I really like our acupuncturist.
My wife and kids had gone without me several times, had a good experience, the kids receiving a wonderfully needle-free laser acupuncture kind of thing. And she lives super close to us so that’s been sort of convenient. Especially when on your way to your very first appointment you get a flat tire 20 feet from your driveway.
As I stood staring at the flat tire, my first thought was that it was some sort of cosmic crunchy punishment that I was using an SUV to drive two minutes to the acupuncturist instead of walking, pushing us all closer to the brink of the global warming apocalypse.
But finding the giant nail sticking into the tire, thrust to the hilt, it was hard not to see this as a particularity bad omen…
I had much time to dwell on this as I walked the rest of the way, speed-walked really, as now I was going to be late from all of my sidewalk tire-contemplation, and being late worried me. I didn’t know if being late was going to be a big issue…I’ve had bad experiences…coupled with a pretty active imagination…
IMAGINARY ACUPUNCTURIST: “Made us wait today, didn’t you?…”
ME: “Yes, Ma’am.”
IMAGINARY ACUPUNCTURIST: “We can’t be kept waiting.”
ME: “No, Ma’am.”
I shift from speed-walk to half-jog.
As you can imagine, I’m thinking at this point that I’m walking into an epic dungeon post (“…the suffering will be worth it,” I whisper to myself) but then (disappointingly?) everything was totally normal. I wasn’t punished for being late, there wasn’t really anything weird that happened, and it wasn’t even terribly painful.
Sure, there were some posters on the the wall that seemed to indicate that needles could be put just about anywhere, but the more concerning areas were left unneedled.
Later in my initial appointment, I did realize I probably wasn’t having her put the needles in deep enough…when we switched me over to the other side they hurt a lot more, so not sure I got my insurance money’s worth for that first half as they didn’t ‘bite’ like my wife said they should have. I guess you have to say ‘when’ as they put the needles in.
But other than that, the scary posters, and half-wasted needle-time, it was pretty painless. I walked home, changed the tire, and put the matter to rest.
But then, I didn’t know what was coming…
BETWEEN VISITS 1 & 2
I was seeing the acupuncturist for blood pressure issues, I seem to always be running a little high and I guess that’s not good. But after my first visit we sort of blew off getting my second appointment scheduled right away, for whatever reason, and it was like six weeks before I managed to go back.
During that time I began to experience panic attacks, which was super weird. I’d never had them before or experienced anything remotely similar.
For example, we’re driving into the city, and my son is just sitting behind me and talking, normal voice, not doing anything unreasonable, and suddenly it’s like I need to pull over and be on all fours on the sidewalk. The sound of his voice, everyone’s voices, would get very intolerable all in a moment and it would feel like I couldn’t breathe very well. Like the volume on everything got turned up really loud and I couldn’t handle it.
I never actually pulled over and got out of the car when this happened, but the urge was strong and bewildering.
This occured several times at random over the six weeks or so, and when I finally went back to the acupuncturist, I happened to mention it in passing. She lit up right away and said this was normal, that the anxiety was linked to the same ‘energies’ that my blood pressure were and that by blocking the blood pressure end that same energy was now expressing itself in a new way, and we just needed to head it off at the pass.
Chinese medicine stuff.
Sort of made sense, though I wasn’t totally convinced they were connected. But after my second treatment, again mostly uneventful (other than getting to have the laser method used on my foot, in addition to all the needles) the panic attacks stopped.
BETWEEN VISITS 2 & 3
We went away to a summer camp for a couple of weeks, then had a week home, and then were planning on going tent camping (not to be confused with ‘summer camp’) for another week and my wife managed to schedule me an appointment on a Wednesday, in-between all this camping.
I went, again, largely uneventful.
BETWEEN VISITS 3 & 4
That same night, as my family came home, it was like my sensory overload all over again. I could HEAR my family, I could SMELL my family, and everything sort of built up from there. The dinner table conversation proved to be too much for me and I had to excuse myself.
No idea why this was happening.
A half hour later I’m curled up on the floor against the kitchen cabinets having a full-blown panic attack, and then it hit me:
I had been to the acupuncturist that very afternoon.
She had messed with my Chinese energies again and I was freaking out (again). It all made sense. The Chinese energies thing was real.
Breakfast the next morning wasn’t much better. My son pointed at me during the meal and I found that his finger was much too loud. I told him that I couldn’t be pointed at. My wife at this point became very concerned that we were going away for a week at the beach and that I was going to be anxious about every little thing, the sun would certainly be too hot, the sand too loud on my skin, I would be freaking out. She didn’t want me there if I was going to be like that.
She called the acupuncturist right away and talked her into seeing me on her day off, that Friday, before we left on Saturday for camping.
This was going to be my fourth visit.
And it would be very different than the first three.
THE 4TH VISIT
Right away everything was different. Our acupuncturist has two treatment rooms so that she can work with two clients at once if she staggers their arrivals: Stick one with pins in room A and leave them to wait it out while she starts with someone in room B, etc.
I was ushered in the back room, what I think of as ‘room B’, for the first time.
Also new: Her six year old daughter was employed to assist her, being her day off I think that normally she would be spending this time with her kids, but then this was an emergency.
Instead of the usual ‘lay on the table and get stuck with long pins’ routine she employed what I can only describe as ‘band-aids with pins’. I had seen my children come home with them, they’re little swatches of sticky skin colored material with a little needle sticking out. I can probably find a picture to show what they look like…yep, here you go:
Great picture, that’s EXACTLY what they look like. I guess it allows for an ongoing treatment where you can keep the needles in for days instead of minutes. Also, it turns out, they are mostly for use in your ear. Seems you can stick needles all over your body or just work over your ear and hit most of the same stuff.
I was informed that to battle my renewed panic attack issues, I was to receive eight of these needle stickers, one on my forehead between my eyes, three on my right arm and four in my left ear.
We can skip those first ones, they were pretty uneventful.
But the ear was another matter. Turns out the ear is pretty sensitive to having needles poked into it, which is maybe why it’s an effective place to put needles in Chinese medicine.
I knew she needed to put in four in total, she had me hold still and I felt three very sharp pokes in quick succession. As I felt them she said, “1, 2, 3…”
“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” I thought to myself, “only one more to go.” But then she asked me “which one”, which led to a confused conversation that eventually resulted in me realizing that all of those pokes weren’t her doing needles, she was using this kind of tool to poke around to find the most sensitive spot to put in the needle! One of these:
I’m not sure what those characters mean, but it’s probably something like:
WARNING: Very painful if you poke into ear!
I was required to endure the poking again, because I had, understandably, been doing the exact opposite of paying attention to the pain levels coursing through my ear, neck, and shoulder.
This was used to determine the best spot to place the needle-sticker, which was handed to her by her daughter, using tweezers, and then pressed into my ear-flesh.
I thought the poking was painful, but it turns out that having the surface of the skin actually broken by a sharp piece of metal, down into the actual nerve roots, is more painful than the simple prodding.
This entire process was repeated over and over again, poking, counting, choosing which hurt the most, driving a needle into it, pressing it home to make sure my Chinese energies got the signal.
They got the signal for sure. No more panic attacks.
AFTER THE 4TH VISIT
Ear throbbing, I was sent home with two additional packs of needles that I was supposed to use to reapply should mine fall out, but under no circumstances was I to attempt to replace the ones in my ear, just the one on my face and in my arm. I was supposed to try and maintain the needles for 3-4 days of camping and swimming.
5-6 DAYS INTO CAMPING
I had forgotten to take out the needles. The one on my face I took off on Saturday, made me look funny and I wasn’t cool with that. The ones on my arm fell off on their own, swimming probably.
However the ones in my ear sort of got forgotten about, they didn’t hurt much after a day or so, nerve endings coating themselves over. I’d bump them from time to time and scream out in pain, but other than that it was uneventful.
Finally I remembered that I was supposed to take them out. It occurred to me in that same moment that now maybe they had stayed in too long. Removing the first three was OK, painful and tricky, but they came out fine.
But the last one was in deep…I couldn’t get it with my fingers and as I fumbled around with it, I accidentally pressed it and drove it into a new bundle of nerves. The pain was surprisingly bad. We suspected that we’d need tweezers to get the last one out safely, and I suspected that it was infected.
We drove back to the campsite with a measure of urgency, the active imagination kicking in again (explosion of infected ear, life-time deafness, etc.).
Finally we got there and got it out. Instant relief, not infected, no loss of hearing. I was, after a week, needle-free.
BEFORE THE 5TH VISIT…
Long story short, I don’t like those band-aid sticker things. And I dislike very much having them put in my ear. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.
However I WOULD like to reiterate again at this point, that I really LIKE our acupuncturist. I do. She is a kind and upstanding citizen.
And I’m not just saying that because I know I will have to go back for another visit.
Not at all.
NEXT WEEK, ON THE CRUNCHY DUNGEON: