Friday, June 14, 2013

Day 33 - Acupuncture

I have never had acupuncture treatment. Over the years I have heard claims and read many articles about acupuncture’s benefits for pain and balance; however, acupuncture has never been the first source of treatment that has come to mind for my medical needs. Although I had no problem with the idea of small needles being placed in my skin, I doubted the idea such a practice could provide positive health benefits. In fact, my skepticism of the treatment was so high I never intended to make acupuncture a part of my life. Despite my reservations, that perspective, like many in my life as of late, changed as a result of a little idea and an ongoing challenge that has become a part of my daily life. With my “I have never…” objectives guiding me, I decided to give acupuncture a try as a part of my ongoing exploration of new things. As a result, I located a local acupuncture clinic and made an appointment to receive the treatment for the first time.

With my appointment scheduled for early this morning, I woke early to give myself ample time to get ready and make it to the appointment on time. Unfortunately, a busy night of writing and packing for another trip up to Green Lake meant the morning greeted me quickly. Tired, I worked through my morning routine and headed out the door in what seemed like one blurred moment of time.

Oh, well that's easy to see...
Fortunately, I left the house early enough to beat the bulk of the morning rush hour traffic, making it to the clinic roughly 15 minutes early for my appointment. Arriving at the location of the facility I encountered a series of identical brown buildings cocked at different angles across a large plot of land. There were no differentiating features on the buildings aside from the angle of their foundations and the steel digits tacked above each of their doors. As a result, I spent several minutes creeping around the parking lot at an idle speed trying to locate the building containing the clinic. A few confused moments and a parking lot u-turn later, I finally noticed the postal number of the building I was trying to locate obscured by the bushy green leaves of a tree. Relieved, I parked the car, grabbed my things, and made my way through the building’s plain glass doors.

The interior of the building reflected that of a mid-grade apartment building. A hallway with plain white walls wound its way past typical wooden doors with small signs tacked to them. I walked past several entrances to various rooms, some with windows and some without, before I came to a 90-degree turn in the hallway. I hesitated momentarily and turned around to check the numbers listed on each sign. Everything seemed to indicate I was on the right track toward finding the acupuncture clinic, but I had nearly walked the length of the building without seeing any sign the business was nearby. Glancing to my right, I leaned backward to peer around the sharp corner of the as yet unchecked area of the hallway. I took a step backwards after catching glimpse an open door with light beaming out of it at the very end of the corridor. I took a few steps toward it before noticing the suite number of the clinic posted next to the door. Intent on getting my acupuncture underway, I resumed a normal pace and passed through the entry hoping I was in the correct location.

Upon entering the suite I saw a small woman of Eastern descent sitting behind a large wooden desk positioned at the back of the room. I approached the desk as the woman look up at me with a welcoming glance. After confirming I was in the correct location the woman stood up and introduced herself as Doctor Helen.  She proceeded to walk me through some paperwork necessary to begin the acupuncture treatment before asking me about my intent for the appointment. We talked through my reasons for trying acupuncture as we sat in a few waiting room chairs at the corner of the room. Unexpectedly, that interaction led to my first “I have never…” event for the day.

Explaining my ongoing challenge to experience new things, Dr. Helen became visibly wary of my intent for the appointment. When I explained I was attempting to document each of my new events, her expression moved from uncertain to uncomfortable. Flustered, she rose and said she wasn’t sure about the idea of making an acupuncture treatment at her clinic a part of my “I have never…” journey. For the first time, I encountered someone with an aversion to my ongoing personal challenge.

Together we worked through her hesitation, ultimately determining the idea of documenting the procedure with photographs was the point of discomfort. Eventually agreeing no pictures of the procedure would be necessary, Dr. Helen guided me a room with a red massage table covered with a thin white piece of paper. Two lamps sitting on the floor at the far side of the table and a small desk were the only items accompanying the table. After giving me a brief walkthrough of the forthcoming treatment, Dr. Helen left me to get prepared. Shortly thereafter I was laying face down on the table ready to begin my first experience with acupuncture.

The table

Moments later Dr. Helen entered the room and explained she would begin the treatment. She advised me I might feel a very slight pinch when the needles were placed into my skin. I acknowledged her statement, leading Dr. Helen to begin the treatment. A second later I heard a light clack as I felt a sharp pinching feeling emanate from the back center of my head. “How is that feeling?” Dr. Helen asked. “Actually, that hurt quite a bit” I replied with a heavy degree of concern in my voice. “Oh, you’re sensitive, huh? Ok, I’ll adjust,” she said as she moved toward my back. The pain now fading from my head, I felt very light pinches as Dr. Helen tapped a dozen needles down the length of my spine. Relieved there was no pain associated with the application of the remaining needles, I told Dr. Helen I was doing fine when she checked in with me once more. I laid still, face down on the massage table as Dr. Helen turned on the lamps and set a few timers. After completing her tasks, Dr. Helen told me to relax and advised me she would be back shortly before exiting the room.

I remained perfectly still as I listened to the unsynchronized clicking of the timers against a background of quiet traditional Chinese music. Waiting for some sensation to come from the needles running down the length of my body, I stared at the light blue carpeting beneath me wondering if my skepticism was well founded. The minutes passed without any change in the way my body felt until I started feeling a slight warmth down the sides of my spine. Unaware of whether the warmth was being produced by the needles in my back or by the lamps at my side, I decided to roll with the feeling and focus on relaxation. Eventually, I found myself sinking into a state somewhere between resting and asleep, still aware of my surroundings but not quite in a full state of consciousness.

I remained in my state of limbo until Dr. Helen returned to the room at what I guess was about 30 minutes later. She stated she was going to remove the needles to end the treatment before she promptly pulled the needle from my scalp. A sharp pain rippled down to the crown of my head as Dr. Helen quickly changed position to remove the remaining needles painlessly from my back. Once finished, she left the room once more to give me an opportunity to get dressed and gather my belongings.

The tools of the trade
After getting myself back in order I exited the treatment room and met Dr. Helen at her desk. We spoke briefly about the treatment as Dr. Helen fielded my questions about how acupuncture is supposed to work and about the claimed health benefits of the practice. Not feeling any different from the treatment, I listened intently with a look of skepticism on my face. Sensing my perspective, Dr. Helen rose and walked to the front of her desk. She proceeded to point out some key areas of the body affected by acupuncture’s focus on the life force, Chi, before asking me to stick out my tongue. I obliged, which prompted Dr. Helen to say, “Oh, yeah, that looks good.” Curious, I asked her what she was referring to as “looking good.” Dr. Helen explained the color and coating of the tongue provide a device for diagnosis in Chinese medicine, which helps in understanding the effectiveness of the acupuncture treatment. Intrigued, I asked her for some more background on how the tools of the process tie into “tongue diagnosis”, which gave me a chance to snap a few photos of the acupuncture devices with Dr. Helen’s permission. After some time we concluded our discussion, and I exited the office to make my way to work for the day.

My first experience with acupuncture reinforced many of the skeptical thoughts I had about the process prior to receiving the treatment. While I did feel a little looser than normal for about one hour after the treatment, I can’t say that I experienced any noticeable long-term benefit from the practice. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun on the positive elements of acupuncture, but today’s experience didn’t give me much reason to believe the treatment is better or more effective than other, easier alternatives with proven track records. We’ll see if acupuncture ever makes its way into my life again, but at this point I’m as skeptical of that occurrence as I continue to be about the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment.


  1. I feel how skeptical you are, so I won’t try to convince you otherwise. Each condition is different, and so as effects of the treatments, whether they’re alternative or not. But at least, you did feel the good effect of it. Jessi Casas @ Fox Valley Acupuncture

  2. I know where you’re coming from. Acupuncture isn’t exactly part of mainstream medical science, but it is an effective form of alternative medicine. If you want to feel the full benefits of acupuncture, you’d have to attend a series of sessions. An acupuncture session reaps only temporary benefits. Give it another go for this year. Maybe you can also try going to a different clinic, too?

    Shavonda Wallis @

  3. I agree with Shavonda. Acupuncture will be effective when you attend a series of treatments. Instant benefits might satisfy you for a moment, but it’s best to maintain harmonious body systems through successive sessions. Give acupuncture another shot, Caleb! :)

    Darryl Hier @ US HealthWorks