Going to See the Chinese Witch Doctor

I figure since it’s Chinese New Year I should write a little about my experience with the Chinese witch doctor, a.k.a. my acupuncturist/herbalist. Before you get your panties in a twist over my calling her a witch doctor, you should know that at this point, I think she’s probably a deity, and for whatever reasons, she’s chosen to hang out in Portland, Oregon a while to heal Western medical casualties like myself.

I also want to say that I am a science-(read Western)-minded person. I’ve often thought I should have become a doctor.

My story is that I’ve been sick for ten years with an overall immune response which manifests primarily as an all-over body rash, but has also included things like ear infections, conjunctivitis, arthritis-like symptoms, joint pain, mouth sores, constipation, outer-stratospheric PMS, and things I’ve probably just forgotten about by now. There were times when walking around the block was a challenge because my rash sores were so painful.

I think you get the picture, but just to be clear, when I say “rash” I mean a serious, sometimes debilitating rash, not a little poison-ivy-like skin disturbance or something that drives you crazy. I mean something that you want to kill yourself over.

From the beginning, I thought my rash was due to food allergies. But you know how smart doctors are. One in San Diego told me rashes weren’t related to food. I begged for a food allergy test and I was skin patch tested for the big eight. Not surprisingly, nothing was positive: guess what, your skin and the insides of your intestines are two very different places. I experimented with eliminating several different things. I fasted. I kept food diaries, but I just couldn’t figure it out.

Many, many, many doctors, cortisone creams, antibiotics, steroids, and years later, I was diagnosed with celiac disease (three years ago), specifically dermatitis herpetiformis (DH). Pretty nasty stuff. You don’t want it, trust me. Naturally, I stopped eating all gluten. I continued to stay away from soy and I went through dairy-free periods just to see what would happen.

The spring after the celiac diagnosis, I started getting these weird liquid-filled blisters on my hands. Strangely, I had never had any DH rash on my hands ever. So this sucked. The blisters were really itchy, but not as itchy as the DH rash. So I tried to ignore it. Also, DH can take a couple of years to fully clear out its evil little antibodies from the skin layers. I figured that was what was happening…just a little DH antibody clearing. No problem.

In the last year, this thing with my hands got completely out of control. This past fall I started to get all these weird new symptoms, like waking up totally achy and swollen, like I had arthritis. My hands were like balloons and the rash was gnarly. Deep cracks in my skin made it tough to type (a tragedy). I had the worst PMS and UTI ever in the history of the universe. Needless to say, I finally woke up to the idea that this was not just the DH clearing, it was something entirely different.

I went to the doctor and got food allergy blood tested. That came back showing reactions to dairy, eggs, garlic, and almonds. I stayed away from those. I stayed away from all the big eight. I stopped eating all grains and all sweets; every time I ate those I had UTI pain. I got tested for candida and it was negative. I continued the “candida diet” because it made me feel better (I’m still on it, more or less).

When the candida test came back negative, my Western doctor told me she just couldn’t help me anymore. Enter, Chinese witch doctor.

Me and needles don’t exactly get along. We have a long, sordid history together, the details of which I’ll spare you. The idea of getting poked all over with needles sounded like as much fun as a square dance in a chemical spill.

But I went to see the witch doctor and I’m so grateful I did. She has me drinking the nastiest poo-water known to mankind. She calls it “herb tea,” which I think is really quaint. I boil up these twigs, roots, and tree bark in water and choke back the resulting decoction three times a day. At first I went to see her once a week and got poked all over with needles, but now that I’m improving so much, I am seeing her every other week. I’ve seen her a total of five or six times now. She cleared my UTI and constipation right up, but the rash is more stubborn. I figure I’ve had this rash a long time so I have no expectation it’ll disappear overnight.

In the meantime, I’ve learned that my hand condition is called pompholyx or dyshidrotic eczema. This is a great site for sufferers, which also contains my all-time favorite (Western) medical rant. The person who runs this site is a genius because she or he figured out that putting 40-volume peroxide on the rash makes it feel a hell of a lot better and heals the wounds faster. I’ve been doing it only for a day now since I just recently discovered this site, but so far, so pretty darn good. If my fingers fall off as a result, that’ll be just as well.

The overall immune response may be pre-lupus or any other of the multiple immune disorders, though I never have had the face rash that is a dead ringer for lupus.

Or, of course, I just have too much heat in my spleen and lungs, and my First and Second Burners are all messed up.

Tonight I told the needle-poker that my rash first started on my right hip. She said:

“What was happening in your life then?”

Me: “My boyfriend had just died, suddenly and unexpectedly.”

Dr: “Hmmm. Your right hip is where your meridians are for your gall bladder, which is the site of all emotions. So something traumatic happening in your life like that…it would make sense” (okay, I’m paraphrasing because her English isn’t the greatest).

Me: “Yeah. I think that is what started all of this.”

What I know is that my Chinese witch doctor has the best bedside manner of any doctor I’ve ever seen. She actually strikes me as a real “healer,” someone who actually wants to heal people (vs. drive a fancy car and live in a big house). She seems to genuinely care about whether or not I’m improving and about my overall health. I spend at least an hour in her office each time I see her. I get a conversation about my health, noting any changes or improvements, my pulse taken, my tongue examined, and my body poked with needles, all for the bargain price of $100, which includes herbs to make the “tea.”

The best part is that I’m getting better.

Happy Chinese New Year, Doctor C. May you live long and prosper.

P.S. I found this great article about how to heal pompholyx with Chinese medicine. Scroll down on the page to the article by Mazin Al-Khafaji.

Chinese Herbs in Pot

The “tea.”


Filed under Candida, Food allergies

12 responses to “Going to See the Chinese Witch Doctor

  1. stefanie

    I’m interested in your travails…I developed a rash on my hands when I was 17, a hellish experience overall. A number of years ago I read an article in Food Day (chalk one up for the Oregonian) about gluten intolerance. I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet, and over time the rash went away. One thing that gave me relief from the itching was holding my hands in hot running water…as hot as I could stand for as long as I could stand. And all lotion was bad, sometimes causing and always worsening an outbreak of blisters; I found olive oil best for easing dryness and not causing further damage. Also, dryer sheets gave me a rash on my shins and elbows.

    I read the post about your falafel disaster…but seriously, Molly Katzen? What did you expect? (I have a friend who for some reason persisted in using the Moosewood cookbook; the margins were overflowing with notes and corrections to the recipes because they NEVER turned out.) I found a recipe online a few years ago that is absolutely amazing. A falafel revelation. Really! Light, tender, flavorful…I’ll find it and share.

  2. mjennings26

    Hi Stefanie,
    Thanks so much for the comment. It’s great to hear from people who read my blog.

    Wow, the Boregonian saves the day? That’s gotta be a first.

    I’m so glad that eliminating wheat cleared your rash. That’s awesome. I’m continuing to improve and my hands are nearly rash-free. Woohoo! I need to update my Chinese Witch Doctor post because I want to urge all pompholyx sufferers to go see a Chinese herbalist/acupuncturist. I guess what miffs me the most is that any Western doctor you see will tell you there is no cure for it, but the Chinese doctors seem to think differently. I’m still mystified by the whole thing, but the proof is in my hands.

    Funny about those falafels. I should have known! But I actually really like the Moosewood Lowfat cookbook, and I have a couple of her older titles from my days as a vegetarian. C’est la vie.

    If you have that falafel recipe, I’d love to lay my hands on it…so would my husband as he keeps kvetching about wanting to make “good” ones.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting!


  3. Hi Melanie, what an interesting and in-depth blog. My mother suffers from a similar rash and “conventional doctors” have not been able to cure what ails her. Perhaps a long, over-due trip to the acupuncturist/herbalist is in store here. I will be certain to check back and see how your health progresses. Best of luck to you!

    Thanks for sharing and please feel free to comment back.

  4. mjennings26

    Thanks for taking the time to write!

    I am curious to hear about your mother’s experience with an acupuncturist if she chooses to explore that route. Let me know how it goes.

    Best wishes to you both!

  5. I went to the local herbalist and was recommended Bach Flower remedy to help treat her condition. After a week, her symptoms still remained. Her regular doctor prescribed some type of antihistamine for her (she’s allergic to just about everything). Needless to say, there were still no positive results. She decided to try Zyrtec for the first time…and in over five years, she is finally getting relief from this medicine. Unfortunately, like most conventional meds, however, meds like this do have some heavy side effects. We’re still hoping to find a good acupuncturist that will work as well as Zyrtec.

    Please keep in touch!

  6. Hi Melanie,

    I love your blog. I have gluten and dairy and soy intolerance too, but also a severe allergy to cane sugar, and a severe allergy to moldy anything. Portland is one of the better places for people like us to live, thankfully. I first discovered my gluten intolerance by doing a food elimination diet to get rid of a persistent unbelievably (I know you know what I’m talking about) itchy rash. People who have never had DH cannot really imagine the degree of itchiness that makes you want to scoop out the itchy spot with a kitchen spoon. After four miserable years of the rash, it was gone in three weeks of gluten-free eating, and the skin totally healed to the point you couldn’t know there had been a rash in about three months. I had a lot of other health problems ranging from annoying to excruciatingly painful, and am about 99% better on a strict dairy, sugar, and gluten-free diet. I am an R.N., with a background in education, and am using my experience to help others. I do gluten-free dietary and lifestyle coaching, and recently self-published a book called “Gluten-Free PORTLAND – A Resource Guide. I also plan to offer gluten-free cooking and baking classes, along with my individual dietary counseling.

    I am glad you are finding success with your chinese medicine and accupuncture. It has taken a lot of my own personal experience to overcome the western medical training I’ve had, but there is so much we don’t know about how our bodies respond to things, and western medicine is too focused on using pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms, not at getting to the bottom of what is causing the symptoms.

    No doctor I’d been to had ever suggested gluten intolerance, or even food allergies. I figured it out on my own when I started doing research on the internet.


  7. mjennings26

    Hi Wendy,
    Thanks SO much for sharing your story with me. It’s amazing!

    Yes, we are lucky to live in a city where people are pretty supportive about food freakiness. I have also found my Western doctors here in Portland to be a lot more open-minded about Chinese medicine than I would have expected. I’m really grateful for that lead article in Portland Monthly a couple months back (Portland’s Best Doctors 2008).

    I’m also lucky, and your story reminded me of this, that the Western doctors I’ve found here have been pretty on top of the food allergy situation in my case. It’s astounding for me to know that an actual RN has had a difficult time getting doctors to recognize or acknowledge the power of food allergies. I do know now, however, how incredibly difficult they can be to diagnose and understand, and how unique each body is in terms of food. I sometimes wonder just how many illnesses and diseases could be cured by eliminating certain foods.

    Thanks again for sharing your story with me. And good luck with all of your GF and other food allergy adventures. Keep me posted!


  8. kosmicchique


    I “stumbled” upon this blog while doing some research for my daughter who has been going through hell – and two visits to the Emergency Room – for the past month with a horrendous blistery rash on her hands – and now face. I have been telling her all along that I felt that in addition to stress and environmental expsorue – it was tied to diet, because she is also having gastro and UTI symptoms. Then I found your site – EUREKA! Thank you. I sent it to her immediately and will get her to an acupuncturist/herbalist ASAP. I think that when she reads this she will find comfort in knowing that she is not alone and that there is help out there.

  9. mjennings26

    Greetings, kosmicchique,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter’s illness. That is a terrible story. It does sound like it could be related to food, so I hope you find supportive and knowledgeable doctors of both Western and Chinese variety that can help your daughter.

    An elimination diet could be very helpful. In my case, a five-day fast helped me to feel better and understand that food was playing a role in my illness.

    Best of luck to you both. Keep me posted.


  10. Mona

    Hi Melanie,

    All I can say is, “Wow” I just read my life story! Only I have a few sad additions. My mother also had autoimmune conditions ~ RA, Sjogren’s, and Lupus, but it was the Vasculitis and Goodpasture’s Syndrome that killed her. Out of nowhere, her lungs & kidneys started bleeding..she was dead in 5 days with a team of top-notch doctors, from as close as Johns Hopkins and as far away as Japan, still scratching their heads. It was horrible, and to add misery upon injury, shortly after my mother died, my daughter was diagnosed w/ autoimmune conditions. First the autoimmune hyper-thyroid (Grave’s Disease) was discovered. It took awhile but we found an awesome pediatric endocrinologist, who also found us an equally awesome rheumatologist, who then diagnosed my daughter with RA, and mixed connective tissue disease.
    Because of my mother, I’ve been so scared for my daughter. I mean I have the DH & now pompholyx, and quite a few aches & pains, and yes, they are autoimmune & maddening to boot, but it’s not as dire as the conditons my mother had, and my daughter currently has.

    I discovered that a gluten-free diet has brought about MAJOR improvements in both of us. My daughter also has Down Syndrome, so sometimes it is very hard to make her understand that she REALLY does not want to eat that cookie or pizza. It is just not worth it to her health.

    She is doing very well currently and off the slew of corticosteroids, NSAIDS, methotrexate & PTU. So I couldn’t be happier for her.

    Things are different for me though, after I got the DH under control, I developed the pompholyx on the base of my thumb. No one knew what it was at first…I researched like a madwoman and finally found some pics & description of what this blistering, erosive (I have deep scars from repeated blistering of the meaty part on the palmar surface of my thumb). It used to only seem to happen in the hot months…now I have developed it in February. I have had it for over a month now and the strong topical steroid & occlusor patches aren’t resolving it. PLEASE send me some info on the peroxide treatment and the info on the Chinese herbs to use. I tried the links you posted, but the Geocities link is now defunct.

    Oh, and I know your post is 2 years old now, but I was wondering, do you remember having swelling, heat & pain that ran up your arm from the pompholyx to the lymph node in your armpit? So far only myself and a man from England seem to be experiencing this during a bout w/pompholyx .

    Any help would be much appreciated, standard medicine has not left me much hope.


  11. mjennings26

    Hi Mona,
    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story. It is certainly heartbreaking.

    Health issues are a long, hard road and I’m glad to hear that eliminating gluten from your diet has helped. I didn’t have any swelling or pain leading up to my armpit node. That sounds awful.

    I have been able to eliminate my hand blisters by using only fragrance-free laundry and personal care/soap products. It took me a long time to figure this out, but in my case, I believe this was the culprit. I’m now very strict about fragrance-free.

    I used 40-volume peroxide directly on the hand blisters twice a day. It definitely helped them to heal faster by drying them out very quickly.

    I’m sorry those links no longer work. I will investigate and see if I can come up with anything.

    Best to you,

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