You know you’ve pretty much gone far beyond your maximum pain threshold when acupuncture starts to look really appealing. Today I had my first ever appointment with an acupuncturist; here I’d dutifully found a groupon and already paid for four treatments, without knowing whether or not I’d even like it (but I did know that this place had over a hundred 5-star reviews, and lots of happy customers who recommended the services. I visited their website and did my own research; I don’t such just go buying groupons willy-nilly for such sensitive procedures). I’m into Eastern medicine and holistic healing, and acupuncture just looks like it works.
I was a bit nervous, though. I mean, I made the appointment earlier this week and since that time had had lots of time to imagine my body covered with needles oozing small trickles of blood, the way Jenny Lawson describes her acupuncture experience in her book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Very funny and entertaining book, by the way. Informative, too.
So I’m nervous, but I’m ready. And I’ve got my Xanax on standby, just in case. But I didn’t even need it. And the doctor pretty much said he was taking it easy on me, presumably because it was my first time and I’d paid for four treatments, so I guess he didn’t want to scare me off. The lady who did my initial consultation had described the process, shown me the needles, explained that they were sterile and only used once, then described cupping (plastic suction cups used to improve circulation), and the small current of electricity the doctor would use while the needles were in place.
I wondered if generalized anxiety and an extra current of electricity being deliberately sent through my body was a good combination. I doubted it, so I expressed that to her and she said I could tell the doctor. Plus, she said, I would have a button in my hand, which I could press at any time to make him stop. The visual image was amusing.
Anyway, I’d never been to this place before, and had used my GPS to get there, so I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going to end up. I knew the part of town, generally speaking, but not exactly where it was. This busy highway is home to thousands of businesses, homes, restaurants, and the like, and bustling with a vast international presence.
At any rate, acupuncture is Chinese medicine, I’d seen the doctor’s photo on his website and he is clearly Asian, and I expected this place to be tucked away in an Asian strip mall, so I was a little leery when my GPS directed me to turn into a shopping center that had all the storefront names in Spanish. Shit, I thought. I entered the address into the GPS wrong, and I don’t want to be late to my appointment. I was doubtful I was in the right place, but decided to drive through the shopping center, anyway, just for confirmation. Hispanic hair salon, Hispanic tax returns, Hispanic bakery…and then, to my surprise, there it was on the second floor. As I saw the acupuncture clinic, a tall Asian man walked right out in front of my car, as if to signal that I was in the right place.
So anyway, two lively Latinas were running the front office, speaking to each other animatedly in Spanish but easily switching to English to talk to me. I’ve always envied people who can slip so effortlessly between two languages.
I filled out some forms and waited for my turn. I was glad the office was quiet and the waiting room empty. Peaceful. Serene. There were brown rice green tea bags and hot water, so I made myself some tea. There were two flat-screens – one was turned off, and the other operated in silence, displaying various slides about acupuncture and its benefits. 90% of the slides were in Spanish, but were written in such basic Spanish as to be easily understood.
When I got back from my initial consultation with the pretty Latina, there was a woman sitting in the waiting room, talking on her mobile phone. Christ, I thought. Would you step outside or something? I tried tuning her out, but it would have been easier if she’d been speaking Spanish instead of broken-English/country-bumpkin/I-have-little-to-no-education. Annoying. I noticed right away that she was at least 100 lbs overweight and just as I was thinking about that, a slide appeared on the flat-screen, advertising acupuncture for weight-loss. I silently doubted that this was going to be a viable solution for her weight problem, and I was happy when the doctor took her into a patient room because then it would be quiet again.
So. My first acupuncture experience was actually very mild. I must have really freaked him out by listing out so many symptoms, talk of bone spurs, osteoarthritis, and chronic neck and back pain. I thought maybe I’d be lying on the table, shirtless, and have 1,000 needles stuck in me, but I was wrong. He didn’t even ask me to take my shirt off (and I offered), but simply had me lie on my stomach with the neck of my shirt pushed down and the hem of it pushed up. Then he stuck, like, maybe six needles around my neck, and another four in my lower back. I could feel the nerves buzzing and tingling when he stuck me at certain points, and I took that to be a positive sign, but I was a little disappointed because I was expecting way more needles and a much more dramatic experience. There was also a heat lamp, which he directed at my neck. Then he asked if I felt any pain. I didn’t. He said he’d be back in fifteen minutes to do the front and so I just laid there and tried to relax and keep my mind from running all over the place.
He checked in to make sure I wasn’t in any pain. No, I was not. I was mildly irritated that he was disturbing me, just as I was really getting relaxed. And just when I started feeling some relief and deeper relaxation, he came in and said it was time to flip over and do the front. Dammit!
For the second time, he massaged my shoulders a bit, and ran his hands down my neck and spine, as if to feel just what was out of place, much like a chiropractor does. He had me lie on my back and lifted my legs and pushed them back to see if I felt any pain. I did not.
This time, he said he was going to use points in my forearms, hands, and ankles, and one of my face. One on my face? I thought. That didn’t sound like a really good idea, especially when he said he was going to stick a needle in my forehead. I was thinking, There isn’t even any fat there. You’re going to fucking stick a needle in the middle of my forehead? And before I could even think much more about it, he’d already stuck it there and I couldn’t even feel it. Prick–done.
And I said I was a little chilly and asked for the heater and so he aimed it at my stomach and it was all very mellow. Another fifteen minutes and he came back in and quickly removed all the needles, which, again, was only about ten, and I was thinking, Hey, let’s keep this going. I’m feeling better. Why not use even more needles? Here—jab some straight through my eyelids into my eyeballs. That ought to fix something. But again, he seemed to be kind of taking it easy on me. And I was thinking, Dude, this is nothing compared to the chronic pain I deal with. I’m pretty certain that something is seriously wrong with my spine. Like, something is herniated, slipped, leaking, and maybe a bone has grown in the wrong place. Plus? I gave birth naturally. No drugs, whatsoever. Seven plus pounds, straight through my vagina, without even a tablet of Tylenol. Bring it on!
But he wasn’t bringing anything else on. My first visit was over. And when I’d asked about the electrical current, he’d said he wasn’t going to use that on me, and now I was asking about the cupping, but he said he wouldn’t be doing that, either.
Maybe next time he’ll bring out the big guns. I could totally take more needles. But now I was leaving and desperately wanted some flautas, with sour cream, guacamole, rice, and refried beans. I asked the lady at the front desk if the doctor accepted tips, but she just laughed and said “no,” and that she’d call me the day before my next appointment.
And I totally should’ve stopped at that taqueria that was in the same shopping center as the acupuncture clinic. I ended up driving out of the international part of town, where there aren’t any taquerias, but I did find some seriously delicious “taquitos” (read: flautas) at a Mexican joint near me.