The Professor’s Treatment
by Tom Baeli
Shortly before I turned 21 years old, I suffered a parachuting accident which shattered my lower right leg and ankle, requiring surgery, long hospitalization and a year in a full leg cast.
Even worse over all was the soft tissue damage. Ligaments and tendons take a long time to heal, and seldom return to full use, remaining shortened, tight and tense.
3 years after the accident, I had the opportunity to meet and be treated by Professor Cheng. After explaining my rather obvious situation (I walked funny) Tam Gibbs invited me at Professor’s request to see him at his home for examination.
Because I wasn’t able to see him immediately, when the accident first occurred, he told me frankly that there was little chance of a full recovery. However he believed he could help me recapture some movement. He knew how important that was, as it severely hampered my development in learning Tai Chi, the reason I had come to him in the first place.
I sensed a deep wellspring of compassion, Professor had a kindly, caring demeanor . But I could hardly know how much and how deep his commitment and kindness was until Tam gave away his secret some time later.
I had prior experience with Chinese herbal medicine in Korea, but nothing could have prepared me for the vile bitter taste of these prescriptions, of which there were three in all. Each one adjusted with new ingredients as improvement was noted.
I was forewarned by the doctor, to have handy a glass of water and some raisins. And that immediately after downing the brew to drink the full glass, and eat the raisins. In spite of my best efforts, I was helpless to prevent the involuntary gagging and retching that always followed. I’d carry his written formulations to a small Chinatown herbal shop Professor specifically recommended I use. The pharmacist prepared the formula, folded it into an envelope made of wrapping paper. Sometimes he’d patiently explained some of the ingredients in halting English. I learned one of the ingredients was a variety of cockroach. But not to worry, they were Medicinally pure, raised on a strong herbal diet under hygienic conditions, then chopped and mixed with other ingredients.
Eventually a second formula was added. This one for external use only.
Here’s how I was to apply this…
Cook the herbs into a decoction (liquid extract-tea) cook sticky rice using the rendered tea, instead of water. Spread a thick coating of this herbal rice paste around the injured area. Wrap with old nylon stockings for several days.
Medically the result of this was the sticky rice actually became as hard as a plaster cast, immobilizing my ankle. As the liquid dried over the days it released medication into my skin, and deep into the damaged area.
Personally I thought this was nothing short of brilliant. Without the cost or complication of advanced technical procedures I was able to treat myself in my own home! Sort of a do it yourself healing kit.
This two pronged attack definitely had a positive impact leading to a partial improvement, but as cautioned, not a complete one.
My recollection is that I gained about a quarter of an inch or more of flex at the joint. Amazing when you compare it to my doctor’s early recommendation: to remove part of the bone, actually decreasing flexibility and shortening the leg in the bargain.
I had come to Tai Chi with the hopes of improving my shot at an normal life. Professor contributed unselfishly to that end.
How unselfishly? Well that was the secret Tam told to me many months later. A single ingredient in the formula he designed for my treatment wasn’t available outside Mainland China. It had to be clandestinely brought to America. It’s cost was substantial, over a thousand (1960’s) dollars. The friendly Chinatown pharmacist at that Chinatown Herb Shop was instructed by Professor, who bore the cost, to include this valuable herb in my folded paper envelope when I came to call.