Friday, December 11, 2009

Doc to virgin acupuncture patient - "First I'm going to bleed you."

My understanding of Zen teaching is that no experience is inherently good or evil in that moment. We are to be patient and wait to see what comes of it, and what matters is how one responds to the experience.

Screw Zen.  It was sick day 14 and my tonsils were closing in on my throat, trying to kill me.  I'd been tested for strep and informed it was likely a bad flu that I'd have to ride out on a zen wave.  I'd always wanted to try acupuncture (my sister swears by it) but it wasn't part of my health insurance, and I couldn't afford it.  After two weeks of body aches, pounding sinus headaches, occasional fevers and the aforementioned throat grunge, I was ready to throw whatever money I had to end the pain.


It was my first acupuncture experience, but when the practitioner asked if I had any questions, I said no, with confidence. Bring on the painless needles.  Let's get started, she said.  I answered her health questions, physical, mental and emotional, gave a brief history of the current situation and treatments tried, and stuck out my red, ravaged tongue for her inspection. In Chinese medicine, the tongue speaks volumes.

Alright, she said.  First I'm going to bleed you.

Umm... I have a question.

Bleed me?  I envisioned her rifling through her stately mahogany desk for a box of leeches.

I know it sounds hoo-doo voo-doo, she said, but trust me, it's not much blood.  Which side of your throat feels worse?

She took what looked like a thumbtack and pricked my thumb just to the left of the base of the nail bed.

As she massaged out bright drops of my blood and swabbed them away, she explained that the point was the end of the lung meridian. Clearing it, she was going for immediate relief, to draw hot toxins from my head and chest.

Next came the needles.  I lay back on the bed, fully clothed and felt only slight pinches of pain as she inserted them.  My right hand, permanently cramped around a pen or computer mouse, felt a rush of pain,  (qi?) surge through, then nothing.

Prescribed herbs and complete bed rest, I headed on to a western doctor to see about the infection taking over my tonsils.  A far more traumatizing experience that began with him asking if I was seeing anyone "special" and ended with a mortifying testament regarding recent sexual history.  Apparently one glimpse into my throat and it looked like I had gonorrhea of the mouth. (That's how bad it looked in there, people.  Doctors were repulsed and terrified.)  Too much information?  It was for me — especially since, after one more specialist, it turned out to be mono.

Mono. Much bed rest, indeed. But the acupuncture and the herbs did offer a modicum of immediate relief, and I can only hope for the day when health plans include preventative, alternative treatments. The acupuncturist recommended an affordable option: community acupuncture.  Has anyone tried this?

(Photo: Acupuncture by Mauricio Cevallos, Flickr)

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