Chinese Traditional Medicine is often looked upon as insane by Westerners. When I first moved to China, I would actually get upset at medical professionals when they told me the medicine or procedure I was looking for would not work, instead recommending tea or acupuncture. Eventually I realized I should heed their advice and visit an acupuncturist. After all, many of Asia’s medical practices have been around for over 5000 years, something pointed out to me almost daily.
I took a trip to the doctor and took off my shoes and socks as instructed. Sam, ironically the name of my Chinese doctor, took out a box of needles and made it a point to show me they were sterile before ripping open the package. He asked me where my pain was and was shocked at how many achy spots I had for my age, then he got to work cleaning some skin and then….
Then he STABBED me with a needle.
Ok, it was more like a quick jab followed by a twist. The twist makes it so that the nerves tighten up. A little twist and there is a little bit of pain, so he twisted until the pain went away.
My stomach churned whilst I watched the needles plunge quickly into my skin, but it was over just as it had begun. When I thought we were finished, he walked away without saying a word. A minute later, Sam returned with a machine unfamiliar to me. He explained it was going to send electrical pulses to the needles, which would make the tissue surrounding the needle jump. Sam continued by saying this would not hurt, but in fact relieve the pain because it allowed the tissue to relax and heal itself. All I could think about was how completely unnatural the needles and electrical stimulation felt to my body.
He turned it on slowly so as not to make the pulse too strong. It felt….weird! He had me lay still for a full 20 minutes before he began removing the needles from my body. When he finished, I couldn’t stand up! My muscles were just that relaxed.
Next, Sam offered to cup me, which clearly required further explanation. The procedure required that he take a glass bowl and place a flame inside it so it ate up all the oxygen. With the oxygen gone, Sam would quickly place the bowl on my back so as to suck the toxins from my body while also increasing blood flow to the area….and giving me some serious circular bruises for a few weeks.
The pain of the cups sucking on my skin was much more than I had anticipated and far stronger than the acupuncture had been but I managed to grin and bared it. Twenty minutes later, I was a free man. I shook Sam’s hand and dashed out of the hospital as quickly as I could.
In time I grew to love acupuncture. Although I still hate the process, it actually makes me feel better. I’ve gone back nine times since that first trip and can’t wait for my next treatment.
IF YOU GO: Acupuncturists in China are like lawyers in America, they’re everywhere! The procedure is affordable for everyone. If you go to China and want to give this a shot be sure to ask around for recommendations. The first time you do something like this you’ll want it to be a bit ‘gentler’ and if you don’t speak the language you’ll either need a translator to help you through it or you’ll need to find an English-speaking doctor.