Trying Out: Getting Poked by Dozens of Tiny Needles (Week Twenty-Five)
I was raised in a rather meat and potatoes world. You want to be healthy? Go for a run. Want muscles? Do push-ups and sit-ups. Brush your teeth. That is it. The end. Health will follow.
In high school and college, the importance of deep breathing was introduced to me, mostly through theatre. There was at least one year before all that where I was essentially popping Advil every day. Oh, to be a teenager.
It was not until after college that I ever heard the word “holistic”. “Herbal” was something I associated with marijuana and hippies. I might go to my doctor for a check-up, but only when my work-provided insurance company required it.
Thus, I was one of the last people who would seek out acupuncture. Whatever fear of needles I ever had was drained out of me after years of giving blood. And an elderly man at church would sigh and tell how wonderful it felt after his last acupuncture appointment. So, in the interest of doing something I had always thought was mysterious and possibly bloody, I gave it a shot.
Like most of my “Trying Out” activities, I approached in the wisest manner possible. I typed a few words into a search engine and I looked at the top results. One place offered me a twenty-one dollar initial appointment. They had nice things said about them. I was a bit leery because they were located right in the heart of downtown Seattle. (See also: Pricey. They have to pay rent somehow.) Still, it was close to my bus stop so I gave them a call.
Before I go any further, I should comment that the staff was remarkable. Everyone I encountered was friendly, helpful, and pleasant. When the boss encountered other patients, he would treat them as old friends; shaking their hands, meeting relatives, and examining scars from recent surgeries. Highest marks were given to the staff.
But yeah. There were some hippy/Eastern Medicine feelings going on. They had clothes draped over each and every florescent light. They were like little linens parachuting towards me, upside down. There was bamboo leaning against the wall behind the chairs in the waiting room. (One could tell that sometimes the bamboo acted out. There were obvious scuffs and discoloration on the walls.)
The desk was surrounded by fake bamboo paneling. Herbs and supplements were offered by the shelf-full. There were posters and brochures explaining and proclaiming the virtues of Whole Body Vibration, Repetitive Cervical Correction, and Chinese Herbal Medicine.
Then there was the music.
It was exactly what I expected to be. One would think there was someone, sitting out in the woods, near a quiet stream that was fed by a trickling waterfall, surrounded by smooth stones, with a bird perched on their knee, as they played quiet chords on their flute. It drove me nuts. I do not relax to breathy, wispy, ephemeral music. I relax to silence. Give me a quiet room and I am a fine. I do not need faux-environments to transport me to my happy place. However, I realize that some people do. Perhaps others find the tunes to be healing. I tend to feel that we all buy into the studio-produced woodsy music. To each their own.
Oh, and the sweaters. I cannot believe I almost forgot the sweaters. Based entirely on my uninformed observations, it seemed like the frontline staff had a dress code. That uniform was made up of loosely-fitting, light-density, wool sweaters. The boss did not wear any, but the boss often put themselves above dress code. (The perks of being boss.) The acupuncturist did not wear any, but maybe they were too easy to get caught on needles? Regardless, three women at work were wearing the same sweater-apparel.
The woman I spent the most time with had some rather nice features; including nice shoulders. I could tell, because the sweater kept slipping down her arms and every five minutes she was absentmindedly have to pull up back up. What it lacked in functionality and practicality it more than made up for in subtle humor and people watching. Amusing work conditions aside, she was tremendous. She spent about an hour going over all the paperwork.
Ah yes, the paperwork. Before I even saw a member on staff, I faced down the paperwork. I figured, ancient medical technology; how much paperwork could there be just to be a few treatments. Seven pages. Seven, medical insurance, over-descriptive, symptom-questioning pages. I almost gave up when they e-mailed the file to me. However, it did save me half an hour of forms in their waiting room, so I did appreciate the advance homework. It has to be said though. Seven. Pages.
Happily, my medical history is boring. My knees hurt from years of jogging. My neck has lots of muscles because when I have a difficult time, I clench my jaw. Just like every other person in the workforce, I could probably use a back and shoulder massage. That was it. Despite their numerous questions on the forms, my poop, sexual performance, and breathing are all just fine. Really? Poop?
Despite my diligence with my assignment, the woman with the constantly sliding sweater went over all the questions with me. She was thorough. She was informative. She knew all about the different procedures they had to offer but was content to start me off with acupuncture; that was her sole focus unless pressed for more information. Despite my skepticism, at no point was I asked to stand on one leg, chant, and shove a root up my nose.
No needles were ever seen on the first appointment. (Only after being there for an hour did they ask if I had any fear of needles. Ah, timing.) The woman suggested that I keep the first few appointments close together so that my body would not have time to forget what the needles were trying to do. And that is an important point (unintentional pun) which I will go into later.
Next Monday I went in. My insurance paid for twenty percent of the visit. I paid for the rest. I went into a room, took off my shoes and socks, and lay down on their bed. The bed was electronically heated. I dislike electric blankets. I loathe heated-seats in cars. But I could see how it would be helpful in winter months. And they were the professionals, not me, so I kept quiet.
The acupuncturist came in and kindly informed me that I was laying the wrong side down. Apparently massages and acupunctures are not the same thing. Gads! So I obligingly rolled over and faced up towards the ceiling.
My understanding is that I underwent distal acupuncture. Apparently the knees are controlled by the elbows. Picture everything as diagonal. Legs equal wrists. Do not quote me on your medical exams. That is how I think it works. More importantly for some, the needles were tiny. As in, she had to pick them up in magazines of ten or twenty. Those puppies were smaller than sewing needles (they were closer in width to thread). And at no point did I see any blood.
She put about a half dozen needles in each limb, tapping them ever so gently. Yeah, there was a sensation. Someone was forcing a sharp implement into pristine skin. Did it hurt? Not really. I compared it to getting stitches when the skin is numb. You can feel them messing around, but you are never in agony. Again, no blood. (However she did dispose of the used needles in a biohazard box. No human tissue lying around.)
Needles in place, she asked if I was okay, turned off the lights, and told me to, “Enjoy your nap”. … Really? Lying there, pieces of metal protruding from much of my body; you think I will fall asleep? Oh, and yes, let us not forget the omnipresent music. I never actually heard a whale call, but I am sure it bellowed after I left. When I take a nap, I curl up into the fetal position. She just told me not to move. Yet she also told me to enjoy. Kind of a conflict; or so I would offer. No moving around, but relax. No getting up, but relax. No way to turn off the music, but relax.
I get it. It is part of the process. Had there been no music, it would have been easier. Us Quakers do well with being still and silent. (We just need there to be silence.) However I was not in pain. Nobody was popping in and bothering me. They simply let me lie there and be for thirty minutes.
When time was up, she pulled the needles out, asked how I was, and sent me on my way.
I came back two days later and went through the needle-fun again. Once more the week after. Before each session, the boss would check on me and see how I was doing.
I did, in fact, feel a difference. My knees are less talkative than they once were. Oh, my knees still crack and pop. I still clench my jaw. But running was much kinder the Sunday after. I could feel an increase of blood flow to my cheeks and my knees. So it really did work.
The conflict I had revolved around the time and financial commitment. Remember when we talked about scheduling all the appointments close together? The boss wanted to do three months of appointments. And he wanted me to come in twice a week, every week, for those three months. With, I am assuming, weekly or every-other-week appointments after that.
Now, my insurance is nice. It allows me acupuncture, “as long as medically necessary”. I can go as long as I please. However, I do not have an extra six hundred dollars a month to invest. I live a simple life and that is expensive enough. Finding two thousand dollars to cover three months’ worth of poking that I do not technically need? Nope.
Again, they were all quite nice and the treatments do seem to work. I would like to undergo less pain. However the finances do not line up for me. It is like poor people that cannot afford to eat anything except cheap junk food. You want to address the problem and be healthier, but there is no easy way to do so.
Perhaps my body will be in enough pain that I will have to revisit the process one day. (It really did work. I would make time to continue if I could afford it.) However, I am not suffering terribly. I rated my neck and shoulders as twos and my knees as fours. They are pains that I can manage on my own. When it comes to acupuncture, it is the cost that truly hits a nerve.