Black Lung Friday

Although I'm extremely passionate about what I do, I tend to stay cool and collected about most issues in life. I hate having people enforce their opinions on me, and so I try not to do this to others. As long as you are doing no harm to others (or to yourself), live your life, I say! I think people are sometimes thrown off by my refusal to get caught up in the issues that concern us all. I have no interest in debating politics, and if you have a varying opinion on abortion, I could care less. What I believe shouldn't matter to you, if you are firm in your beliefs. Yes, we should recycle, but I won't condemn anyone for tossing that Poland Spring bottle in the trash. And for God's sake, keep your opinions about breastfeeding to yourself. There is nothing more annoying than someone berating a stranger for choosing to bottle-feed. How can this issue possibly be perceived as anyone's business but the mother's?

I don't smoke, but I used to. I was never a heavy smoker, but I still remember the intoxicating buzz of that first smoke of the day. I was little more than a social (and stress) smoker, but it did bring me enjoyment...for a while. Oddly, once I started grad school, I started to lose the urge. One night, I left the bar to bum a cigarette from a friend, and I got a whiff of smoke. For some reason, it smelled absolutely terrible to me, and I felt almost like gagging. That was the last time I ever even attempted to smoke a cigarette-something had shifted and I could never touch another one. I'm not saying that it was the regular acupuncture treatments that I had started getting at the same time I started school...but then again, who knows? All I know is that the urge had passed, forever. At this point, the slightest smell of a cigarette makes me a little queasy.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, lately I've been hearing about acupuncturists who refuse to treat certain patients due to their lifestyles. So basically, if you are a smoker, don't even bother to go to these people-they won't treat you. If you won't change your diet, they won't treat you. If you don't do yoga on a regular basis-you're out of luck. (Okay, I made that last one up-but you see where I'm going here, don't you?)

Judgmental? Yes. Arrogant? Check. And maybe a little lazy, as well. I understand that patients need to take some responsibility for their lives, but simply coming in to see an acupuncturist is a sign that they are taking some initiative to change. What if everything in life worked this way? What if, when we were kids, we proudly told our parents about the first time we were able to ride our bikes a few feet without training wheels, and the response was, "well, don't bother telling me about this until you can ride a full mile?" How many kids would be encouraged to continue their progress?

Don't misunderstand me, if a patient comes in for weight-loss and refuses to lower his 5,000 calorie-a-day input, I will be the first to tell him that this isn't going to work. But, I wouldn't throw him out of the office, either. If he came in, he wants a change. It's my job to help move him in the right direction, not to judge him and force him to change his entire lifestyle all at once.

One of my friends recently came to me for smoking cessation. She had smoked for 30 years, and while she is still healthy, a bad case of bronchitis helped her make the decision to quit. She wanted to stop for years, but it just wasn't the right time. And then, just like that, she made her final decision and took steps to make it happen. If she had come to me when she was still on the fence, would I have treated her? Absolutely. Would it have worked? Maybe. The sessions are designed to lower cravings and reduce the stress associated with quitting smoking. But in the end, it is the patient who decides to life that cigarette to his or her mouth. If the patient isn't ready and willing to quit, there is no amount of acupuncture that will magically make their desire disappear forever.

And in the interim, why should we punish these patients by taking away their ability to make other positive changes in their lives? One good change often leads to another. Take my now non-smoking friend, for instance. She quit the smokes, and is now excited about getting into an exercise routine. Her consumption of alcohol is down (mostly because she knows that alcohol may trigger a cigarette craving), and she is saving a TON of money. Cigarettes are really expensive! One positive change in her life is leading to a cascade of other good things.