By Sue Shekut, Licensed Massage Therapist, Owner Working Well Massage, ACSM Personal Trainer, Certified Wellness Coach.
I admit, I was skeptical of Acupuncture at first. I grew up in a very Western medical household and wasn’t sure if it was a legitimate treatment. (My mom was a nurse and my brother is a doctor.) I’d already had good experience with chiropractic though and I was desperate for relief. After spending a few months battling a chronic sinus infection with 8 courses of antibiotics, visiting an ENT doc that did nothing for me (except charge me $250 for a very painful test in which he threaded a long plastic tube down my nose and throat like Arnold in Total Recall), I decided to give acupuncture a try. I was in so much pain I was ready to stand on my head if it made me feel better.
I got a referral from my friend and headed to my first acupuncture session. The doctor I saw was actually a Doctor of Oriental Medicine who had received all her training (including a surgical rotation) in China. She told me that in China, her patients might pay her with a chicken or food they cooked for her. (She was my age and had grown up in some of the poorest times in recent Chinese history.) Even though my Chinese doc had had extensive medical training in China, at this time, she was not recognized as a legit practitioner by the State of Illinois. Luckily for me, that didn’t keep her from helping me.
When she started my first treatment, she told me to keep my eyes closed because she was going to put a bunch of needles in my face and it might freak me out to see them. Some of the needles hurt a little bit going in but nothing like the pain I was experiencing from my sinus pressure! And after a minute or two I didn’t even feel the needles. I admit, I was tempted to open my eyes and see if I looked like Hellraiser. I behaved and after about 30-40 the doc came back and removed the needles. Then she told me to give up dairy and gave me some Chinese herbs to take (I think they were Pe Min Kan Wan aka nose allergy pills.) After a few sessions and taking the pills, I actually got better. For the first time in months I did not have a sinus infection!
Over time, my new Chinese medicine practitioner got married and closed her practice to travel with her new husband. But I did not stop using Acupuncture and Chinese medicine. I soon found a few other great Chinese medicine practitioners who helped me with pain and overall health concerns.
My only painful experience with acupuncture came when I got stuck in San Francisco due to a blizzard in Chicago. I had a bad head cold and wanted to find some Pe Min Kan Wan. In Chinatown, I wasn’t sure about the safety of the herbs because I’d heard non-U.S. produced herbs may contain harmful metals. So I decided to try acupuncture instead. I went to an Acupuncturist and gave him my history and symptoms. He laid me down on a nice comfy bed and then stuck really large needles in my face and feet. (My U.S. Acupuncturist later told me this is the Chinese Way. Apparently we in the US are wimps!) He attached electrodes to the needles in my feet and applied some current. Now I had had had current applied before and it was no problem. But in this case, my foot literally flow off the table it was such a sharp jolt! I had him remove the electricity and just lay with the larger needles in my face and feet. As much as the needles hurt, the treatment allows me to recover from my cold and get back to Chicago a few days later head cold-free. My U.S. trained acupuncturist at the time, Frank Scott, later told me that the Chinese tend to use thicker needles. This is a point I will long remember (Bad pun intended.)