What do doctors do when they get sick? For the most part, I’ve observed, we’re particularly terrible patients — pushing through, soldiering on — popping Sudafed and Ibuprofen, when sleep and warm fluids are really what’s called for. Part of this is just our culture’s general obsession with work. But physicians especially have traditionally been trained to keep going even when they’re on the verge of collapse. You learn early on in medical school that admitting you’re sick or unable to perform for any reason is a kind of weakness.
I am as guilty as the rest of this kind of behavior — but this week when I got a whopping head cold, I decided to listen to my good friend and fellow Chinese medicine student, Laura, who is also an RN. Any doctor who’s honest will tell you they never would have made it through residency without nurses. As brand new residents, the nurses know far more about the hospital than we do, and many a late-night crisis has been successfully dealt with due to the help of a kind, experienced nurse. And in addition to their technical medical skills, nurses are trained in something that doctors really aren’t — patient care — the beautiful art of making another person comfortable. Sometimes the tiniest of gestures can make all the difference. I recall my father, when he was battling cancer and having his second MRI, telling of how a nurse placed her hand on his forehead when he told her he was anxious about becoming claustrophobic again in the machine. That gentle, reassuring hand kept him from dissolving into panic and made the experience bearable.
Indeed, on our acupuncture clinic shifts at school, I often notice Laura’s quickness to observe and fix a patient’s small discomfort — tying a gown, covering exposed legs with a sheet, adjusting a pillow … this is as important a part of healing as the most high-tech test or procedure. So last week I decided to listen to the nurse at hand and brew up her favorite ginger-lemon cold busting elixir. I added a few of my own favorite ingredients, took an afternoon off, slept … and guess what?! Felt Better!
Laura’s Ginger-Lemon Tea for a Cold: (I’ve listed other optional ingredients — cinnamon (guizhi) is the flagship Chinese herb for colds — it gets the body’s protective Qi circulating — so I throw that in as well … )
- 4 inch chunk fresh ginger root
- 1 lemon (or lime … I used an orange in my last batch because that’s what I had)
- 2 inch chunk fresh turmeric root
- 1 cinnamon stick
- few cloves garlic (smashed slightly with the flat side of a knife)
- pinch of cayenne or other chili
- raw honey (Do not give honey to babies under one year old!)
Make the basic brew with just ginger and lemon. Slice the ginger root, and put in a pot with about a quart of water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 20 min. Slice up the lemon, and toss it in. Simmer for another ten minutes. At this point, I pour a cup to drink, add more water and keep simmering. You can nurse a pot along for a whole afternoon this way. The longer it cooks, the more intense the ginger flavor will be. If you are using turmeric and/or a cinnamon stick, chop the turmeric root and add with a whole cinnamon stick in the beginning with the ginger. If adding garlic or chili, throw it in with the lemon. Always add raw honey after the infusion is no longer boiling so its enzymes are preserved.
This is a wonderful remedy for kiddos. Stick to the shorter cooking time so the ginger isn’t too spicy for little taste buds. Use the darkest honey you can find (try buckwheat or manuka) for coughs. Plain simmered ginger root with a touch of sea salt is also great to give in small sips to keep hydrated during bouts of vomiting.