By Kim Schwartz-Finkelstein, L.Ac.
Here we are, over two years into the Covid pandemic. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been on this roller coaster for this long. While we all explore our new normal with hope, there is trepidation as well. The next variant may always be just around the corner, and what will that mean for society? Will we be back in masks and social distancing again in the next few months? Many people are weary of these practices and are happy to put them aside, even though they are some of the only well-known tools we have against the virus other than vaccination. Outside the US, integrated medicine is playing a larger role in the fight against Covid, and Chinese medicine has been at the forefront of this fight.
When the pandemic began I was one of the unlucky ones who got Covid the first week the world shut down. Those were scary days, because we really knew nothing about how the virus was transmitted, how deadly it could be, etc. Each day I prayed I would stay well enough to avoid hospitalization, as I was home alone with my children, ages 9 and 12. My husband had left to tend to his elderly mother, who also had Covid and didn’t have anyone living nearby to help her.
In those early days we didn’t know how contagious I might be, so we felt the need to be extra cautious. I remained in my bedroom 98 percent of the day, and didn’t touch or cook any food for my family. The kids left meals at my bedroom door, and they were essentially on their own. With no parents readily available to dispense order and discipline to the children, the social hierarchy in my home quickly degenerated into chaos, and my home was like Lord of the Flies. I ordered multiple Alexa Show devices for the house so I could communicate with my children. I couldn’t yell if I needed something; I was too sick and drained. We relied on our family friends in town to keep us fed; a steady stream of cooked meals and treats for the kids was dropped off daily for us. Amongst our peers, we were the only people they knew that had contracted the deadly virus. To them, I was their potential Typhoid Mary, Patient Zero, and Dr. Craig Spencer of Ebola fame, all rolled into one. They would leave food on my doorstep and run away as fast as possible. The kids would wait until they were gone before opening the door, for fear of spewing our sickly miasma out into the world and onto them. We understood their fear, and we were ok with it. We were scared too. We felt very grateful and fortunate to receive these gifts of food, but I worried; who would take care of the children if I grew sicker? It was clear that our friends wouldn’t touch them for fear of getting infected. With my husband absent and no medical care available (except possible hospitalization) we were truly alone, and I needed to rely on my own medical knowledge to get through this.
I am a firm believer in integrative medicine, but in the beginning of Covid, it was clear that I had no one to turn to in conventional medicine. There were no concrete or available treatments; the Board of Health’s medical advice was a mixed bag, and I could not even reach anyone in my conventional doctor’s office on the phone — shame on them! (After that fiasco, I’ve since switched to a different practice.) It was up to me to help myself, so I did what I could with the knowledge that I have. I took my temperature every few hours, checked my blood pressure and blood oxygen levels regularly (thank goodness Amazon shipped the pulse oximeter quickly!) I didn’t take Ibuprofen or Elderberry supplements, per our limited conventional medical information available. Instead, I relied on Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture to get me through. Yes, I did my own acupuncture treatments on myself. They were short and limited to what I could reach, but were calming and centering, helping to increase my blood flow and blood oxygenation. In addition, researchers in China had quickly come up with herbal formulas for the virus, and as a Chinese herbal practitioner, I was able to get my hands on the American-made versions of these formulas. They are what got me through. I slowly improved, and a few weeks after contracting Covid, I was feeling mostly like myself again.
When the world opened up again, I had a telehealth visit, and then an in-person physical with a new doctor. I had made it through the deadly first wave of covid, mostly unscathed. Two years later, we know a lot more about the virus, but we are not out of the woods yet. The vaccine is good, but we’ve all seen that it isn’t foolproof. Social distancing is effective, but draining and not sustainable in the long term. People need to be around their friends and loved ones for emotional well-being. We’ve gained some tools and some medicines to combat the virus, but we have a long way to go, and our new normal may be quite different from the way we conducted our lives before Covid. I can’t tell you where we go from here, but I will say this: In my own time of need, Traditional Chinese Medicine was the only medicine available to me, and it kept me out of the hospital and helped me regain my health. It did not prevent me from contracting Covid, but frankly, neither did conventional medicine. We as humans had simply never encountered this virus before, and contracting it was unavoidable for many, especially in the first wave when there was no knowledge, tools, or protocols in place to protect us. Once I was able to return to work, I saw countless patients who also found relief at our office, typically in the aftermath of their own physical or emotional Covid experiences.