When I was in school, many of my fellow students had great stories about what led them to the field of acupuncture. I heard tales from a number of previously sick and suffering who were drawn to this craft after their own healing had taken place through the power of this medicine. It was quite inspiring. My own story wasn't nearly as interesting. I won't bore you with the details of all my mother's varied traumas and illnesses; suffice it to say that I was highly disenchanted with the way that patients are often treated in a Western medical setting. I grew weary of seeing my mom sliced and diced without acknowledgement that she was a whole person, more than the sum of her parts. And in my search for a better way, I found acupuncture (or it found me, depending on your point of view.)
After I had made up my mind to explore this route, I took the next obvious step: I set up an acupuncture appointment. In all of my research about the medicine, I had not yet experienced it for myself. There were two reasons for this: I'm scared of needles, and I had no reason to go. Now, of course, I am fully aware that the needles aren't painful, and that acupuncture can be used for a myriad of complaints outside of pain. But back then, I had fallen prey to the same set of beliefs that keep most people out of an acupuncturist's office.
I looked up a local acupuncturist in the Yellow Pages (hey, it was 2003!), and headed to her office on one warm spring day. As I sat in the waiting room, the first twinges of nervous anticipation began to twist my gut. Fortunately, however, I didn't have much time to work myself into a full case of nerves. I was called into her office fairly promptly, and I was greeted by an attractive blonde woman in her late 20's. So much for the stereotype of the old, wise, incense-burning Chinese guy; this woman looked like a young executive, and her room looked like any other doctor's office. As she went over my health history, I realized that I had never in my life explained by bowel movements in such detail. Nor had I ever had someone pay so much attention to my sleep, or moods, or periods before. At first it felt a bit strange to discuss all of these details with a stranger, but soon I relaxed and began to sort of enjoy it. I'm one of those people who loves taking personality-type quizzes and things like that; I suppose I find myself very interesting, and having someone pay such close attention to every detail of my health was both comforting and intriguing.
After the intake, she had me settle onto the bed, and began inserting the needles. The anticipation was the worst part, and after one or two needles were inserted, the fear melted away. I barely felt them, and was more wrapped up in the unique but not uncomfortable sensations around the needles once they were in. Some spots felt warm, others a bit achy...but nothing hurt. The needles felt, for lack of a better word, "busy." I could feel them doing something, even though I wasn't yet sure what it was. I was a bit confused because she had placed a fair number of needles in my head, while my main complaint was knee pain. Still, I had read enough to know that acupuncturists often placed their needles far from where the actual issue was.
This was when things got strange. The acupuncturist told me to relax, turned off the lights, and left the room. For a while, I was happy. My mind was floating from one thing to the next, but not in a harried way. I just...drifted. My body felt comfortable and free of all sensation. It was reminiscent of how I felt immediately following a very intense workout, a bit lightheaded and floaty, but in a good way.
After about 40 minutes, however, my dozy state was interrupted by a flying needle. A needle in my left wrist had popped out and landed on the floor. Not a big deal, I thought, and closed my eyes again. Then it happened again. And again.
One by one, the needles began to propel themselves out of my arms and legs...and I was still. I could not have been lying more still if I was minus a pulse. It was as if my body was simply saying, "ok, you're done now. Time to go." Being that this was my first time, I had no idea if this was normal or not...but I had no one to ask. My acupuncturist was nowhere in sight.
I'm one of those people who hates the sound of her voice in an empty room. I hate calling out for help, but for some reason I felt oddly guilty, as if I had done something wrong. I hesitantly opened my mouth to call for her, and realized I couldn't remember her name. Ugh.
"Um...hello? Hellooo? Help, please?" I called, and waited. And waited. It took her forever to come back to the room, and by this point I had almost no needles left in me. They were sprinkled all over the floor, like fairy dust.
Finally, finally, she came back in and flipped on the light. She took a look at my guilty face, then at the floor.
"What went on in here? Why did you take the needles out?"
I explained that I hadn't even moved, that they had just popped out on their own, but she looked doubtful. I see this happen in my own practice, now and again, and I really do think that sometimes they are just...done. The body knows when it's time for them to be taken out, and if no one is there to do it, they'll come out on their own. I guess she hadn't had that experience with her own patients, though, because she continued to give me a guilt-inducing look as she cleaned up the needles. I felt like a little kid being silently reprimanded by a long-suffering mother.
Now here is the interesting part: once I left, I assessed myself from head to toe. My knee pain was gone. I was sleepy...and that night, I would have one of the best night's sleeps of my life. However, I had a terrible headache....
...and here, I'm going to leave you with a cliffhanger! So mean, I know. Stay tuned for part 2!