Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Community Acupuncture: I want to believe

Recently, the Community Acupuncture Center that was previously across town moved closer to my home.  I finally gave in to my Mother’s suggestion that I try acupuncture to help with the severe back pain I have as a result of a work related injury in 2010.  It has been a long road with many ups and downs.  I’m at the point where I’m trying whatever I can to just ease the pain.  This was my first time trying Acupuncture.

The on-site acupuncturist is actually a Franciscan Sister as the site is a sponsored ministry of one of the more well-known orders in my area.  This is completely irrelevant except that I believe Nuns have good energy, or maybe just the nuns I've met anyway.

Community acupuncture means that treatment takes place in one large, quiet room.  It is a group healing setting that allows people to be with others who are healing and takes away the feeling of isolation some people feel in other, more traditional settings.  That group setting also means that you can spend as much time as you want in your treatment chair, and makes it possible for the center to charge an incredibly reasonable sliding fee scale. 

I probably should have done more homework about acupuncture, but as with most things I chose not to read too much about it in order to have my own experience and not experience any kind of “placebo” effect or be disappointed at not experiencing certain results. 

I had filled out a brief medical history beforehand, then when I arrived I was greeted by a very nice volunteer who had a few additional forms for me.  The space was very nice, and clean.  There was a soft, soothing music playing.  I finished my paperwork and waited.

I was the only person there that morning, so when Sister came out to introduce herself and give me a quick tour we were able to talk in normal tones. She explained to me how community acupuncture works.  We discussed what time I needed to leave, as she would wake me up should I fall asleep-luckily, I had set aside my entire day for this.  We then discussed what I was there for, and Sister then explained where she was going to place needles.  She checked my pulse, looked at my tongue and then rubbed an alcohol wipe on the areas she was going to insert needles.

Many of the websites I've looked at since my treatment say that people don’t feel the insertion.  I did.  It wasn't awful, more like someone pinching you quickly or reaching out and pulling a few arm hairs.  The only needle I didn't care for was the one on top of my head.  When all was said and done, I had needles at 2 points on each leg, in the space between your thumb and pointer finger on both hands, one on either side of my neck (think Frankenstein), a few in my ear and one on top of my head. I've created a crude little drawing...it’s the approximate points as it has been about a week since I was there.  I’m not sure how many needles were used, as some areas had more than one but I’m going to say about 15 from what I recall.


Sister then decided to stimulate the needles, which was interesting because you get a feel of the depth of the needle.  I only requested that she not stimulate the ones in my left hand because shortly after insertion, they started to hurt-more on that later.  By that time I was starting to feel a little chilled, which I tend to do whenever I have any kind of body work done-even getting my nails done.  I was covered with a blanket and a heating lamp was turned on over my feet (which felt incredible, by the way).  I was then left with the promise that I would be checked on in 30 minutes.

As I laid there doing an internal body inventory of what I was feeling, I noticed that my left hand hurt.  It wasn't like a sharp or stabbing pain, my hand was in a natural position when the needle was inserted and felt like it was tense and cramping.  I couldn't move my hand as the movement felt like the needles were moving around and it made me uncomfortable.  At this point, I've very aware of the needles in my hand and the one on top of my head, which hurt as well.  Other people had come in and Sister was talking to them.  Being the nosy person that I am, it was hard not to listen in but then I reminded myself that focusing on someone else and what is going on with them doesn't help me and I’m looking for distraction.  I start deep breathing, attempting a meditative state, or relaxation.  At this point, I’m really open to whatever happens.  I’m just focusing on my breathing.

Suddenly, I’m dreaming. 

I don’t think I was completely out, at least not at first because when I woke up I wasn't surprised by any of the lightly snoring people that surrounded me.  It was explained to me that if I fell asleep or when I’d reached the end of my time, I should sit quietly and make eye contact and she would come check on me.  I woke up slow.  I felt pretty awesome…like I wanted to jump out of the chair.  But I had to wait because the needle in my left hand still hurt.

When I got out of my chair, I felt stiff.  I’d slept hard and deep in a way I didn't think possible in a room full of strangers.  I felt pretty awesome in spite of the stiffness.  I’d describe the feeling as blissed out.  I felt a little shaky and like I wasn't able to fully wake up from my nap.  I was even a little unsure about driving.   Sister explained to me that my hand probably hurt because that is where the needles were for my back, and it isn’t unheard of to feel it for a while when I’ve had chronic pain.

I drove home and felt energized. 

As the day progressed, I started to realize I felt sore.  And I noticed that night and the next few days that I felt sore and achy, like I was about to get sick.  But I started drinking water and soaking in warm baths and was fine within a few days.  I did not notice any improvement in my back pain, though I was extra sore for a few days (some people suggest this is because I'm reactivating my self-healing processes). 

I’m already trying to find a way to go back.


What I liked about the experience/treatment:

The community atmosphere wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable.  It was actually kind of nice.

My acupuncturist was nice and knowledgeable.

I fell asleep for 2 ½ hours and woke up feeling wonderful, and energized, much more refreshed that I had felt in a long, long time.  What really makes me think this was more than just a nap was the fact that I fell asleep in a room full of strangers, probably snored a little, and I was completely ok with the experience. 

I slept really well the night of my treatment and the following nights.

Last but not least, and this might be the important thing...I felt really good internally, like I was doing the right thing for myself.



What I didn’t like about my experience/treatment:

The center is only open weekdays, when I’m working.  I actually had to take a personal day in order to keep the appointment that I had to schedule a month in advance.

While I enjoyed the community atmosphere, one of the individuals that was also there for treatment was clearly going through chemo.  This is a personal issue and it is probably all in my head, but I’m terrified that someone who might have a compromised immune system would get sick from me (when I worked at the hospital, I wouldn’t even set foot on maternity if I had a cold).  I feel this way about babies, people with compromised immune systems due to illness or medical procedures, and nursing homes.  I was healthy that day, but many websites I see encourage people to get acupuncture at the onset of a cold.  I can’t bear the thought that someone could experience complications because of me. This isn't a problem with the facility or, heaven forbid, that person.  But the anxiety it caused me when I wasn't feeling well later in the day might not have been there had I had taken a one on one treatment path.


I wish I would have been told to drink more water that day. 

Feeling flu-ish and sore afterwards really wasn't the most awesome side effect, but it didn't bother me enough to keep me from going back.


Tips if you go:

Stay hydrated and drink water before you go, and after.

Eat something light before you go.  I didn't listen to this advice and my stomach gurgled and groaned with hunger within 2 minutes of needle placement.  It was weird and I instantly wished I had eaten something. 

Wear comfortable clothes that can be moved for the placement of needles.

Know what kind of a time frame you have.  I walked in at 8:00 a.m. and left at 11:30.

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