The question I get asked most is "How did you get into acupuncture?". The short answer is that I had some health problems and used acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine to resolve them. That's true, but it's not the whole story. The fact that I ever continued trying to find the right acupuncturist so that I could get better is a minor miracle.
My first experience with acupuncture was awful. I mean terrible. Many years before I went to acupuncture school I had crippling menstrual cramps, depression, and just felt bad in general.
I worked in a doctor's office in a hospital and that hospital opened up a wellness center. It was way before its time. This was about 1998! They employed an acupuncturist and I went to see him, having no idea what to expect. I didn't think I could feel any worse than I already did, so what did I have to lose? I think I saw him twice. I don't remember him explaining anything to me about what is normal/not normal during treatment, what to expect, etc. His technique was very painful. [Now a word about this.....there's nothing inherently wrong in the needles being uncomfortable going in. Some points are just done over areas with not a lot of flesh and that is a stronger stimulation. It doesn't mean anything has gone wrong. And if a point has a dull, sometimes intense ache that's great! But points that feel sharp and stay sharp need to be adjusted or remove
d.] In this practitioner's case, those abdominal points he put in were just not right. And since I had no way to call him back in and didn't know something was off, I lay in the semi-dark with tears streaming down my face for 30 minutes. I also wasn't given a treatment plan, so I didn't know dietary changes to make, exercises to do....anything. Between the lack of direction and the traumatic experience, I was "done with acupuncture."
Years later, I got up the courage to explore Chinese Medicine and acupuncture to treat those same problems that had only gotten worse through the years. I went on an acupuncture retreat with a nationally renowned fertility specialist in North Carolina and it was AMAZING! Organic foods tailored to a Spleen Qi pacifying diet, Qigong out by the lake, NIA dance classes, Mayan abdominal massage, classes on how to take care of yourself, and acupuncture. Remembering how awesome that experience was makes me want to book a ticket all over again! But the part that was awful was the acupuncture. It hurt so much! Again, the practitioner had a very forceful style which she prided herself on and the entire time I lay there I was in agony. Luckily this time
however, someone had laid out a comprehensive healing plan for me! It included dietary changes to make, exercises, and some horrible tasting but very effective herbal formulas. When I got back home, I found an acupuncturist to see regularly.
This acupuncturist told me somewhat what to expect, what sensations were normal, etc. I was amazed at how well she could explain Western medicine diagnoses framed in Chinese Medicine thinking (because I am the most curious person you will ever meet and had a million questions for her.) The third time was th
e charm. I saw objective lab data change from using herbal medicine and acupuncture. I began to consider making this a career.
What is hilarious to me now is that I thought maybe there was a correspondence course you could take to "learn acupuncture." Little did I know I'd be selling my house and moving 500 miles away to spend 4 rigorous years in school and an additional 5 months studying and becoming Board Certified. I loved (almost) every minute of it, and treating patients is one of the greatest joys in my life.
So what did I take away from that crazy journey? I mean, I had 2 horribly painful acupuncture experiences, so why did I keep on going? Well, when your family's nickname for you is The Badger because you can't stop getting to the bottom of things, you keep going.
Here's how those early experiences influenced how I take care of patients:
1) Tell patients what to expect. I've been treating people for 9 years now, but I remind myself that for some people this is as new and frightening as my first trip to the wellness center 20 years ago. Tell patients what is normal, what is not, and check in on how they're doing.
2) Give patients a treatment plan, not just a "Yeah, we'll try this and see how you do and then maybe schedule you again." That's not a plan. You hire me to have a plan for your recovery. I'm Old School on this: I will give you lifestyle recommend
ations so that you can follow them and get better faster.
3) Don't give up. I had a sweet patient who was in so much pain from an old injury. We went through 4 or 5 treatments and that pain barely budged. I knew what I was doing should be working, and I think the patient had more faith in me than I did at the time....and then BAM! The slow, incremental momentum we'd built reached a critical mass and suddenly he felt 90% better. Not everyone is a fast responder and that's no reason to doubt acupuncture can work for you.
4) I use my background in Western medicine to bridge the gap between the "woo woo" perception of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. I'm well-versed in both and can make almost any patient feel heard and comfortable.
Thanks for reading, curious reader! I look forward to helping you in clinic.