TCM treatment of renal failure

Since last November, a 39-year-old female patient has been visiting the clinic. I will never forget her first consultation: her ashen face, her exhausted body sitting across from me, and the way she opened her pale lips to tell me in a weary voice that she had started dialysis in June 2012.

From her ashen face, I could tell that her kidneys were not functioning well. However, for a 39-year-old, dialysis seemed premature. But according to her Western medical diagnosis: Renal Failure, Hypertensive Heart Disease without CHF, and she is also a carrier of Hepatitis A. Other issues like uterine fibroids, a cyst on her left ovary, and anemia seemed minor in comparison.

I remember Master Ni once said, “Don’t be intimidated by the names of diseases. We must look at the patient as a whole and never forget how to judge a healthy person.” Indeed, this patient was very unhealthy. She told me her blood pressure was usually around 170-200/100-120 (kidney failure patients typically have high blood pressure), she had her period every 15 days with heavy flow lasting about 7 days, and severe cramping during menstruation (which Western medicine attributes to uterine fibroids, but aren’t these just signs of cold?). She had trouble sleeping and often had nightmares (indicating a lack of heart blood according to Shaoyin syndrome). In kidney failure, the first thing to observe is the appetite, especially if eating foods like bananas and potatoes causes nausea, combined with other symptoms, we can diagnose it as a case for Zhenwu Decoction from Shaoyin syndrome. Fortunately, she had no signs of edema, making our treatment easier.

The patient told me that her family opposed her seeking Chinese medicine, except for her husband, who supported her all the way. This time, she and her husband came to see me secretly without telling their family. Western medicine’s treatment plan was dialysis followed by a kidney transplant, but even after the transplant, life expectancy would only be a few years, and there would be many painful rejections. Reality isn’t like the TV dramas where the protagonists live healthily after a transplant.

What could I do for them? Let’s see what I could do for her. From last November to this August, the patient can now sleep through the night without nightmares (and certainly no nightmares). She has stopped all Western medications for lowering blood pressure, phosphorus, potassium, and for anemia. Her periods now occur monthly with little to no pain or just a bit of soreness. Her appetite is excellent; she often feels hungry at midnight, and her husband has to get up and cook noodles to feed her before they can sleep again. (When treating serious illnesses, observing the appetite is crucial. If the stomach energy is gone and there’s no appetite, the patient is in serious trouble. If the appetite returns, there’s hope for a cure.) She can now go out shopping for a whole day, unlike when she first arrived, barely able to speak. Last week’s blood pressure check showed readings between 130-165/85-101.

Many patients are scared to death by Western medicine. Although she still undergoes dialysis, her blood test reports show all abnormal indicators moving toward normal ranges. I can confidently say, why does this patient not look like someone undergoing dialysis? Because she embraces each day with joy and is prepared to face death, which makes her cherish life even more. Every time I see her, she is peaceful, calm, and smiling. She never complains about the bitterness of Chinese medicine. Whenever I ask her if she feels a tingling sensation while taking raw Aconite, she jokingly says, “I think it’s more bitter than tingly.”