Names have been changed for privacy purposes:
So a funny thing happened the other day. Granted, as an acupuncturist, awkward situations, and hysteria-pepered-hilarity are things you get used to; after all, your job involves sticking needles into people. It's not like being an accountant.
But this incident can be chalked up as a first.
I got my first call on from Mary's husband on a Friday. He wanted to know if acupuncture could help with Sciatica (painful inflammation of the sciatic nerve which begins in the lower back and runs through the buttock into the leg). This is the largest nerve in the body and if something goes wrong with it can cause excruciating pain (as you can imagine). After a fair amount of backing and forthing about where and when we were going to set up an appointment, I ended up tootling through to Mary's place in the Beetle with a set of needles packed in my bag.
When I arrived, I found her pretty much confined to her bed from pain. She had visited the doctor a number of times but gotten no relief. On her latest visit, she had been told that she would need x-rays to check if her disks were collapsing but after a couple of hours waiting for a radiologist, she had been so sore that she'd thought 'bugger this for a lark 'and gone home.
Seeing a new client is always a little awkward. There's typically a fault aura of suspicion (acupuncture is not exactly mainstream) and clients will often try to lock you into some kind of guarantee. Acupuncture works extremely well, but even the most brilliant surgeon essentially fumbles along with the mystery that is the human body as best he can, unable to guarantee anything. I normally start with a new client by asking them if they've ever had acupuncture before, and if they have not, giving a short introductory brief to manage expectations, familiarize them with the procedure and let them get an idea of who this strange person is who will be … well, stabbing them repeatedly.
In Mary's case, I skipped this step. She was obviously in too much pain to be having a casual pre-session chat; the priority here was getting her comfortable as quickly as possible.
The first challenge was to get her on top of the covers so that I could reach the acupuncture points I needed to work on. The acupuncture fix for sciatica involves inserting a two inch long needle into the point 'Haun Tiao' (GB30) and shaking it around a little to unblock the energy flows in the area. Huan Tiao is parked (brazenly) smack bang in the middle of the human buttock.
Mary slowly and painfully got out under the covers and hobbled around the bed, trying to help me straighten it out. I felt really sorry for her. Every step she took was accompanied by an “ooh” an “ah” or a grunt of pain and her movements were severely restricted.
Sometimes we got her lying face down (not comfortable) with her buttocks proudly jutted towards the heavens through her pj's for me to have my evil way with them. I palpated her glutes to find the exact spot and then swiftly inserted the long needle through the thin pajama material. I was rewarded with mild exclamation of surprise from the direction of Mary's face, now buried firmly in her pillows.
I unwrapped the second long needle from its sterile packaging and inserted into the other buttock with no reaction – so far so good, and then inserted a couple of other needles behind her knees, and in her ankles to support the action of Haun Tiao.
It was at this point that she suddenly piled her face out of the pillow and said; “What are you doing to me?”
Now the tone of voice used by a person tells you a lot about what they actually mean when they ask you a question like that. This was not an inquiry for explanation of process or the response of someone who fees a lot of energy coursing through their body from the effects of the treatment. She was in that “what the hell is going on here ???” place. She wanted to know what I was up to. Immediately.
“Um” I said. “acupuncture?”
“Yes but why is it pulling like that?” she asked.
OK that explained it. She was just feeling the “de chi”, a sensation often experienced by acupuncture patients, which feels like their muscles are contracting independently of their will. It's a little weird, but not painful.
“Oh that's nothing to worry about” I said, “It's just energy moving in your body because of the needle”
“Did you just stick a needle into me?” she asked incredulously.
Well of course I had. What had she been expecting?
It was at this point that I realized that Mary and I had something of a sever communication breakdown. We'd missed each other as gracefully as Hailey's comet misses the earth every seventy odd years.
“Um …” I said inadvertently, “this is acupuncture … um it's sticking needles into people for um … pain relief”
Yes, I was completely aware in that moment how wacky that sounded.
“Oh my god!” she said “I though you were just going to massage me or something!”
The deed was done, so the only thing left was to let the needles take effect. I sat down on the corner of the bed and dutifully performed the previously omitted preliminary chat. From her reaction, I could see that Mary thought this acupuncture malarkey was simply the kookiest idea she'd ever hear. At the end of it, she asked, “well what do we do now?”
“We wait” I said. And we did.
Considering that she had had no idea what was going to go down, she took it extremely well. Or maybe she thought I was mad and she had better behave before I started throwing things around the room. Either way, she lay still andave me good feedback about the sensations created by the needling. Every now and then, I asked her to stretch towards her nightstand to assess if and how fast her pain was clearing, and quickly, the movement became more comfortable for her. She started relaxing and talked to me about her family and her work. By the end of the session I think she'd decided I was OK.
Then it was time for the acid test, otherwise known as “ok I'm going to take the needles out now and let's see if it's worked”
I know this because Mary kept on saying so. Granted she was a little more flabbergasted than I Did have preferred, but it was good to see her marching up and down her bedroom and telling me “look it worked!” bending down and touching her toes and saying, “look here! It actually worked!” and leaving from side to side with her arms out and saying … you get the picture.
I did not hear from Mary again. Weirdly, that's a good thing when you're an acupuncturist, but sometimes it would be nice to have a phone call or so, just to confirm that the results have held. I got my little reward a week later from a friend of hers who told me Mary is still absolutely fine and not suffering any lasting trauma from the strange goings on in her bedroom that Tuesday night.