Same Time, Same Place (Buffy, Season 7, Episode 3)


Willow returns to Sunnydale, anxious about seeing her friends again. Unfortunately, she arrives at about the same time as a demon named Gnarl. Gnarl’s particular characteristics include razor sharp talons with a paralysing venom, and a penchant for flaying his victims and lapping up their blood. To complicate matters, Willow accidentally enspells herself so that she can neither see, nor be seen by, her friends. Luckily, demons and vampires seem not to be affected by the spell, or perhaps Willow wasn’t anxious about what Anya the Vengeance Demon or Spike, formerly called William the Bloody, would think of her recent past dip into flaying people.  Regardless, both Anya and Spike can see Willow, and they help reunite Willow with her friends.

Dawn comes to the rescue first, by identifying Gnarl and his abilities. (Unfortunately, she gets clawed by him, ends up paralysed, and is taunted by Xander with words like ‘vomit’ and intimations that she will be good at limbo — as the limbo pole.) Dawn describes Gnarl as a ‘parasite’ because he eats his victims’ flesh. Usually, however, parasites don’t kill their victims outright — that’s the job of a predator. Symbiosis is more of a parasite function, although if parasite load becomes too heavy, the victim will likely become malnourished as the parasites siphon off nutrients, and ultimately die.

At the end of the episode, Buffy confesses to Willow that Buffy suspected Willow of flaying the Gnarl’s victims. Willow says that as the Slayer, she had to speak her suspicions. She did not have the luxury, as Xander did, of keeping them to herself. The dialogue offered a nice parallel to an earlier statement by Gnarl, as he stalked a victim: ‘The wind speaks’.

The episode presents two challenges for the Chinese Medical practitioner. The first concerns differential diagnosis. How do we know when to use the Channel Divergences to treat a patient, and when do we assess the presence of a parasite? In both cases, the patient’s humours may be in the process of being consumed.

The second challenge is a type of bi affecting the voice and speech: Throat bi. The throat is an area in which wind can easily be trapped — and offer its own raspings as speech. Typically, the single most efficacious point to treat throat bi, in cases where the patient cannot speak his or her own ‘truth’, is HT-7. It is not a CD point. However, before I undertake CD treatments in full, I want first to explore the herbal options for treating bi syndromes which do not affect the joints.  In this case, I would recommend Ban Xia Hou Po Tang.  Traditionally, it is indicated for ‘plum pit qi’.  The presence of Ban Xia focuses the indication on the sorts of people who are able to find something wrong in anything; typically this wrong item is a tiny thing that only they can see.  Perfectionists respond well to Ban Xia Hou Po Tang.

The second case, though, ties in with the first: how do we know if the patient speaks, or if the disease speaks?  I will leave that question open for philosophical debate.  Please comment if you have any suggestions or clinical experiences on the matter.

To return to the initial question, when is a channel divergence treatment indicated?  Next, what sorts of parasites home in on the various humours?  Identifying these will help parse out when the patient is presenting with a parasite and when the patient is presenting with a latent pathogen (often categorised by biomedicine as an auto-immune disease).  Although bi-syndromes can be either cold or hot, that classification is more helpful for herbal treatments.  For acupuncture, a different set of criteria apply.  In general, CD issues are autoimmune, involving full or empty heat; parasites, due to their yin-nature often present with cold symptoms (in biomedicine, this is because parasites secrete anti-inflammatory proteins in order to more effectively hide in the body).  The disease itself will speak to the practitioner and guide treatment; but the patient’s own concerns must be addressed in the process.

Channel Divergences are indicated when symptoms involve the major joints of the body or manifest as bi-syndrome in other areas (chest, throat, bones).  Parasites usually do not directly impact the joints, but they can be implicated in throat bi.  Because the CDs link yuan qi and wei qi, whenever symptoms involve both these humours, this channel system is appropriate to use.  Examples include autoimmune diseases or latent pathogens, in which wei qi-heat begins to consume or attack the solid structures of the body (nerves, skin, gut, fluids).  Ghosts and parasites (gui and gu) typically promote phlegmy and damp symptomology, including at times damp-heat, but the presence of dampness is the deciding factor against CDs.  Parasites can consume flesh; usually such symptoms are quite obvious.  Internally, parasites are often cold — if a person presents with a cold Liver, or possible Liver yang or Liver qi empty, a heating formula like Da Jian Zhong Tang or Wu Zhu Yu Tang can be useful in expelling parasites if present, and in building up the yang qi of the Liver when absent.

A contra-indication to using the CDs as the channel system of choice are when a patient presents an acute condition with no prior history of that pathology.  (Happily, in the Buffyverse, most conditions get repeated at some point.)  Acute conditions of the blood (heat in the blood, severe blood stagnation that did not develop over time — e.g. sudden sharp pains) are particularly contra-indicated; those should be treated via Luo vessels, if possible.  (See Season 5 for the Luo Vessels.)

What gu-parasites and gui-ghosts lodge in the body, and where to they prefer to take up residence?  Po-spirits, which are often implicated in addictions, tend to deplete the jing.  Blood is consumed by the three worms which devour filial and imperial piety.  Indeed, the character for blood can resemble a container for the three worms.  Blood, as it relates to emotion and affection, is meant to give us the emotional resources and affection to support the hun-spirits in their pious devotion to family and country.

Fluids and marrow are not typically sites for parasite infestation;  they are consumed by heat and fire toxins, and when not acute are more likely to result from CD pathology than from parasites.  (An acute example of heat or fire toxins is a warm-febrile condition in the blood level leading to hemorrhaging.)  On the other hand, if ying-qi is being consumed, parasites may be responsible, or it may be a channel pathology.  The ying-qi is stored in the Spleen, so if the intent or the ability to focus is disrupted, examine the state of ying qi.  Biomedically, ying qi is associated with lymphatic fluid, like wei qi.  The difference is that ying qi contains the nourishing components of blood (sugars, proteins), whereas wei qi contains the immunological components.

When qi itself is being consumed, the culprit is very often found in parasites or ghosts.  Ghosts wish to siphon off the person’s life; parasites function similarly.  In these cases, other bodily humours are still present, qi and empty heat is not raging, and phlegm is likely on full display.  If the other humours are depleted, if the person presents with either empty heat or empty cold (collapse of yang qi), and phlegm is absent, a CD treatment, rather than a gu-gui treatment approach is called for.

As always, these posts are for entertainment and educational purposes only.  If you have found a teeny-tiny error in this post which is merely a matter of style, please see someone qualified to assess whether some Ban Xia Hou Po Tang would be appropriate for you.

Happy slayage!

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