By David Mendes
Although I’d read about acupuncture, I’d ruled out having it done until recently. My sister faints at the sight of a needle, and I’m not overly fond of them either! I often felt exhausted for no apparent reason, though, so I decided to take action. A friend who’d suffered from the same problem changed my mind. He told me his energy levels had improved dramatically since he’d started having treatments. A couple of days later, I made an appointment to see his acupuncturist, Dr Lin.
The night before I went, I forgot to take out my contact lenses before bed. The next morning, my eyes were bloodshot and extremely painful. The one was particularly sore and was watering continuously. It was a Saturday and I didn’t think I’d get an appointment with an eye specialist, so I hoped Dr Lin could help. Of course, a house call would’ve been ideal, but what are the chances these days?
Everything seemed to be pitted against me that day and I really felt lousy. For starters, I got lost on the way and had to keep pulling over for directions. The trip was about 15k’s or so and everyone seemed to be out on the road that morning. Traffic was snarled up and my patience was wearing thin. Not only that, the sun was streaming in through the windscreen and even though I was wearing sunglasses, I was still in agony.
About an hour later, I finally arrived at the right place, feeling somewhat relieved, but still quite fragile. Little did I know the worst was yet to come!
About 20 pairs of shoes lined the hallway of Dr Lin’s house, so I removed mine before entering the reception area – an eastern practice. A Taiwanese woman who seemed disturbingly cheerful greeted me and once she’d confirmed who I was, instructed me to “take a sheet”, which I did (the seat, that is, and not the bodily function, which it sounded like she was saying!).
After quite a long wait, I finally got to see Dr Lin. I’d never met him before, but he was the only other Asian-looking man in sight, so I guessed it must be him. He’s quite a tall fellow, with a pleasant face and shaven head. I’d been told he’s not a man of many words and doesn’t speak much English (not always that reassuring, especially when you haven’t yet been entirely won over to eastern medicine – and the needle option in particular!).
He came up to me, uttered a couple of words and beckoned me to follow. He led me to one of the many rooms in his house that he uses to treat patients and told me to sit on the edge of the bed. He then bent down, put his hands on my knees, felt my pulse and instructed me to lie down. Apparently, the initial procedure helps him get a sense of a patient’s energy flow, blockages, personality (introverted/extroverted) and so on, which he then uses to determine where to place the needles. Other practitioners will sometimes take other factors into account, such as the smell of your breath (!) and ask you questions to obtain a detailed medical history.
The painful process then begins! If you don’t have a high pain threshold, please heed my advice: try something else! Rather opt for Reiki or a similar treatment if you don’t want to go the conventional route.
Dr Lin proceeded to insert about 20 needles into the various parts of my anatomy. The absolute worst was when he pushed several into my ears! This area is extremely sensitive and was a huge ‘eina!’ to say the very least! Almost as if to prolong the agony, once they were in, he twisted a few of them and pushed others in even further (not entirely sure why, but I can tell you this much, I was cursing under my breath!). I’ve broken many limbs in my time, been in car accidents etc, but the pain I was now experiencing seemed far more intense!
Fortunately, this process only lasted about two minutes (although when it’s happening you want it to end a lot sooner!). The doctor then placed a blanket over me and left me to lie there for about 45 minutes. A word of warning: if you need to go to the loo or have a quick scratch, do this beforehand. It’s just about impossible to move without risking impaling yourself once the needles have been inserted!
I tried not to look at what he was doing when he was putting them in; the sight of them piercing the flesh is enough to send waves of nausea running through me! When I did get a glimpse of them a little later on, I saw that they looked more like sewing needles and were much thinner than most syringes. Apparently they’re only about three times the thickness of human hair and are designed to enter the skin easily, causing minimal discomfort (so they claim – it didn’t seem so minimal to me!).
About half way through the treatment, the pain DID begin subsiding. I could actually leave the really sore eye open for a while without experiencing the terrible discomfort I had before. Some westerners say the rush of endorphins after the needles were inserted would have caused this. They argue that the body goes into shock and releases the hormones to try to shield you from this ‘attack’. In so doing, they would say all pain (including that in my eye, for instance) would seem to subside.
Acupuncturists, however, contend that the process is much more complex and that practitioners have to study for many years to fully understand it. In brief, however, proponents of it view health as a constantly changing flow of energy, or qi (pronounced ‘chee’). Imbalances in it can apparently result in discomfort or dis-ease. Acupuncture is said to improve this flow by strengthening it or removing blockages. It’s claimed this is achieved by inserting needles at specific points that are associated with specific internal organs or organ systems. These, they argue, stimulate the body’s internal regulatory system, which then nurtures a natural healing response.
After relating how much pain I went through, you probably want to know why I kept going back. Masochist/glutton for punishment, eh? Well, not really. I guess I wanted to see the process through and was keen to find out whether, in the longer term, I’d notice a general improvement in my health/well-being.
My eye problem did go away in about three days as he’d predicted. I also seemed to feel quite “together” after going for a few treatments and would’ve kept going had it not been for the fact that I ran out of cash the one month. I must add that the process didn’t seem as painful on subsequent occasions (Dr Lin didn’t put needles in my ears again, so perhaps this is why it didn’t feel quite as bad).
I’m generally in quite good shape and my energy levels seem to be fine, so I haven’t yet felt the need to visit him again. Perhaps I will at some point in the future – we’ll have to see. But I think I’ll probably first investigate other options as I’m curious by nature and like to try new things.
Hopefully these will also be less painful!