Dr. Greg Todd is a Chi Institute instructor and integrated practice owner based in Tarpon Springs, Florida. He has lectured on acupuncture and herbal medicine at schools and conferences around the world, and received the Ma Shi Huang TCVM Practitioner of the Year Award in 2013. In the piece below, Dr. Todd recounts how a back injury in 1992 led him on a decades-long journey with Chinese Medicine.
I was introduced to acupuncture in late 1992, when, as a patient I found myself traversing the stairs of an old office building in Tarpon Springs, FL to the office of Dr. Patrick Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan is an acupuncturist near my home. He had a wonderful reputation and I had been referred to him by a number of people. I had been suffering with a chronic injury and the next step was surgery. While surgery is a wonderful and useful tool, it was preferential to avoid the “knife” if possible. With the arrogance of a young, presumably well-educated practitioner, I found it difficult to believe that I was going to an acupuncturist. I had little doubt that the effort was frivolous. As I came down the stairs after the appointment, my attitude about the effort and the medicine was decidedly different.
As I entered his office I found myself in a room with numerous raw herbs in bottles and dozens of herbal formulas. The aroma of moxa mixed with the smell of the aromatic raw herbs created a calming feeling. Behind a small desk, Kathleen, Dr. Sullivan’s wife, smiled and welcomed me. I completed the paperwork and sat down for my free consultation. Dr. Sullivan appeared and introduced himself. We discussed my condition and my life style. Prior to the injury I was heavily into running and had pretty much decided that I would be happy if I could simply walk around the block without blinding pain. Dr. Sullivan indicated that much more might be possible. He then proceeded to ask me several questions, which seemed irrelevant to the problem at hand. Questions such as how I perceived work, other complaints from which I might suffer, and whether I was happy were just a few.
Next, Dr. Sullivan asked if he might take my pulse. I acquiesced and he thoughtfully palpated first one wrist and then the other. He examined my tongue. When he completed this process he sat across from me at his desk. He smiled. Then, over the next few minutes he proceeded to tell me more about myself than anyone just meeting me should know. Things including my eating habits, sleeping habits, when I would wake up, why I would wake up and quite frankly how certain situations in life would be perceived by me. I was flabbergasted that anyone could know so much from taking a pulse. I was hooked. He explained what he thought he could do for me and asked if I was interested in being treated. I most certainly was!! I was taken to a treatment room and asked to remove my jewelry and shoes and lie on the examination table. As Dr. Sullivan was preparing to treat me, he said something, which would become a staple for me as a practitioner for the rest of my life.
He said that every therapy should have some expectation of results. If we failed to achieve perceptible results within 30 days then acupuncture was not the right tool or he was not the person to perform it. This man so believed in his medicine that he was willing to give it an ultimatum. 30 days or else. Remarkable.
Over the next few weeks, Dr. Sullivan and I became fast friends. One day I was presented with a cat suffering from hind limb paresis, but the pet still had deep pain. We tried conventional therapy for several days with no improvement. I recommended referral, but this was not an option for the owners. Feeling that there must be something we can do, I called Patrick in desperation and said, “I have this funny proposition for you. Wouldn’t you like to treat this mean cat at night, after your long workday, at my office for free? I’ll anesthetize the cat because I’m sure no one can put needles into an awake cat, and more good news; it has to be for free because I don’t want you to be in trouble with the board of Veterinary Medicine and I’m not sure it’s legal.” To my surprise and relief, he said sure. He treated the patient four times. After the second treatment the cat was running around the cage with no deficits. I was in awe. I lost track of the patient after three years. She was an outdoor cat and she returned to that life, running, hunting and jumping over fences. When I saw Flannel walk again, I knew I needed to learn this amazing medicine. But how? I didn’t know any veterinarian who practiced acupuncture and I was not aware of any organization that taught acupuncture. It was before the Internet, so where do I start?
I went to Dr. Sullivan and asked to speak to him. We sat in his office, and I said with profound respect, that I needed to request something of him. I said that I had no right to ask, but I needed him to teach me Chinese Medicine. I offered to pay him to teach me. He smiled. He reached onto a shelf behind his desk and handed me a book. He said, “OK, read this book and come back tomorrow.” When I returned he had a written test for me to take and another book to read. My journey had begun.
I continued to study with Dr. Sullivan. I would read books and discuss them with him. I would shadow him while he treated patients. Typically I would pulse one wrist and he the other and then we would switch. Then I would be interrogated about the patient’s condition, etiology, and treatment.
My TCVM practice began late in 1993 when I discovered that I could accurately prescribe three herbal formulas. When I encountered a patient whom I felt I could help, I would offer an herbal. At the time, I had not yet learned acupuncture so herbs were my only tools. In 1994, Dr. Sullivan bought me a gift. It was Allen Schoen’s first book, Veterinary Acupuncture: Ancient Art to Modern Medicine. In the back was an address for IVAS, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. In 1996 I completed the IVAS course and became certified as a Veterinary Acupuncturist.
TCVM quickly became a major part of my practice. I happily integrated conventional and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine together. I found, as Dr. Xie has pointed out repeatedly, that conventional medicine is great at pointing out where the problem lies and TCVM is great at repairing the problem and restoring balance and health. Over the next several years, I continued to study and practice. I was a Teaching Assistant for IVAS and struggled to learn something new everyday. It was as a TA for IVAS that I first heard of Dr. Xie. He had just arrived in the US and a friend, Dr. Richard Funk, had a copy of his first book. I was fascinated. How could someone know so much about medicine?
In 2000, while attending the FVMA conference, I was afforded the opportunity to hear Dr. Xie lecture at length on TCVM. As I sat and listened, I realized that here was a teacher for whom I had been searching for many years. He understood TCVM and veterinary medicine. I was entranced. I must have asked a million questions. All of these questions Dr. Xie readily answered, only to spark more questions for me. Later that year I began herbal courses at the Chi Institute. Ironically, I was also asked to lecture for IVAS that year. Dr. Jack Musgrave approached me and encouraged me to lecture. I thought why not try it? I figured it would be an hour or maybe two just to see what it was like. When IVAS suggested that I lecture for 10 hours I was floored. It was a remarkable learning opportunity. I learned and relearned so much in the preparation of those lectures. I truly believe I invested over 50 hours of preparation for every hour of lecture.
The time arrived for me to deliver and so I went to Houston, Texas. Terrified, I walked into the conference room, toting my books, wearing my brand new suit, and CARRYING PRIZES. I looked up and could not believe my eyes. Dr. Xie was lecturing immediately before me. I thought, “Great! How will I ever follow Dr. Xie! My first time and I have to follow the Master!” I set about getting ready as I watched Dr. Xie thronged by students with dozens of questions. And then, Dr. Xie did something that increased my credibility immeasurably with the audience. It was the gift of Face. He interrupted the questions to turn to me and said simply, “Greg, I’ll see you back in Gainesville.” As he walked past my well worn and thumbed copy of Maciocia’s The Foundations of Traditional Chinese Medicine, he picked it up, smiled and said “Well used.” I was extremely grateful for his gift.
The lectures went well and I found I really enjoyed sharing what I knew and my personal TCVM experiences with practitioners and students. I also found that I learned more from the students than they learned from me; another debt of gratitude. Shortly after that time, Dr. Xie invited me to become a TA and lecture for the Chi Institute. I jumped at the chance. I found that being involved with the Chi Institute was sharpening my saw. It had an amazing renewing effect. Each time I finished preparing for a lecture I found myself reinvigorated about practice and TCVM. Each time I was with students, TA’s or Dr. Xie, I was re-inoculated with a thirst for learning and the knowledge that here is a tool that had limitless boundaries to apply to the aid of my patients.
If someone were to ask about the strengths of TCVM, I would have to say that it is the fact that TCVM removes fixed ideas from the treatment of our patients. If the practitioner can identify the pattern, and treat that, the most complicated cases can and do respond. When practicing , I have found it necessary to remind myself not to go into agreement about what can and can not be fixed. Cases that have not been fixed with conventional treatment can respond dramatically to TCVM therapy. The greatest reward for me as a practitioner has been to sit in a room with owners who share, with tears in their eyes, the joy of seeing an old dog pick up a toy and play after years of not playing, or the dog with a brain tumor that is still happy and asymptomatic after more than a year. These stories are not limited to my experience. Every TCVM practitioner I have met has his or her own victories. The fact the EVERY TCVM practitioner has their own stories is the point. Trusting in the medicine and applying it with a logical process and perseverance yields these extraordinary results.
Productive is defined in the dictionary as: "having the power of producing; generative; creative: a produc-tive effort." It is logical then to say if you are a teacher, and you produce students who are able and efficient in the art or science you are teaching, then you are productive. By this definition, Dr. Xie is truly a productive man. His gift of making this medicine didactic and repetitive to the Western mind has enabled so many of my colleagues and myself to have success stories. Since starting my journey in TCVM, I have had the opportunity to continuously learn from intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated people. I have been afforded the opportunity to lecture nationally and internationally. I have had the opportunity to write articles and a textbook chapter on TCVM. Also, I have had the honor of being an associate editor for the AJTCVM, the American Journal of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. I have loved every moment of it.
My day to day life is focused on operating a six doctor, integrative small animal practice in Dunedin, FL. Our mission is to offer the highest quality veterinary care to pets and people in our community. We have two acupuncture practitioners and four conventional practitioners with a dedicated and compassionate staff. Several of the specialists in our area, including the internist who consults weekly in our practice, have completed training at the Chi Institute. It is a fulfilling and fun place to continue learning and practicing. If I could offer simple advice for others just beginning this journey it would be this: trust in what you know. Strive to know more and always keep learning. Da Vinci said, "A good person seeks knowledge".