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Why I Don't Say "Qi"

Yin yang symbol lying on its side in the center of a lime green square

If someone is in a car accident and they are unconscious, quickly losing blood, I am not going to say, “Wait! Let’s fix their qi before they get on the operating table. Yin Tang could really help calm their spirit right now.”

While acupuncture has been shown in research time and time again to calm the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response) and help it stabilize from shock, you’re not going to catch me talking about “qi” in that way.


Because using Chinese medical terminology is only helpful for someone who has studied acupuncture theory.

But if you haven’t, which accounts for about 98% of the population and the majority of the people we work with in the clinic, then using terms like “qi”, “zang fu”, “wei”, “dai mai"...doesn’t help anyone.

It might make me look fancy for a minute.

Look at me, I know interesting words. Some of them are big and hard to say. Some are in a different language. Does that mean I’m smart? Maybe.

But using cryptic words to tell someone what is wrong with them or how I am going to help them is a dis-service.

Just like it is a dis-service for western medical doctors to tell someone who has been suffering from really intense morning sickness that they have “hyperemesis.”

Or when someone has an annoying red rash around their eyes and a dermatologist says “you have periorbicular dermatitis.”

Let’s break down some medical terminology:


hyper = a lot

emesis = throwing up

→ You’ve got a case of… “a lot of throwing up.”


peri = around

orb = disc, circle

ocular = eyes

derm/derma = skin

itis = redness, inflammation

→ You’ve got a case of “redness and inflammation on your skin in a circle around your eyes.”

Yeah, thanks. Tell me something I don’t know.

Tell me something that helps me understand what is wrong and what I can do about it.

There is nothing more annoying and frustrating than seeking out a specialist to help figure out a weird health condition. And to be met with a handful of words and a prescription. And a massive medical bill.

To me, saying “qi” or giving someone a diagnosis that is literally just throwing mostly Latin and Greek word parts together feels like an ivory tower tactic. (By the way, anyone can look up the meaning of diagnoses or medical lingo by typing “medical terminology” followed by the mystery medical words in google.)

Using such specialized terminology (big fancy words) disempowers the person who hears it from the opportunity of understanding their health on a deeper level.

And deprives them of being more engaged in a dialogue with their medical provider and ultimately with their own body.

If we don’t understand what is wrong and what to do about it, how can we take action towards wellness in an informed way? (We can’t.)

And as a medical provider, I get it.

It takes time to talk to people and break down complex concepts into something even most kids can understand.

It’s a challenge. When I try to unpack medical terminology (especially Chinese medical terminology) I tend to use a lot of metaphors. Because a lot of these concepts come from a completely different world view, so they have to be anchored into a context that most people are familiar with.

(...Like when I’m describing “blood deficiency” and having people imagine their veins are like a garden hose with the amount of blood inside not filling the hose all the way. When the volume of blood in the body is low then blood has a hard time circulating. There’s less blood to nourish our internal organs and our muscles, skin and nerves…)

It takes a lot of consideration…treating people with respect. And it is 100% worth the extra effort.

Believing in people’s intelligence to understand their situation.

Trusting that most people have enough willpower and wisdom to take positive action for themself, when they have access to clear information and guidance along the way.

And if most MDs spoke in plain English and were transparent, would they get the same amount of respect or get paid as much?

Doctor: Lisa, you have a textbook case of throwing up a lot.

Patient: Uh, yeah, that’s why I’m here. I can’t stop throwing up.

Doctor: Yes, I know. I just diagnosed you.

Patient: (laughs) No. I told you what’s wrong and you repeated it back to me. Ok, so why is it happening?

Doctor: I’m not sure and western medicine hasn’t figured it out yet. It could be because of your hormones, a problem with your digestive system, problems with your nervous system, not having enough vitamin B, problems with your thyroid, or may be related to stress.

Patient: So you don’t really know, but it could be because I’m stressed?!…(snidely) Great...So can you help me? What can I do about it?

Doctor: I have some pills you can take that might help. It might not, but it’s worth a try. Throwing up this much is dangerous and can cause other issues.

Patient: I figured that much. That's why I'm trying to get help. How does the medication work and what are the chances it will help me? Are there any side effects? What are my other options?

And how might that scenario play out if a doctor assumes maximum authority?

Doctor: Ms. you have hyperemesis.

Patient: Hyper-what? That sounds scary! What does that mean?

Doctor: It’s a condition that has many potential causes. We are going to run some tests to see what we can find.

Patient: Am I going to be OK?

Doctor: We’ll know more in a few days. My staff will call with results from your blood work. No news is good news.

Patient: Is there anything you can give me in the meantime?

Doctor: I’ll write a prescription for a medication that should decrease nausea and help reduce vomiting.

Patient: Thank you, Doctor. (Internally, “Oh f*ck. What is wrong with me? Why is this happening? Could I be really sick? Could it be cancer? Is that why I can’t stop throwing up?”)

There's a lot less room for discussion and an exchange of ideas when one person appears to have all the answers and all the power.

It is rare to find a doctor that has enough time and patience to talk to you like a fellow human being.

When you find a provider like that, celebrate the gift of having an actual exchange of knowledge and humanity.

Your ability to be informed and understand your body and your medical choices, matter.

It matters a lot.

In fact, your health and life depends on it.


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