The Harsh Light of Day (Buffy Season 4, Episode 3)


Ah, the beginning of college.  So many people to meet, so many interesting personalities to encounter.  Looks like the time for all sorts of new sexual relationships to begin, too, at least in Sunnydale (Xander-Anya; Buffy-Parker; Spike-Harmony).  And with those new sexual relationships come the possibility of infectious diseases.  As one clinician commented to me once, ‘this is what happens when you put college men and women together at the start of the year.  Everyone just goes [sex-]crazy.’

(As a side note, this episode made me realise that Spike is the embodiment of Buffy’s relationship shadow.  He’s the one who always spoke clearly about her relationship with Angel, and in this episode he appears right after Buffy is figuratively punched in the stomach by Parker.)

Lucky for Spike, he prefers syphilis to Harmony.  Given Harmony’s petulance, I can see why.  While I might suggest a Japanese KD channel treatment for Harmony, to centre her enough that she is no longer needy, has a sense of self that she can manage, stop her whining (the sound of Kidney water is groaning, which could include whining, like ice giving way in the winter), and give her the confidence to be alone and at peace, it is Spike’s syphilis, and another spirochete bacteria, Lyme’s disease, that I want to address in this post.

Syphilis was difficult to treat, both in Asia and in Europe (and later, after colonisation, the Americas and Africa as well).  Today, powerful antibiotics have proven fairly successful in treating syphilis, and I typically refer patients I suspect of having an STI out to an allopathic clinic.  Since herbal medicine acts more slowly than pharmaceuticals, and since STIs are very easy to transmit, it makes more sense from a public health perspective.

Historically, one reason syphilis was difficult to treat is because it appears to goes away, becoming latent in the body, only to re-emerge as ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ syphilis.  Therefore, it is difficult to know if a cure was effected.  Interestingly, mercury was used in both Western and Eastern medicine, and a homeopathic tincture is still given to people who have inherited a certain syphilitic pattern from their grandparents.  The indications for this medication remarkably parallel descriptions of when mercury was indicated for use in the Shen Nong Ben Cao.  Because homeopathic tinctures have no identifiable active substances — the poisons have been tinctured away into incredible minute quantities — it raises the question of whether a purified form of mercury, amalgamated with other substances to destroy its toxicity, was used, similar perhaps to how mercury-containing compounds are still used in Tibetan medicine today.  This idea becomes all the more potent when one considers that homeopathic tinctures often have the opposite effect of what their constituent substances have.  In other words, if the description of mercury’s effects in the Shen Nong Ben Cao parallel those of the homeopathic materia medica, it stands to reason that actual mercury was not being used, but rather some modified form of it.

Speculations about mercury aside, both syphilis and Lyme’s disease are caused by the rather novel class of bacteria called spirochetes.  Both have a tendency to go latent.  Therefore, the Channel Divergences, which are specifically concerned with latent pathogens, are an ideal place to begin looking for diagnostic clues.  Since we don’t have an actual case in front of us, let us turn to the herbal tradition first, and see what possible channels we can derive from there.

Herbally, Tu Fu Ling, or smilax glabra, was used to treat syphilis (in addition to mercury).  Tu Fu Ling relieves toxicity, eliminates dampness, clears heat, and goes to the Liver and Stomach channels.  Interestingly, in the Buddhist tradition, heat is a form of desire; so this herb may also help regulate sexual desire (although by the time someone contracted syphilis from over-frequenting brothels, or from a partner who did so, such regulation might be considered too late; at the very least, it may stem transmission, however).  For these purposes, it was often combined with Jin Yin Hua (which also relieves toxicity, and goes to the LU/LI and ST channels) and Bai Xian Pi, cortex Dictamni.  Bai Xian Pi goes to the Spleen and Stomach channels and eliminates dampness and damp-heat, including dampt-heat bi.

From these three herbs, we can think of the ST/SP, LI/LU, and possibly the GB/LV channel divergences as possible places to start.  However, since only one of the herbs is specific to bi-syndrome, namely Bai Xian Pi, I would suggest we look at the ST/SP channel divergence first.

Usually, I think of the ST/ SP channel divergence when I am confronted with someone who has food allergies, IBS, or other digestive problems.  However, the opening point for this channel divergence is ST-30, which happens to be associated with the Chong Mai, and thus with the blood.  The ST/SP CD is particularly concerned with using fluid, usually to support blood, but also to allow the opening of the upper orifices.  the sensory orifices rely on pure yang fluids to function properly.

The other function of the ST/ SP CD is to treat cases of phlegm misting the orifices, both the upper orifices in the case of cataracts, and the orifices of the Heart.  In this respect, one can see how an unresolved pathogen like Lyme’s disease can progress to the SI/ HT CD, symptoms of which include neurological problems.  These problems, from the point of view of Classical Chinese medicine do not begin spontaneously; they have a history.  That history involves the consumption and drying of fluids.  The first signs may be fever and thirst, middle signs numbness and tingling of the limbs, and the latter signs occur after the pathogen has depleted the thin fluids, and the body must now draw on thick fluids supplied by the SI/ HT CD.  In the case of the SP CD, phlegm-fluid is trying to block wind, that is, neurological symptoms, from moving to the head.  The treatment goal, then, is to release the wind and generate fluid.

The point selection would then be ST-30 (opening point), ST-9 (opens the orifices), CV-23 (for poor memory), BL-1 (closing point).  CV-12 or CV-14 could be added, depending on symptoms; CV-12 disperses into the Spleen (being the root of SP-1), while CV-14 would help any HT or Shen related symptoms.  The points would be needled in pairs ascending the body, or looped from healthy side to unhealthy side, so that the final point ends up being SP-1 or ST-45.  The needle technique would be shallow-deep-shallow, if trying to expel the pathogen.  If the person has no fluids in reserve, then the needle technique would be deep-shallow-deep, in order to promote latency.  I would then consider nourishing the HT and ye-fluids with herbal medicine (Zeng Ye Tang comes to mind:  Xuan Shen, Shu Di, Mai Dong).

Regarding the GB/LV channel divergence, which is the other possibility based on herbal theory, I would note that in Europe a small purplish node sometimes occurs on the scrotum, near the nipple, or on the earlobe not long after infection.  All these areas are associated with the LV or GB channel divergence.  The GB/LV CD is usually affected before the ST/SP CD.  This might come about in the case of Lyme’s disease when the person has adequate physiological fluids, or when the pathogen enters directly into the blood, which is stored by the LV.  (Thus, from the tick’s connection to the blood, a pathology can manifest in the Sea of Blood — the Chong Mai, ST-30; or in the LV, which stores the Blood.)

The treatment points would then be CV-2 or CV-3 (top of pubic hair is what the Ling Shu states); LV-13 (SP mu point, drains into Dai Mai); ST-5 (holds latency); GB-1 (closing point)

Finally, if we think of the skin as the point of entry, we could look at the LI/ LU channel divergence.  Only two points are common to both channels, ST-12, LI-18.  I might use this for the initial stages, perhaps, when infection is only skin-deep, but once a rash has developed, I would stick to either the ST-SP or GB-LV Channel Divergence, if treating exclusively with acupuncture.

As always, although based on actual Classical Chinese medical theory, this post is for entertainment purposes only.  If you feel you could benefit from the traditions and techniques of Chinese Medicine, please find a qualified practitioner.  Happy Slayage!

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