Tag Archives: acupuncture

The power of touch (and a few small needles)

15 Apr

Sometime last fall I started feeling, well, crappy. I couldn’t quite figure out what my problem was, but the GI condition I’ve had for over 10 years started to rear its ugly head after being in remission for 4 years. I was taking all my medication, doing my weekly yoga, eating regularly, getting enough sleep–for the life of me I couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was. Then in October, after feeling like I was sliding down a rapidly declining slope, there was The Incident. The Incident happened when I bought some chicken, made the very poor decision to leave it, raw, in the fridge for about 5 days until I could decide what to do with it, then cooked it up, thinking (we all know how wrongly) that it would be fine. It was not fine. Bob was so pissed off about The Incident and The Chicken that he immediately staged a coup and I woke up hours later in a cold sweat. It was…not good. For weeks after I couldn’t seem to get back on track, and then the final blow to poor Bob came when my GI doc wanted to do a procedure in December to check out Bob, “just to see how your system is doing.” Let me tell you something–if my GI tract wasn’t pissed off by bad chicken and Lord knows what, then the process of flushing out the good bacteria in my gut with nasty tasting salt water (the prep) and then assaulting it with a scope for the procedure (my heavens!), it was hella angry now. My friend Amanda would agree that this was NOT in alignment with Ayurvedic principles of “Do No Harm.”

So starting the new year, I just got sicker and sicker and nothing seemed to help, even the short round of steroids I went on (and steroids are like the least desirable option. They’re that bad). I went to my GI who helpfully told me I could go on powerful biologic medication–scary–or I could consider taking out my colon. Again…no thanks. I wasn’t the sickest I’ve ever been, but I wasn’t feeling well and past indicators said nothing positive about my future.

So I decided–I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to do either of those options, and there HAD to be something else. As my doc and I were going over the math problem that is my daily pill haul (HIM: ok, you’re on 4800mg of blah blah, and you take that three times a day, plus the 100mg of yadda yadda that you take once a day, and we could up that to 125mg based on your body mass TWO times a day for one month and then… ME: [blank stare] HIM: Sound good?), I happened to mention to him that I do yoga, and I might consider acupuncture or something similar before I sacrificed Bob to surgery. A thoughtful look crossed his face and he said, “Wait a minute…we had a guy in here from China who has an acupuncture practice through Carolinas Integrative Health [affiliated with a big hospital in Charlotte]. He was visiting here last week to drum up some new business. Here’s his pamphlet.” So I studied it, and he said while he knew next to nothing about Eastern medicine (of course he didn’t–bless my doc, but he lives and dies by the DSM-IV manual, drugs, and surgery), if it worked he’d give up his practice and move to China.

The next week I called up Southpark Acupuncture, made an appointment, and off I went.

I met with Dr. Li, a middle-aged Chinese man with an MD in TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, from some Chinese university I can neither spell nor pronounce. He’s been practicing here for 7 years, and his English comes in short bursts with a somewhat heavy accent. I told him my symptoms and he showed me a small figure with all the body’s meridians traveling across it–there are so many! Most of my problems are in the spleen/stomach area, which go from the foot up to the head. He told me about another young woman with similar problems who felt better after 8-10 weeks of sessions. I thought sure, whatever. I doubt I’ll be that lucky, but give me what you’ve got. I wasn’t skeptical, per se, but i didn’t think this was going to be the magic bullet. But what did I have to lose?

So after the initial consult, he took me into the exam room (no nurse) with a medical bed. He had me stick out my tongue and checked the color. He put his hand on my back to feel my breathing; apparently my inhales weren’t deep enough for his taste (I’ve determined I’m a shallow breather by nature–this displeases me). He checked my pulse and looked at me: “You have weak life force!” This wasn’t good. As I had been under a lot of physical and emotional stress for some time, I was more fragile than I thought. I don’t like thinking I have a weak life force. He stared at me, not unkindly, but I was sure he was judging my weak life force, and I immediately started to cry. Not loud, wailing sobs, but more like a leaking of tears. This wasn’t good either. He went to get some tissues (apparently he doesn’t have many criers), and when I calmed down he had me change into a exam robe that opened in the front and lie down. When he came back in, he said “You skinny!” This was not a positive statement. So let’s recap: I was in the midst of a flare-up from some bad damn chicken, my drugs stopped working, I don’t breathe properly, I’m hypersensitive, and now I don’t have enough meat on my bones. What a way to start the session!

But then something marvelous happened. He started to place his hands on different parts of my body and places that I didn’t even know were sore or tender revealed themselves at his touch. And when he found tender spots, he brought out his teeny tiny acupuncture needles (about the diameter of a hair, in plastic sterile packaging) and tapped them into place: tap tap. If he hit the nerve just right, a stroke of heat would travel down my leg. It was amazing. He tapped them into my foot, shin, knee, belly, hand, breast bone, and in my forehead. I looked down and there was a veritable maze of needles sticking out of me. And then he left me there for 10 minutes, probably hoping I would calm down and stop crying. Because that’s what I was doing…lots of crying. Not because it hurt, but because I just needed an outlet for my emotional and physical problems. He was like an acupuncturist and silent therapist all in one.

The rush of energy was incredibly relaxing. I took deep breaths and let those tiny needles work their magic. I could feel heat and sensation running down my legs and in my belly. When he came back he took out the needles, and then turned me over to do an acupressure massage on my back. I never knew I had so many knots in my back! Still more crying. But he would know exactly where to touch the sensitive spots to massage them out–it was really remarkable, and something that can only take years of practice. And then I turned back over and he kneaded my face and head, and pulled on my head as if he was pulling on a doll to pop its head clean off. With pressure, this is surprisingly effective for alignment.

He sent me home as relaxed as I had ever been with some more tissues and a tea I had to boil and drink for 4 days (made out of sunflowers and dried orange peel and I have no idea what else) with a return visit to see him 4 days later. You’ll be glad to know, I did not cry once. But it wasn’t until after the 2nd visit that I actually started to feel better, and the ulcers in my colon started healing themselves. Most of the symptoms of my illness–which I won’t go into here–went away. I didn’t really change my diet, and even my pledge to give up alchol didn’t last all that long. The only consistent thing I’ve done weekly is acupuncture. Now what does THAT say?

I’ve seen him now 7 times, and I’ve grown quite fond of Dr. Li. In fact, I’m a little worried about what happens when I won’t see him every Thursday at 4pm! Every week is a little different–different locations for the needles, different ways of massage depending on how I feel and what places are tender. But always, ALWAYS I leave feeling incredibly relaxed. It’s something I wish I’d tried sooner. There’s something so comforting about a calm, professional massage, and say what you want about chi, or energy, but I think most of us are a lot more stagnant from stress than we think we are. I have no doubt that the problems in my gut are aggravated by the problems in my life, and the health of one is dependent on the health of the other. Most people are never touched as much as we need, and this helps bridge that gap.

A warning, though–there’s really no place for modesty with an acupuncturist. He sticks needles in all kinds of places, including near my tailbone, and sometimes if I’m REALLY lucky he’ll attach these electrodes to the needles themselves that start out with a slow tap — tap — tap, and then he’ll turn them up to a taptaptaptaptaptap until I tell him “Alright! I’m good!” Those are some good times. But I don’t care if he’s doing voodoo medicine…I’m a fan.

I called my GI to tell him the good news, and his nurse was as interested as he was in what it was all about. He was skeptical, but supportive. But it really doesn’t matter–what matters is that it works (or at least I think it does, and so what’s the difference??) The Wall Street Journal had a really interesting article about it that my brother gave to me which discusses how technology can show just how effective acupuncture can be:

I’m all for it–just get doc from China. They know what they’re doing! If you’ve thought about doing acupuncture but are a little scared, go ahead and take the plunge. I think you’ll find it’s worth it. And really, what have you got to lose?