Reflections on a New Experience

For the past six or seven months I’ve had a headache. It’s fairly constant, fairly consistent, but far from severe or debilitating. At times it flares up, others it subsides, and from time to time it seems gone entirely. I think of these little nuggets of time as moments of clarity, of sorts. They’re times when I can think and act without the constant wondering of what’s causing this bit of pain at my forehead, nose, and teeth. In any case, these headaches aren’t terrible, but they are annoying, and I’ve seen a GP, an eye doctor, and an ear, nose, and throat guy in attempts to figure out what’s causing them. I’ve heard explanations from high blood pressure (now under control) to sleep apnea, but none of these explanations with their solutions has panned out.

So, on Monday, I did it. I left work early, drove out to Annandale at the suggestion of a cousin, and visited an acupuncturist. Now, Eastern medicine, mythology, religion, and philosophy have always deeply intrigued me, so this was no far reach for me, but it was interesting to measure it up to my long held expectations. I’ve considered yoga before, studied Eastern philosophy, and do meditate and practice breathing exercises (though not as often as I’d like), but have never sought out the aid of a “professional.” I expected something holistic in his methods and demeanor; maybe an older man or woman taking the time to discus my problems, my lifestyle, her thoughts on my condition, and potential treatments or lifestyle changes. I expected a slow, but practiced and sure progression into treatment and a rational setting of my expectations.

Wow, was I off base! Entering the office was interesting in itself. The walls and shelves were lined with boxes labeled in Chinese, large jars with roots of some sort or another suspended in liquids, other jars with ground substances, and all enveloped with a distinct earthy odor. To this point my expectations remained intact. I filled out a questionnaire about myself, answered a few other questions and was led into a room. A few moments later a 30-something year old man in a while lab coat entered and shook my hand. He reminded me more of the chiropractor I used to visit than of a practitioner of some ancient form of medicine. The man briefly scanned my questionnaire and asked me where my headache was centralized. Within seconds he had me on my back tapping needles into my stomach and face. Fifteen minutes later I was in the bathroom wiping the little beads of dried blood from my cheeks, not quite sure what had just transpired. Talk about misconceptions! He gave me only a bit of advice, “Don’t overeat, and no cold drinks,” “Don’t worry so much,” and “Your sinuses are very tight.” He then asked me to come back on Wednesday and Friday. On my way out, the young receptionist charged $30 to my card and sent me on my way.

In this time when complaints abound about the lack of time doctors spend with patients, forced by insurers to move us in and out one of after the other like an assembly line of medicine, I expected something different here. I failed to realize that these practitioners are a part of the same system, operating in the same constraints. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed and the way money is made is by a constant flow in but also out of the door. We leave no time in our lives for questioning, for explanation. The quick fix is the American way.

Even so, I went back today and will again on Friday. The experience is one of incredible relaxation for that short time left alone, lying perfectly still, listening to your own breathing with no distraction. That solitude, that time of release, of freedom of the mind might be worth $30 alone. I don’t know if acupuncture is working for me, but I’ll give it three or four weeks and see if there are any results. In the meantime, I know not to expect much from my acupuncturist beyond a few needle sticks and a brief massage.

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