A Chinese Treatment that Spans Centuries
By Francesca Sullivan
When seeking help for a physical or psychological problem, a visit to an acupuncture specialist is not what most people consider, especially here in Egypt. But for those interested in a holistic approach, and one that can possibly work where conventional medicine has failed, treatment by acupuncture can be a revelation.
Dr Hamed El Fishawy, an acupuncturist with a clinic in Maadi, has been practising this form of ancient Chinese medicine in Cairo since 2000. Cairo East Magazine met with him to find out more.
CEM: Where did acupuncture originate, and what are the principles behind it?
HF: Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine which has been used for centuries. It is based on the theory that energy, or chi, flows around the body continuously along pathways known as meridians. Illness occurs when these pathways become blocked, and the body’s yin and yang (opposite energies that complement each other and work together to form a whole) are out of balance. Acupuncture is employed to get the energy moving correctly again. The premise behind this form of alternative medicine is about stimulating the body’s natural ability to heal itself, and conventional medicine might interpret the application of acupuncture as stimulation of nerves, muscles and connective tissue in order to increase blood flow and increase the body’s own healing mechanisms.
How did you first become involved with acupuncture?
I studied medicine at Cairo University, and in 1996 immigrated to New Zealand, where I was specializing in neurosurgery. I was picked as one of a group of doctors taking part in an experiment to look at the benefits of Chinese traditional medicine, and at first I was highly sceptical, in fact I was thinking ‘Oh no, why me?’. I was ill at the time with a sore throat and told the Chinese master instructing the sessions that I couldn’t make it. He suggested going to the doctor and getting some conventional medicine, since he’d already guessed I was resistant to the idea of acupuncture. But when the sore throat persisted for two more weeks, I finally went along to meet him. He treated me, and to my amazement it was cured in one session. I was intrigued and began to study Chinese medicine, going deeply into the subject. The more I studied it the more I became convinced.
What kind of conditions can it treat, and which parts of the body respond the best?
Acupuncture can in theory cure a long list of diseases, but there are definitely certain conditions that respond to it better than others. These include those related to the muscular- skeletal system: chronic back, neck, shoulder or joint problems; osteoarthritis; also head ache and migraine; diseases of the endocrinal, lymphatic and nervous systems, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, sciatica, and facial palsy. It is effective for menstrual problems such as PMS and irregular bleeding. It can be helpful for stroke victims, and for relieving specific types of pain.
It can also be effective for treating depression and stress. When treating depression I use a holistic approach combining acupuncture with counselling. A lot of my Egyptian clients come for help in losing weight. The treatment consists of applying acupuncture to small points on the ear which send messages to the brain centre simulating satiety, thereby acting as an appetite suppressant.
What happens during an acupuncture treatment session?
Tiny non-invasive needles, barely wider than a hair, are placed in very specific points in the top layer of the skin, sometimes with the addition of heat, pressure or a mild electric current. Other related treatments are moxibustion (heat created by burning a certain kind of herb in a cigar-shaped stick and applying it close to the skin) and cupping (suction applied to the skin to increase blood flow).
How many sessions on average does acupuncture require, and how long would each session last?
The length of the first session is an hour, as I spend time taking the patient’s history. Follow up sessions usually last around twenty minutes. The number of sessions needed depends on the individual’s response, but also on how long they’ve had the condition; chronic conditions will need more sessions.
Acupuncture is about trying to find the root cause of a problem, not just treating the symptoms. It’s like trying to take a photograph; when the picture isn’t clear you have to keep focussing in until it becomes sharper. That’s why it can take quite a few treatments to get down to the root of the problem and clear it.
Once treated are the effects long-lasting, or do you need a follow-up?
This depends on the response of the client and on the problem itself. Sometimes you need to give a booster even if the patient is completely healed, rather like an injection to prevent future recurrences.
Can it be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment?
Certainly, though we sometimes ask the patient to discontinue other medication if their condition has stabilized. For example in the case of hypertension we would recommend they keep taking their medication but to monitor their blood pressure with the aim of gradually reducing it, and let the acupuncture eventually replace it. If a condition is chronic we can’t take a decision to discontinue other medication right away.
Is anyone a suitable candidate?
Since there are no side effects, anyone can safely be a suitable candidate. However for about twenty per cent of the population acupuncture does not work. (This percentage is similar to other forms of medicine – antibiotics for example.) If the response is poor I would never encourage a patient to continue with it.
Can you cite any specific cases you have treated successfully?
Yes, quite a few. Facial palsy has a 95% success rate even when it has become chronic. It takes between seven and eighteen sessions. I successfully treated a patient with lymphatic filariasis (elephantitis); she had extreme swelling in her leg, and conventional medicine hadn’t been effective for her. I also a treated a foreign patient with fertility problems; she had had several unsuccessful IVF treatments, and got pregnant after acupuncture.
How do you see the future of acupuncture treatment in Egypt?
I have developed a good reputation here, and even have support from some doctors, but in general it has been quite difficult to overcome prejudices in Egypt when it comes to alternative medicine. Acupuncture has a clientele mainly from the upper social segments; many in the medical profession view it with suspicion, or dismiss it. Sadly I don’t see this changing at the present time.
Listing of Acupuncture treatment centres
• Egypt Acupuncture
Dr. Hamed El Fishawy, MD. Medical Acupuncturist
• Clinic For Acupuncture Treatment
Dr. Laila Ahmed Abou Ismail
• Cura Egypt
• Dutch Care Physiotherapy
• Haiyan Chinese Health Center
Dr. Haiyan Wang
• Revive Center
Dr. Heba Elnazer