The smell of herbs greets patients once they step through the door of Dr. Carol Ragle’s oriental medicine office in Mitchell.
Ragle, who has practiced oriental medicine for 26 years, specializes in immunology, allergy, chronic immune deficiencies and internal medicine treating patients through herbal products, acupuncture, meditation, and diet.
Oriental or Chinese medicine is a holistic alternative medicine practice that uses acupuncture, herbal products, tai chi and lifestyle changes to balance the body and treat diseases. Ragle said the practice of Chinese medicine dates back 6,000 years to China. It is thought to have been brought to the United States by Chinese immigrants around the time the U.S transcontinental railroad was being constructed, according to the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine at California Institute of Integral Studies. It wasn’t until 1971 when the alternative medicine practice became known to the whole United States when journalist James Reston wrote about his experience with acupuncture in an article printed in The New York Times.
Ragle originally practiced western medicine; she taught anatomy, physiology and microbiology to nurses and massage therapists for 10 years.
“Then I got sick with chronic fatigue,” Ragle said. “I spent thousands of dollars in western medicine and they couldn’t figure it out.”
Desperate for a solution, Ragle turned to eastern medicine, a practice she didn’t believe in at the time.
“Someone said, ‘Go to an acupuncturist,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah right, I don’t believe in that,’” Ragle said. “Then it helped, and it kept helping.”
The experience was a turning point in Ragle’s perspective of medicine and it pushed her to attend the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Four years later, she graduated with a Doctor of Oriental Medicine (D.O.M.), over 4,000 hours of experience, a healthy body, and a new perspective on eastern and western medicine.
She spent the first 15 years practicing in New Mexico working as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and State of New Mexico D.O.M. Examiner. Ragle has spent the last 11 years practicing in Mitchell and is one of 13 Nationally Certified Acupuncturists in South Dakota.
Returning to deep family roots
Ragle is originally from Denver, Colorado but her family has deep roots in the community of Mitchell. In 2008, she moved to town to care for her grandmother and mother.
“My family, they were pioneers here,” Ragle said. “They helped start Mitchell.”
Her great-great grandfather Frank Weller came to the area in 1884. Once here, he started the first lumberyard and brought the first tractor to town. On the other side of her family, her great-great grandfather Tom Ball came to Mitchell in 1879 and was one of the original 79ers who helped move Firesteel to Mitchell. He placed the first spike in the railroad that runs along downtown Mitchell and helped build over 200 houses in the community.
“The family has been around forever,” Ragle said. “We’ve had people in the legislature, postal service, and real estate and insurance business.”
Once in Mitchell, Ragle obtained a nursing degree from Dakota Wesleyan University in 2010, working in both western and eastern medicine for several years. Today, Ragle works three days a week treating between 25 to 40 patients. She provides treatment for an extensive list of conditions such as allergies, drug addiction, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, heart problems, high blood pressure, stress, anxiety and infertility. Her patients range from infants to the elderly.
“I like working with the complicated cases,” Ragle said. “We’re all a puzzle, and I like helping people figure themselves out.”
Treating the mind, body and soul
The first treatment day is commonly referred to “10,000 questions” as Ragle learns about the patient’s health history and takes their vitals, including observing their tongue and pulse.
Unlike western medicine, eastern medicine observes the pulse of both hands as each side relays the health of five organs -- the heart, spleen, kidney, lungs, and liver. Each organ corresponds to certain pain, emotion and food, allowing her to pinpoint which organ needs attention. Once the core of the patient’s health problems is identified, Ragle works with their diet, prescribes herbs, and performs acupuncture treatments.
“People come in and they’re like a broken car,” Ragle said. “The herbs build the battery and the acupuncture charges the battery.”
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting and manipulating hair-thin needles just under the skin at points among the body. These points in turn are connected to imaginary lines on the body’s surface called meridians. The Chinese believe the energy force, Qi, that controls health flows among these lines. Ragle said if there is any imbalance in the life forces of yin and yang, it disrupts the flow of Qi, causing health problems and diseases. Acupuncture treatments are used to restore and balance the body’s energy to help promote the body’s natural ability to heal. Traditionally Chinese acupuncture uses 1,000 points, but Ragle uses fewer points and practices a Japenses method involving smaller needles and lighter application.
Usually a course of treatment consists of 12 acupuncture sessions. For those who are hesitant to commit to 12 sessions, Ragle recommends the patient participates in at least three sessions before making a decision.
“Most of the time they start feeling better within one or two treatments,” she said. “I enjoy disbelief because I was there and the funny part is you don’t have to believe in it for it to work.” Through her years of practice, Ragle has seen more and more people turn to alternative medicine. As the last of her family in Mitchell, she told herself she’d only keep her practice open if people continued to seek her out, and with only word-of-mouth advertising she’s continued to keep a full schedule.
“I see more and more people reignite with oriental medicine,” Ragle said. “It’s getting people to think differently, that our bodies aren’t machines they are living material and you have to water your plant.”
In April 2019, she published a book, Blue Dragon Case Studies: A Western Guidebook to Eastern Medicine, which contains 100 cases from 60 different subjects. She’s held book signings across the state and will be holding one on July 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Mitchell Carnegie Resource Center.
“I’ve treated over 3,000 people, so I thought it was time to write a book,” Ragle said. “It’s set up as a handbook for western-minded people who don’t know anything about Chinese medicine.”
Chinese medicine is about prevention and body maintenance and Ragle enjoys helping others improve and heal themselves, something she hopes to continue doing for many years to come.
“I like seeing wellness in people and being a midwife to help them into better health,” Ragle said. “Giving people the tools to get better -- that’s the best part.”