Patient shaming

“Ohhh the reason you’d had a cold was because you’d drank too much coffee. It’s really not good for the body and lungs”

                                       “I drink coffee everyday”

“Maybe you can drink Chinese tea, no colds”

                                       “Do I have a cold everyday?”

“You have a cold everyday?”

                                       “No. That’s a question, do I have a cold everyday?”


                                       “But I drink coffee everyday”

“You should drink Chinese tea. No colds”

                                       “…Yes.” As I’d thought to myself, this is why you’re not a doctor…

And with that, my supervisor left my desk, giving me one last disapproving look before allowing me to continue my morning routine of cracked articles and coffee in peace. It was my first day back after several days out sick, and her face had said it all… Didn’t drink hot water and Chinese tea, SERVES YOU RIGHT YOU RECKLESS FUCK.


The positive effects of channeling the moon’s luck and fortune through a mooncake, next to the negative effects of polluting my lungs with coffee… Do they cancel each other out?

You know how there’s victim blaming back home? I feel like Traditional Chinese Medicine creates a similar phenomenon towards sick people. Say what you will about TCM, but whether you love it or hate it, rarely is there even a scrap of heuristics in its philosophy. Direct correlation dominates its diagnostics, and the mentality of doing that causes this is more or less what TCM boils down to. If you hadn’t observed superstitions such as avoiding cold water to protect your inner fire, never eating nuts or dairy during your period for fear of them triggering debilitating cramps, or cutting oily foods out of your diet for healthier lungs, then you’d pretty much brought the consequences on yourself. The biggest irony of all of this has to be a Chinese person telling you to avoid copious amounts of oil, although for reasons other than your lungs, this may be a good idea.


TCM medical journals must read like one of those old-school Create your own Adventure books… “if you consume coffee, turn to page 54 and read section 2 on pneumonia. If you eat rhino horn, turn to page 23 and read section 1 on virility. Image via


When it comes to street meats and 串儿 though, you really truly are bringing that on yourself. So deliciously worth it though

Western medicine approaches problems is an opposite and conflicting way, taking all of the factors into account and weighing them against each other in order determine each’s role and consequences. This rarely mixes with the TCM-inspired view that most Chinese people have of taking care of yourself by avoiding this that and those as one big superfluous precaution, not to mention TCM’s hard-to-swallow ideas about eating specific animal parts in order to enhance your own body part. You’re having kidney issues? You must not be eating enough pig kidneys! Western medicine requires an explanation as to how or why something works the way it does, while TCM only relies on knowing that something could work, rarely bothering to dig any further.

TCM is protected by cultural inertia, and its validity isn’t ever going to be questioned because here’s the trick: you could do all the studies you want, but you haven’t proved that a product works on me. The only way to do it would be to give it to me. If it works and there are measurable results, then hey, what do I care if it’s a placebo or not. If it doesn’t work, oh well, I stop buying it and find another that does. That is the mindset that the majority of Chinese people are in when it comes to medicine, for better or worse. No why, dawg.


Your typical neighborhood TCM shop, resembling what the love child of a beach gift shop and the rawhide dog chew section of a pet store would look like. Dried starfish and seahorses, cartilage from any section of a cow, ginger roots and all types of tubers, and all sorts of dried beetles and worms. An endless amount of curative soup and tea possibilities in one place

More often than not, foreigners will find themselves on the receiving end of patient shaming because of these philosophical differences. Conversations with coworkers about your lifestyle can give off the impression that they suspect you of having Munchausen’s, and questioning TCM’s effectiveness or mentioning something that even rhymes with Western medicine usually results in a conversation about as productive as the Westboro Baptist Church being within 10 feet of Richard Dawkins… Cultural walls spring up fast and high. Throw in the fact that most foreigners would only go to the hospital if a major limb had bent the wrong way or they thought they might die, as opposed to getting a saline drip for a hangover or a sore throat, and ESL teachers who’ve called out sick end up getting treated like Ferris Bueller for weeks to follow. Can’t say that’s not always a fair assessment though…



In all fairness though, Western medicine is reactionary and focused on recovery, while TCM is more so a philosophy than a response, where practitioners live their lives a certain way with the expectation of avoiding illness. TCM would be better viewed as a holistic lifestyle than it would be for curative purposes, but this distinction is rarely acknowledged, and TCM is the end-all-be-all here in China.

3 thoughts on “Patient shaming

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