On Pins and Needles

Is acupuncture just a series of really pointy placebos?


Photo by Deborah Leigh


Well, I did it. I got my first acupuncture treatment almost entirely for kicks.

An alternative medicine specialist once gave a lecture on the topic during a class I took on the drug industry. She admitted that the main demographic for therapeutic pin-pricking was “bougie chicks.” I decided to give it a try, since I like to self-identify as bourgeoisie whenever I’m not busy purchasing Ramen noodles or stealing hotel soap.

What better way to medicate beyond my means than with a Groupon? For $30, I bought myself and hour and a half long appointment.

The office’s secretary asked me to fill out a 10-page packet beforehand that consisted of humorously personal questions and about 34,523 little boxes I could check off if their corresponding ailments applied to me. Turns out acupuncture can be the answer to just about anything. And who doesn’t “feel tired” or “sneeze occasionally” (only a minor exaggeration…)?

I suffer subtly from what I’m  going to call the Trifecta of Ugh: stress, allergies, and fatigue. The doctor, who unfortunately wasn’t an ancient Chinese man, addressed this.

He incompletely explained that allergies result from problems with “the gut” (I thought it was mold and pollen this whole time…), but since putting tablets of Zyrtec in my gut seems to control them effectively if not naturally, I moved on to the other Ughs.

As far as stress goes, my hopes were limited. If someone wants to hand me a diploma and a few thousand dollars, I’ll be golden. The doctor was formerly a UT student, too, but referred to my “college life” in a way that I registered as patronizing. He warned that life will only get much harder when I get a real job instead of working at my current job AND full-time load of disparate studies.

He had a real suggestion for my fatigue, though: quit the sugar and carbohydrates. This is good advice, except he really did mean quit them just short of my body going into ketosis. I love cereal too much to die of avoiding it. I’ll stick to my reduced sugar and whole grains goal, thanks. He kind of scoffed when I told him I studied nutritional science and that maaaybe my iron deficiency was to blame, too.

He said he doesn’t trust dieticians.

Awkward consultation complete. It was time to lay on the massage table and trade prodding questions for… prodding.

He tried to distract me with  a story about how much he loves the band U2 while inserting the thin needles in a quick, precise tapping motion. I had several pins in my cushioning: 2 in my biceps, forearms, the webbing of my hands, a couple in my shins and feet, one in the top of my head, and one right between my eyes. It was a good look.

Then I laid there for an hour, staring at the ceiling, listening to New Age flute music from a boombox and trying not to move. My limbs felt achy and I was so bored that it felt more like punishment than therapy.

Next time I’ll try recreational chiropractics for more excitement.

I left feeling just as one does upon quickly rejoining the world after a nap: hazy, slightly self-conscious, and probably unfit to turn left  onto a busy multi-lane street. For the rest of the afternoon I tried to perceive an improvement in my mind or body. But I didn’t feel any different. In fact, I had an awful headache. A week has passed, and I’ve noted no long-term benefits, either.

A couple friends have reminded me that believing wholeheartedly in the procedure probably helps it yield better results. Yet I was quite open to seeing it work some magic.

The list of people who shouldn’t get poked grows:

1. The squeamish

2. The broke

3. The skeptics

4. The reasonably healthy who just want to try things for the hell of it and then blog about it later.


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