Monday, February 15, 2016

Adventures in Acupuncture

From the time I can remember, I have been terrified of needles.



My dad loves to tell the story of how I bent the needle while being held down by him and four nurses as they tried to give me a shot…after being brought into emergency in a pneumonia induced state of lethargy. Anyway, you get the picture. Needles and I don’t get along.

On a previous cruise, my dearly beloved husband, having injured his back between going in to use the men’s room at the cruise terminal and coming out (I still can’t really explain how THAT happened), decided to make use of the acupuncture services on board the ship. Three days and four hundred dollars later, he was a new man, once again capable of trudging around the ship decks to get food, and getting himself back and forth to the tour buses to discover the beautiful Caribbean islands like a real tourist.

“You should try it,” he suggested when I began limping and straining on the ship’s staircases during our recent Minnesota winter getaway cruise to the equatorial warmth of the Caribbean. “We’ll see how I feel once I’m not sitting at a desk all day every day,” I replied.

We walked, we climbed up stairs, we climbed down stairs, we walked some more. I get more exercise on vacation than I ever do in my regular life. Day one: sore hip. “You should try acupuncture,” he says. “We’ll see how I feel,” I replied. “It’s just been one day.”

Day two: more walking, more climbing, no change. “So, what about that acupuncture,” I ask? “Do you feel it?”

“No, you don’t feel it,” he tells me. (“Liar,” I’m thinking.)

So I make the appointment. Mark, when he had his acupuncture, got a Chinese specialist straight from China who had been practicing since they built the Great Wall. I get a blond woman from Vermont with a whopping four years of experience who’s done “thousands of treatments” in her long illustrious career. My confidence is waning, but I make the appointment anyway.

After filling out a questionnaire and pointing out the best I can where it hurts, she proceeds to turn me into a pin cushion—twenty needles in my feet, hands, and calves, plus one between the eyes for good measure – essentially everywhere except where it hurts. This is Chinese medicine, so what do I know? She’s the expert. My chi is plugged up she explains.  I don’t get it, but she assures me it will help. Next day I seem to be feeling slightly better, which I relay to the “doc.” She repeats the treatment from the day before. Third day I confess that I’m not really feeling better after all, so this time she puts the needles in my lower back, hip, and down my left leg, and reminds me that acupuncture takes time.

That much I have figured out. And at $100+ per treatment, my body is going to have to figure out how to heal without the help of acupuncture.

Now to answer that question you’re probably wondering about if you never had acupuncture…do you feel it?


And yes.

I did not feel most of the needles. Some of them I felt very lightly, but not in any way that one would associate with pain. However, there were two or three pricks over my three sessions that stung like the dickens, but even those calmed down after a minute or two and I didn’t feel them again.

Trying acupuncture was a bold adventure for me, a facing of one of my most ingrained fears, and I’m glad I did. But I am not one to throw good money after bad, so if three sessions don’t bring me relief, the experiment is over. And until acupuncture services become as affordable as chiropractic care, they will never be my first course of action.

Now that I’m home, I will manage my hip pain the same way I have in the past:  see my chiropractor, get a massage or two, return to yoga practice once or twice a week, and – probably the most effective action of them all – eliminate the wheat products from my diet. I’ve found that wheat (or gluten, more likely) seems to aggravate joint and muscle pain in my body, and while I was vacationing, I was quite bad with my indulgences.  So returning to a mostly Paleo diet for a while will probably help the healing process.

Acupuncture is probably not for everyone, and possibly not even for every ailment. Would I recommend it? I have an acquaintance who swears it is the only treatment that freed her of her chronic back pain. It certainly helped my husband when he needed it. So, yes, give it a whirl. I may yet consider it in the future for other types of pain. The only side effects are possible bruising and punctured lungs. (Yes, Ms. Vermont actually told me when I was signing the waiver that, if inserted incorrectly into the chest, an acupuncture needle could puncture a lung.) So, for best results, make sure you see a licensed, qualified, and well-established practitioner who knows what he or she is doing.

I wish you success!

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