Yesterday was my last of an 8-session series of acupuncture treatments. Even in our increasingly granola-breath world, I realize that acupuncture is still one of the very alternative alternative medicines. So for your edification and enjoyment, I am interviewing myself, asking all the questions I would have asked me two months ago.
Why did you decide to get acupuncture?
My doctor wouldn’t prescribe me Aderol. Just kidding. Sort of. But seriously, there were four ongoing issues I thought acupuncture might be good for. The biggest was that I had a really hard time focusing and staying alert during the day. I was having trouble getting things done because my brain seemed to be fuzzy, yet raucous. It was racing through a thick fog and bumping into things! I was making a lot of careless mistakes at work. Some days I even had trouble mustering the energy to lean over and pick something up that I dropped (and I dropped a lot of stuff). My regular doctor told me it was part and parcel of being a new mom, but it’s been going on for way longer than T’s been around (my doctor also told me it was part and parcel of being a college student…and a high school student).
Somewhat related, I felt my metabolism was sluggish. The last two reasons were frequent upper respiratory bugs, and jaw pain from clenching my teeth at night.
Does insurance pay for it?
Maybe if you have freakin’ stellar insurance, but for me, definitely not. However, my insurance did offer a discount program for some alternative therapies at certain practices, which is how I found Dr. K. Also, acupuncture is an eligible HSA or FSA expense in most cases.
Oh. So how much does it cost?
It’s dumbsmack expensive. However, not nearly as expensive as your Western doctor’s bill would be without insurance. I did use up my entire FSA plus a bit more on the eight session package.
Does it hurt?
Not usually. Often I felt nothing at all. Other times I felt it but it wasn’t painful. The only times it hurt a bit was on the places where bone was close to the skin–the same places getting a tattoo would be most painful I imagine. I also noticed more pins hurt if I was feeling tense, even for a non-needle-related reason. But even in those cases, it hurt less than plucking your eyebrows. After the pins were in, she would turn out the light, turn on a heat lamp, and leave for twenty minutes or so. I was supposed to meditate during that time but I’d usually fall asleep–a really nice, deep sleep. I actually thought the cupping was more unpleasant than the pins.
What was the coolest part of the process?
When she diagnosed me by looking at my tongue. That, along with my list of symptoms and feeling my pulse determined the “Meridians,” or pathways, that were blocked. My big problems, evidently were Dampness in the Spleen and Heat in the Heart. Sounds totally wacko, but when I researched them it made sense. Or at any rate, it was a single explanation for symptoms that Western medicine would see as totally unrelated.
What was the weirdest part of the process?
Definitely the cupping. I never actually figured out what was happening, because it all took place on my back. It involves glass or plastic cups and a lighter, and my biggest fear was usually that my hair was going to catch on fire because she did it so fast. It’s supposed to bring trapped junk to the surface so your body can get rid of it, and it feels like an octopus is suctioning its giant tentacle to your back and trying to lift you up. the glass ones, which I almost always got, were uncomfortably strong, but the plastic ones were like a massage (and, BONUS, didn’t involve flame).
No matter which cups I got, I had these giant, circular hickeys on my back for days afterward–which I didn’t even notice (again, they’re on my back) until P pointed it out. Chinese medicine swears they are not bruises, and it’s true that even the darkest ones didn’t hurt to the touch. Plus, the more often you get cupping, the lighter the marks and the quicker they fade, which would not be true of a bruise. This is one of the marks from my final session.
I never could tell if the cupping was making any difference at all (besides that time I forgot and wore a low-backed shirt and a bun the day after a treatment. Got some strange looks at the office).
Was that the only crazy thing about it?
Dr. K also prescribed me some Chinese herbs, whose exact purpose remained veiled in mystery. She only told me they were one of the necessary “modalities.” They tasted like the bitter bile that comes up when you’ve got food poisoning, and my dose was four teaspoons twice a day–plus they cost like $50. But when I discovered three days into the first bottle that my stomach was flatter and my appetite less ferocious, I sucked it up (or down, to be more precise). The positive effects may have been tempered by the massive quantities of OJ with which I chased each spoonful.
Are you going to keep going?
No. The reasons are quite simple. Dr. K wanted me to start another 8 session, once a week series at the same price, but if I had that much money to spare I’d rather use it for dance classes, which make me feel almost as good.
The second reason is time. Dr. K has Wednesday evening and Saturday hours, but she was the only practitioner, and most of the time the only person working there at all. And those times were always super busy of course. The result was that each session took almost two hours. One time she was so busy I actually got left on the table for an hour with the needles in me. It was the only time I got really anxious–I had to sing every Disney song I know. Also, I was supposed to come in twice a week, and I had to have someone to watch T every time. I’m dedicated to my health, but I just don’t spend that much time on activities that aren’t paying me.
The last was that she kept harassing me about the damn Green Smoothie. Diet is one of the other “modalities.” (Dr. K is a registered dietitian as well, and 45 minutes of my initial consultation was a review of carbs, proteins, vitamins, and the like. I kind of felt like I was in 8th grade health–she even quizzed me!). I eat pretty well–maybe not as good as the Asian or Mediterranean diet, but better than the average American, especially the average American mom-of-a-toddler. But she would not let up about the freakin’ smoothie. It was supposed to help me clear the heat in my heart, but I began to grow skeptical. Heart Heat is basically stress. If the acupuncture, cupping, the $50 herbs, AND a decent diet weren’t “clearing the heat,” then nothing would. I have trouble believing the whole thing hinged on my disinclination to eat pureed dandelion leaves and aloe.
However, she did tell me the smoothie would help with my weight problem*, which I realize may pique one’s curiosity. So here is the recipe.
Wait…so did it even work?
Sure! The fog in my head has cleared, and my difficulty concentrating is less debilitating, if not completely eradicated. The veil of tiredness has lifted, although I’m still not (and probably never will be) a high-energy person. I’m not as sluggish. I haven’t gotten sick at all since I started the treatment (although it is summer. Check back with me in four months). The one thing that hasn’t seemed to improve is the pain in my jaw–(maybe because it’s stress-aka-heart-heat related HEH). Even so I would definitely continue the treatments if I had the money, in spite of the Green Smoothie Nazi.
*Never did I ever mention that I wanted to address a weight problem. Pretty sure Dr. K went to the same School of Persuasion as those ladies at the nail salon that ask if you want to take care of your “mustache.”