Adventures In Acupuncture

Adventures In Acupuncture

July 6, 2005 Updated July 26, 2016

Dean Mitchell / iStock

Like many people, I’m not a huge fan of needles, so acupuncture wasn’t my first choice to treat bulging discs in my lower back. But, over a 6-month period, I’d exhausted numerous other options, reaping only minimal results from physical therapy, chiropractic, and a mix-and-match regime of heat, ice, tape, stretching, manipulation, and massage.

I was in pain, and I was getting desperate.

Buoyed by the encouragement of several acquaintances who’d had positive experiences, I decided to explore whether my pain might be alleviated by channeling my chi. (Full disclosure: I didn’t know exactly what “chi” was, but I was nonetheless willing to have mine professionally evaluated.)

The process began with filling out a four-page questionnaire at my first appointment, in which I dutifully disclosed details ranging from my sleep patterns to stress level to the frequency of my bowel movements. Then, as I browsed the office’s brochure, “Treating the Whole Person With Oriental Medicine,” I embraced my first lesson in acupuncture: Chi, or “vital energy,” was actually spelled “qi.”


But there were much bigger surprises to come.

While I honestly didn’t have many preconceptions about the procedure beyond the obvious getting-poked-with-a-needle, I certainly didn’t expect to be greeted by Oliver. Blonde, lanky, and fair-skinned, my acupuncturist looked more like a Southern California surfer than the petite Asian man I had envisioned.

Seated across from me in the treatment room, Oliver scanned my paperwork. I hoped he wouldn’t pick up on the slight fudging of my sugar intake (if chocolate chip cookies contribute to back pain, I resolve to suffer indefinitely), though it quickly became apparent that skirting that line of questioning would have been far preferable to what I was about to endure.

“So, you have a bowel movement daily?” Oliver asked, his face a mask of seriousness.

Didn’t I specify that on the form? “Uh…yes?”

“In the morning?”

“Yes.” I mean, I think? I’m not sure. Did that matter? Was dropping a load at night a BAD thing?

“And the consistency?”

Despite being a writer with an arsenal of adjectives at my disposal, I drew an immediate blank when it came to the appropriate descriptor for my poop. “Uhh…”

“Is it solid?” Oliver coached, clearly trying to help.

“Oh. Um, yes.” Yup, definitely solid. Hey, did I mention my lower back hurts?

“People tend to gloss over this information, but it’s very important,” Oliver explained earnestly.

Why Oliver, you mean people who come to you for pain relief don’t want to discuss the facets of their feces? I don’t believe it.

“And what color is it?”

We really weren’t finished with this topic? Umm… “Brown?”

I held my breath, hoping my simplistic depiction would suffice. But if designating an exact shade on the color palette meant we could move on to the pain relief part of this visit, then I would happily acquiesce. I could classify my crap as cocoa. Or perhaps camel. Espresso maybe? Fawn? I was willing to dig deep to get some FREAKING. PAIN. RELIEF.

But Oliver seemed satisfied with the vagueness of “brown,” and I silently rejoiced that we could finally progress past poop. My celebration was, unfortunately, premature.

“So,” he continued, “any trouble with them coming out?”

Seriously? Does this guy suspect my bulging discs are the result of straining to pass stools of steel? 

Oliver met my blank stare with one of his own. He wasn’t budging on this one.

“Nope,” I conceded. “No problem coming out.” I don’t think my husband discussed his bowel habits this thoroughly before his freaking colonoscopy.

At long last, with the shit scrutiny complete, Oliver instructed me to lie face up on the table. Hooray! Bring on the needles!

Or not.

He asked to see my tongue, I obliged, and he studied it meticulously before making a detailed notation in my chart. Damn, I probably should have brushed.

“Again, please,” Oliver directed. What, did he miss something in the first viewing?

He then took my pulse (three times), jotted down more notes, and made yet another request to examine my tongue. Really, had it possibly changed that much in the 15 seconds since his last inspection? Oliver, I understand that you are a guru capable of healing the entire body, but please, can we focus just a little attention on my back?

Yeah, no. Next, Oliver wanted to dish on breastfeeding: Had I done it and for how long?

It’s been four years since I nursed my last child, so I must have missed the memo on how the practice causes bulging discs.

And was my milk supply adequate?

Dude, these girls may barely fill a 36A cup, but they more than sufficiently nourished three children, thank you very much. Needles, please!

Finally, with my stools sized up, tongue tested, and lactation logged, it appeared we were ready for the good stuff. Never before had I longed so fervently to be stuck with a damn needle.

But alas, we still weren’t quite there. As Oliver palpitated my meridian points — channels through which qi flows — mine apparently yielded more secrets.

“You’re prone to anxiety,” he assessed. Especially after fecal interrogation and in-depth tongue analysis!

“Are things happy at home?” Oliver pressed. “Anything you tell me stays between these walls.”

Dude, if I promise to go to therapy will you please, please, PLEASE work on my back now?!

Had I inquired, I’m confident Oliver would have provided extensive evidence that constipation blocks the body’s natural flow of energy; that the tongue is the window to the soul; and breastfeeding mysteriously moves discs. But I didn’t.

Going forward, I think I’ll just keep my chi to myself. Oops, I mean my qi.

This post originally appeared on Ravishly.