: Cultivating Compassion in Clinic



"Stinky feet are the worst," said Colton in class one day.  "When patients come in after working all day..." he trailed off.

Colton lied.

In the first year of practice I had a woman come see me for a breast infection.  She told me that the medical doctor had left it open so the infection could weep.  It smelled horrid and I'd never seen such a thing.  I did my best as an inexperienced acupuncturist - I treated her 'Damp-Heat'.  A few visits in and a family member of hers came to the clinic with said patient.  "Did she tell you the truth?" the family member asked as the patient was receiving acupuncture in a private room.  "Um, the truth about what?" I asked.  "She has cancer.  It's not some breast infection like she's been telling everyone."

The patient came a few more times and then said she'd call to rebook.  Then her family member stopped in - the patient had been carrying her groceries, whilst being told not to lift anything heavy, started to bleed out and passed away on her lawn.

In my second year of practice I had a patient ask if I could help him with his bowel concerns.  He told me that he had bloating, pain and severe smelly flatulence.  When I would put needles in him I would check how he felt at the 5-minute mark - like I do with all my patients.  I walked into a wall of flatulence-stench like no other.  I knew the acupuncture was helping to relieve all the bloating and pain as his bowels released their gas into the clinic.

He had a family member drop him off one day.  "Did my husband tell you why he has such bowel problems?" she asked.  "Yes," I responded, "he has stress."  "He's an alcoholic.  He's going in for surgery and a bag in a couple of weeks."

I have treated cancer, ALS and MS.  I have dealt with a manic patient who took all their needles out, turned up the music and started dancing (she found them all!).  I have caught someone's vomit - multiple times.  I have also seen my share of yeast growing underneath skin folds, and feces that had been mashed up to a patient's lower back.

I have cultivated compassion for all these patients, being as gentle and helpful as I can trying to put myself in their shoes.

And with everything I have seen in clinic to date: I'm really okay with smelly feet.

Kenton Sefcik