Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Acupuncture Angst

Img23.png“The needles are really small,” she said in a reassuring voice.  I’m sure she’s heard it a million times when I whine back to her that it’s really not my wish to be a human pin cushion.  But with an insatiable desire to touch that elusive quality that gives Ojai its mystique, I made my first appointment for acupuncture with a tried and true Ojai native and graduate of the Santa Barbara College of Oriental Medicine.

I’ve been having some pain in my left shoulder for awhile now from carrying a heavy purse and typing while talking on the phone with my head, neck and shoulder contorted around the handset.  I switched to a small backpack, got a headset for my phone and went through some physical therapy, but the pain persisted.  When acupuncture was suggested, I absolutely flinched.  You see, I’m what you might call “needle-phobic.”  I’d like to feel like I’m unique in this respect, but, really, isn’t pretty much everyone in this same boat?  Actually, the clinical term would be Aichmophobia or Belonephobia.  And a phobia, by definition, is “a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.”  This just means we’re all freaks and we need to get over it.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese remedy dating back thousands of years.  As a staunch believer in conventional Western medicine, and a devout skeptic, combined with my apparently unreasonable and freakish fear of sharp things, I knew this would be a stretch for me.

I arrived to the acupuncturist’s office and immediately noticed the room was approaching sauna-like conditions.  After an intense in-take interview, she took my “pulses.” Yes, plural, pulses.  This is a yin-yang thing which I don’t quite understand.  I wondered if the pulse jumping out of my throat would tell her more about my needle anxiety!

I was then instructed to strip down to my bra and underwear.  Gasp!  Okay, first of all, how was it that this blind-sided me?  Did I expect her to shove the needles through my t-shirt?  But what did she want with the lower half?  Besides, of all days, I picked today to wear a hot pink Victoria’s Secret thong!  My bad for not planning ahead on this one.  I then had to hop up on the table, which I’m sure I did with the grace of a ballerina, and turn face-down (butt-up).  Nevermind my needle-phobia, I was suddenly having a mini modesty crisis.  Thank goodness she had a towel for my exposed cheeks.   And at that moment, I understood why the room was so warm.

Staring at the berber carpet below, I could hear things being unwrapped over the Asian-inspired ambient music that was no doubt supposed to be subduing me into a compliant half-sleep.  However, my mind was focused on how certain I was that she was unwrapping needles the size of a number two pencil.  She must have noticed how tense I was, because before she started jabbing me, she gave me a very soothing massage on my shoulder.  She asked me to inhale deeply, then exhale deeply.  Upon the exhale, I felt a whisper of a sting near my scapula.  Huh, not so bad.  This continued about 20 more times, with each exhale, a gentle tap, tap, accompanied by a minute little pinch.  The needles were everywhere – my back, my legs, my feet, my hands, even my head.

She had me lay there for about 20 minutes and said that during this time I should practice some visualizations.  So naturally, I began to visualize all sorts of catastrophes that could potentially occur as I lay there in such a vulnerable state.  Why, there could be an earthquake, which could tilt the table upside down, with me on top of it, plunging the needles deep into my body!  I started to feel dizzy.  If I faint, she’d never know since I was already lying down.  I finally calmed myself down and actually began to feel the therapeutic effects of the needles.  The pressure was actually easing some of the pain, and the rest of my body felt as if the tension was subsiding.

I sensed that she was approaching me, then felt something brush against me near where the needles were inserted.  Then she said we were all done.  I asked if the needles had been taken out yet and she assured me that they had.  I hadn’t felt a thing.  I got up from the table and felt extremely relaxed.  I wasn’t ready to conquer the world, though.  No, I was ready for a power nap!  I felt great.  With my curiosity piqued, I asked to see the needles; they were about an inch long and as fine as hair!  I laughed at myself for being so high maintenance, and then I made an appointment to return next week.

So, for about $50, you too can get stuck with needles.  Call Kris Dutter at Ojai Alternative Healthcare at 218-9851 for an appointment.

As published in the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide, October, 2005.