Adventures in Human Pincushioning

I've been interested in getting acupuncture for years, but was always either too broke, lazy, or... ok, either too broke or lazy to actually follow through and make an appointment. Now that I happen to live a stone's throw away from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and make 4.5 million dollars per month after taxes, I recently decided to take the plunge and offer myself up to the puncture gods.

You may be asking yourself why someone who has professed to be so afraid of needles, blood, and especially the combination of needles and blood would have any desire to experience acupuncture. And I would tell you that you're asking a very good question, because I am indeed afraid of All Things Clinical, especially small metal things with sharp tips. But I'm also very curious and like to try New Things, especially Things That Might Help Me Discover the Meaning of Life. I'm also kind of a sucker.

The following is a play-by-play account of my first ever acupuncture session. Enjoy.

I arrive at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine's public clinic around 6:15 pm. When I made the initial appointment over the phone, I was told to print and fill out several forms from their website and bring them with me. I've got the forms with me now. They took forever to fill out. This place literally knows everything that's ever happened to me, including what I had for lunch today. The receptionist asks me to sit down and wait for a few minutes.

I wait for 40 minutes.

Finally, a woman that looks like a doctor ushers me into a small room, not unlike a regular examination room, but with a massage table on one side. We sit down at a small table in the corner and go over all my previously answered questions. It takes forever. She explains that she's an intern in her last semester at the college, and that she will consult with her supervisor before treatment begins. It seems legit. I hope she's a good student. We talk about the college, which she loves. She tells me most of the students here are in their mid-30s and came into this wanting a new career. My imagination runs wild. I could be an acupuncturist!

She does a lot of note-taking as we talk about my health, habits, likes, dislikes. She has excellent penmanship. She also has a rather pronounced mustache. I wonder if she's never noticed it, or just doesn't care. No, she's definitely noticed it. There's no way you wouldn't see that. I try to focus on her name badge. Focus, Sarah. The more I try to focus, the more I can't. Maybe I have ADD.

Her supervisor comes in, says hello to me, and asks me to stick out my tongue. Teacher and student gaze at it intently for a moment. The student takes notes. Then the teacher takes my pulse. It's kind of odd. She sits on the opposite side of the small table, holds my wrists really tight, and closes her eyes. About a minute later, she nods to the student, thanks me, and leaves the room.

Now it's the student's turn to take my pulse. I figure they'll compare notes later and the teacher will tell her if she's right or wrong. She holds my wrists for what seems like an eternity. Then she writes down some notes in her chart, and I swear she writes the word "slippery".

I want more information. Why is my pulse slippery? Is that good? It doesn't sound good. She's not explaining anything to me. Maybe I'm not supposed to know.

Finally, the student has me undress from the waist up and lie face down on the massage table. She explains that the needles won't hurt once they're in, but that the initial prick might startle me a bit. I start to panic slightly. I casually ask her if anyone has ever freaked out on the table before. She laughs and says that actually yes, last week a woman had an anxiety attack in the middle of treatment and the session had to be aborted. Cold sweats, hyperventilation, the works. I laugh along with her as my stomach threatens to reject my lunch. 

All in all, ten needles go into my skin: two around my inner elbows, two along my shoulders, and six down my back. She's right, it doesn't really hurt, and the symmetry of needle placement offers me slight comfort. I resist the urge to lift my head and take a peek. When the needles are all in place, the student turns on a heating lamp, turns off the light, hands me a buzzer in case of emergency, and says she'll be back in about 30 minutes.

30 minutes? That's a long time, right? I mean, it's not like I can read or listen to music or anything. Oh Jesus. I can do this. I can. I will.

About five minutes into my alone time, the far lower right-hand needle brings on what can only be described as muscle fire. It's as if someone is pressing right into a knot in my back and not letting go, except that there's no physical pressure to the spot. It's very uncomfortable. I mean shit, this is really  uncomfortable. What's going on down there? I don't want to squirm because I'm afraid I'll feel the needles. The fire gets worse. I start to feel sick. Is this normal? Should I press the buzzer? I can't take much more of this.

And then, like an itch you can't scratch, the fire slowly recedes. And then it's as if it was never there. I'm a little shaken, but I'm no longer uncomfortable.

Now I'm just bored. Can't they mount a TV under the table or something? What if there's an earthquake and I have to get up really quickly? What if the heating lamp falls on me and pushes a needle in really far? Will I be maimed for life? How long has it been? Maybe she forgets I'm in here.   

Eventually, the student comes back in and removes my needles. I feign nonchalance. I get dressed while she prepares my herbs. Yes, I'm going home with herbs today. Herbs that I have to boil in a clay pot and drink regularly and stuff. The plastic baggies are filled with what look like roots and dried up animal parts. I ask her what everything is. She kind of laughs, like I'm kidding. I decide not to press the issue.

Mysterious herbs.

Later that night, I'm lying on the couch like a comatose person. Not unlike how I might feel after dining on several Valiums dipped in chocolate. Acupuncture has truly wiped me out. I still feel a little weird, but in a good way. I'm literally too tired to be stressed about anything. Even the herbs, which, once boiled, smell like rotten garbage and have made my kitchen inhabitable. They taste bad too. Real bad. Not that I care.

I'm going back for round two tonight, and I'm bringing a book.