FOR MOST OF us who grew up in this country, with its reverence for Western medicine, it just sounds weird.
Sticking needles in your skin all over your body? And expecting them to make you feel better? Seriously??
Yet acupuncture has been around for 3000 years, and increasingly western doctors are accepting it as a tool in fighting pain, migraines, stroke damage, respiratory and gynecological disorders, fatigue, addiction…and on and on.
Roughly 15 million Americans have undergone acupuncture treatment in the last year–that’s almost five percent of the population.
Your less-than-intrepid reporter has been one of those other 95%. Until now.
Time to take the leap.
His acupuncturist is Rachael DeLuca of Marquette. Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Four years of training at Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He listens with trepidation and skepticism as she explains the idea behind acupuncture and why it works. She says Chinese medicine is all about maintaining balance between the yin and the yang. The feminine and the masculine. Darkness and light. Restfulness and activity.
He tries to comprehend when she describes the chi (chee)–the invisible, intangible energy that flows through your body. The life force.
“There are twelve different channels running through your body,” she explains, “and Chinese medicine focuses on keeping the chi in the blood moving. So if there’s a blockage, that’s where there’s pain. And the needles go into the channels there to remove blockage. What the needles do is stimulate the area and bring more circulation to that area…”
Okay. Makes sense. He’s got it so far. He’s still just a wee bit concerned about needles piercing his skin.
She asks about his problems. He mentions lower back pain, occasional anxiety, insomnia, prostate problems. She checks his pulse (actually a few of them) along with other parts of his body.
“There’s an imbalance in your heart,” DeLuca concludes, speaking of the anxiety and insomnia problems. “You have too much fire going on. It’s going up into your head, so I’m going to do some points on your heart meridians, or your heart channels, so we can disperse the excess.”
As for the back ache and kidney problems, those are different channels. She’ll work on those, too.
“Let me show you the needles,” she says, pulling them out of a new package. Never been used, and they’ll be disposed of afterwards.
“Kinda look like sewing needles,” he says.
“Oh no! They’re much thinner!” she laughs. “Don’t write that. That scares people.”
She’s right. They are much thinner. They’re stainless steel but they look like a thread, and they bend.
“And the good thing is,” she adds, “you’ll be on your stomach so you won’t see them going in.”
She leaves the room, he mostly disrobes and gets under a blanket. Ahh, the bed is heated. Kinda like a massage.
She returns. “All set?”
First, she does some cupping on him. Another form of therapy in which suction cups are applied to parts of the body where there’s blockage.
“It draws the the tight muscles up and brings new chi to the area,” she explains. “It pulls out the lactic acid.”
It’s a slight sucking sensation, nothing more, for about two minutes. Feels good.
Then on to the…uhh…needles.
“They only go in about a quarter of an inch,” DeLuca says, as she inserts the needles into his skin.
“Any blood?” he asks.
He vaguely senses something’s happening on his back, shoulders, hands, legs, and feet, but only one of the insertions gives him a slight, momentary ache. The rest? Nothing.
“How many do I have back there?” he mumbles through his face cradle.
He can’t see it but he’s sure he looks like a freaking human pin cushion.
“Do you feel anything?” she asks.
“Mmmmgghh,” he responds through the face cradle. He turns his head slightly. “A…slight…electrical feeling,” he finally manages.
“Yes, that’s good.” She then places a heat lamp over his lower back to increase the chi and the blood flow. “Okay, I’m going to leave now and let you have some time to rest and relax. I’ll be right across the hall if you need me.”
He doesn’t. He listens to the faint, soothing music of Tibetan singing bowls over a sound system, and to the white noise coming from the air filter in the room and he…..almost dozes off. Doesn’t move a muscle for more than 20 minutes.
DeLuca returns. “How are you feeling?”
“Mmmggghh,” he responds groggily. “Fine.”
She removes the needles. Nothing to it. After a few minutes, he manages to sit up. He gets dressed and meets her at the front desk.
“So?” she asks.
“So I feel pretty good.”
She tells him generally patients need three sessions with an acupuncturist to determine whether the therapy is helpful. He nods.
He does feel good. Could it be the placebo effect? No way of knowing at this point, but yeah, the back pain has lessened a bit, and he feels an overall calm set in over his body. The chi and the blood flow are circulating better. Right?
Two days later, he still feels that overall calm. Less fire going into the head, as DeLuca had described it.
The Chinese couldn’t have been all wrong for the last 3000 years, could they?
He decides to schedule a second appointment.
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