An Interview with Bob Damone, LAc, PCOM Professor and Chair of the Department of Clinical Practice: Part I
By Brian Carter, MSCi, LAc
My first encounter with Bob Damone was three years ago in his Herbs I class. Although I was overwhelmed by the complexity of Chinese herbs, I was impressed by Bob's humor and intelligence.
He's a natural teacher. I also had the fortune to attend Bob's Respiratory Diseases class last trimester. It provided a taste of the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine's (PCOM's) new Oriental medicine series, which combines both biomedicine and TCM. This time, I was struck by Bob's emphasis upon Chinese sources, his precise thinking, and his ability to hold the attention of (and stimulate) the entire class.
I am pleased to present Bob Damone as the first in a series of Oriental medical practitioner interviews. Due to its length, our interview has been split into two parts. Of particular note in this installment are the innovative OM series, and Bob's insights about how OM and biomedicine interact in practice.
Brian Benjamin Carter (BBC): Bob, what first attracted you to East Asian medicine?
Bob Damone (BD): I think Native American history, art and culture is what initially sparked my interest in East Asian medicine. It shaped my mind to be more appreciative of the natural world and the wisdom of pre-industrial world cultures. From there came an interest in conservation, natural foods and, by extension, herbal medicine. I fell in love with East Asian medicine through Daoism, meditation, tai ji chuan and qigong. I was absolutely fascinated with herbal medicine and couldn't spend enough time around medicinal substances. I welcomed them into my home and played with making tinctures, plasters, powders and tonics, and I fancied myself a Daoist longevity seeker/shamanic medicine-maker. My kitchen cupboard looked like a medieval pharmacy. After a year of this, I entered ACTCM in San Francisco, where I got my first taste of the serious academic aspect of Chinese medicine, and my love for the subject deepened.
BBC: Tell us about the new Oriental medicine series.
BD: The change in the series of "Oriental medicine" courses at PCOM is the product of a group effort involving faculty, students and administrators from all three of its campuses. It was undertaken due to a perceived need to comprehensively educate students in TCM theory and practice pertaining to TCM-defined internal medicine and several other TCM specialties. Concurrently, this seven-course series challenges students to responsibly "re-frame" the TCM-defined conditions into their constituent biomedical diseases, while maintaining the integrity of each medical paradigm. It is hoped that our students will be better prepared to practice professional TCM in biomedical settings and also to intelligently converse with patients and their doctors in biomedical terms. It seems that this change has been largely successful, and continuous evaluation and refinement is occurring.
BBC: What, in your opinion, is the biggest mistake we can make in dealing with biomedicine?
BD: The biggest mistake a practitioner of TCM can make in this regard is to forsake TCM disease and pattern diagnosis for biomedical diagnosis. I always advise students to keep their thinking clear: when thinking biomedicine, think biomedicine; when thinking TCM, think TCM. One can responsibly correlate or translate between the two systems, but if one is not careful to maintain the integrity of each medical paradigm, the outcome quickly deteriorates into "chop suey." When a patient presents, one should first challenge one's self to perceive their complaint through the lens of TCM. For example, if a patient arrives with the established biomedical diagnosis of acute cystitis, with acute onset of frequent, burning, painful urination, and a slimy, yellow tongue fur, one should not look under "acute cystitis" but "strangury (lin zheng) due to damp heat." This shift in perception is the key to doing professional TCM based on disease and pattern discrimination. Of course, one should also then perceive the patient through a biomedical lens, taking care to consider the appropriate biomedical case management for acute cystitis, and factor that in the TCM management and cost-benefit analysis. Maintaining the integrity of each paradigm is essential to clinical success and growth. For example, if I wanted to access Zhang Jing-Yue's infamous Ming dynasty work, Jing-Yue's Complete Compendium, for relevant information, I would look for the chapter on strangury, since cystitis is not a TCM-based disease category.
BBC: Are you still fascinated by East Asian medicine?
BD: My love affair with Chinese medicine continues and is rekindled every day. There is so much depth that I could spend my entire life exploring different aspects of it and never grow tired. I could challenge myself in new and different ways forever. I love its authenticity, its acknowledgement of the empirical experience of previous generations, its intelligence and logic, and its reflections in language, literature and art.
BBC: What do you like most about teaching?
BD: Although it can be challenging at times, teaching is largely a joy for me. I love being immersed in an environment where the collective goal is the acquisition and refinement of knowledge. I think my most enjoyable teaching moments occur when I see that light go on in a student's eye, when that slight nod of the head spontaneously happens, when understanding and clarity have taken up residence in a new corner of a mind. If I can inspire students to commit to life-long learning, if I can open up new ways of thinking and facilitate fresh approaches to stale material, I feel content. I always hope to point out the great depth and beauty of Chinese medicine, and I hope that my students respect, cherish, and nurture it. Essentially, if I can promote and nurture respect for the profundity of East Asian medicine, then I feel okay at the end of the day.
Editor's note: Part II of Mr. Carter's interview with Bob Damone will appear in the July issue.
Click here for previous articles by Brian Carter, MSCi, LAc.