Expat Tales – Adventures in the Mystery of Acupuncture

“You’re going to feel this throughout your body”, he warned. I braced myself by sticking my thumbnail into my forefinger, anticipating a slight surge of pain. But what I got was more like a lightning bolt of energy shooting from my knee straight down to my foot. I jumped. They restrained me. I didn’t cry.

I’ve been curious about Chinese Medicine ever since my arrival in Taiwan more than three years ago. And although I’m relatively healthy, I’m at that age where I could really use a little “tune up” – like the major maintenance check often recommended for cars at 100,000 miles.

So after years of curiosity, I finally stumbled into a Chinese Medical clinic and began my journey into the mysteries of Chinese Medicine, beginning my “tune-up” with acupuncture.

The Diagnosis

My friend and I wandered into the small clinic just to check it out and were greeted by two friendly, smiling women. One spoke just enough English to help me fill out the required paperwork (all in Chinese) and then directed us upstairs to wait for the doctor.

Minutes later I was in the doctor’s office with his fingers on my pulse. I told him my main complaint was a bad back, something I’d been dealing with for about 10 years. It’s manageable but, as I get older, my gym workouts have become more of a physical therapy session. My chiropractor in the US could only offer a prescription of exercise, “Exercise is your friend. That’s how you’ll keep it stretched out.”

The Chinese doctor spoke English but asked very few questions, instead taking time to let my pulse tell him the story of my body.

First question:Your pulse is very weak. Do you have low energy?” (Yes)

Second question:How is your sleep? Do you wake up a lot at night?” (Bad and yes)

He asked a few more questions, all pinpointing exactly what state my body (with nearly 100,000 miles on) was in. He also looked at my tongue but I’m not quite sure what my tongue said to him.

Then he told me to go eat lunch, take the prescribed medicine, and come back later for my first acupuncture session.

The Medicine

I was given 14 packets of a powdery concoction and instructed to take one after lunch and one before bedtime, every day for 7 days. Sounds simple enough, but I still wrote it down in English just so I wouldn’t forget. (A sign of excessive mileage on the brain?)

After lunch, I looked at the small packet of the powdery substance and assumed it needed to be mixed with water. I got a small glass, mixed it up and drank it down. Didn’t taste too bad. That evening I was talking with a Taiwanese friend who explained that I had really screwed up the traditional Chinese medicine ritual. She explained, “You are supposed to get a little water in your mouth, pour it in, mix it up and swallow.” 

Chinese medicine
Chinese medicine – the wrong way to take it

Sounds kind of simple, but really it’s not. That night before bed, I opened the packet, got a little water in my mouth, poured the powder in. The powdery medicine is like a fine saw dust and was weightless as it filled up the area underneath my tongue. When the packet was empty I closed my mouth and felt a large pile of powdery sludge lodged under my tongue. I gulped some water, tried to mix it inside my mouth where it turned into a thick saw dust paste. I drooled it all over the floor and finally choked it down.

(I’m still trying to master the Taiwanese technique of holding just enough water in my mouth to mix it without drooling or choking. It’s a work in progress.)

The Treatment

A few hours later I returned to the clinic for my first scheduled acupuncture session, a little nervous but excited to get on with it. I assumed the position face down on the table and he went to work on me, first pinpointing the exact problem area on my lower back. He began to stick long needles into my body and I waited for some pain. A few needles in, I felt no pain. “This is great!” I thought. “I can handle it.”

Acupuncture needles

Then he hit an area on the left side of my back…”Ouch, felt that one a little.” As he moved to the back of my right knee he warned, “You’re going to feel this throughout your body”. I braced myself by sticking my thumbnail into my forefinger, anticipating a slight surge of pain. But what I got was more like a lightning bolt of energy shooting from my knee straight down to my foot. I jumped. “Holy S***!” They restrained me. But amazingly, that’s exactly the spot that is always really tight and impossible to stretch out. Blocked energy? (This guy could be on to something.)

He left me lying there saying he’d return in fifty minutes (“FIFTY minutes?” I asked nervously? “No, FIF-TEEN minutes”, he assured me.) I tried to block out the memory of the searing pain of a lightening bolt shooting through my leg and ignored the long needles sticking out of my back. Instead, I focused on breathing deeply and floating away to my “happy place”. He returned 15 minutes later as promised, removed the needles, and released me. I rose slowly and felt slightly dizzy and a little bit loopier than normal.

Total cost: $190NTD (less than $6 USD)

A Cure?

My first night on the Chinese Medicine, after choking and gulping it down, I actually slept fairly well. I woke up feeling rested with no acupuncture-hangover pain in my back. Later, at the gym, the lightening bolt area of my right leg stretched with less pain and there was a little less crunching in my back. Small victories.

Maybe there is hope for an actual cure, eventually…after three more acupuncture sessions. Then it’s on to “Adventures in Qi Gong Therapy”!

Have you tried Acupuncture or Qi Gong? Any tips or success stories?

(I have a tip: Since I was still suffering slight PTSD flashbacks when I left his office, I treated it with “Ice Cream Therapy” from the 7-11 around the corner. Cures everything. Honest.)


Banner photo  credit: marniejoyce on Visual Hunt / CC BY

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12 Replies to “Expat Tales – Adventures in the Mystery of Acupuncture”

  1. I have 2 acupuncture stories.

    1. I had a terrible crick in my neck. Had to rotate my entire torso just to look at anything on my right. I went to the acupuncturist in Japan out of desperation while on a business trip there. They not only inserted the needles in and around my neck and shoulder, but then also hooked up electrodes to a couple of the needles and ran some current through them! I cannot describe the sensation – didn’t hurt, but decidedly weird and uncomfortable. It did the trick though – I couldn’t believe how much better my neck felt with no relapse!

    2. Wife’s pregnancy was due and because of various reasons, the doctor decided that she wanted to induce labor with pitocin. Not a very pleasant prospect. We scheduled the procedure and then went to the acupuncturist who specialized in pregnancy, fertility etc. Within 3 hours of the treatment, we were in the hospital waiting room checking in for labor.

    1. Hey Peter – didn’t your Father specialize in Western Medicine? 🙂 I heard from Mary Schliep earlier today and she also went through her first acupuncture appointment recently. Similar experience…we’ll compare our results later!

      1. Ha! Busted…yes, Bob was a western medicine MD, but also decidedly somewhat of a contrarian.

        1. Haha! An open-minded western doctor…just what the US needs more of! 🙂

  2. I need to visit your Acupuncturist

    1. You really should make another trip to Taiwan, just to try Chinese Medicine. Without insurance it would cost you about $20USD per visit. Try it!

  3. I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. He has helped me with the side effects of multiple surgeries and chemo. I still see him since I too need my 100,000 mile check-up. I wish I could see your guys since I pay way more than $6/visit.

    I can’t explain what happens when the little needles are in my body, but the results are amazing.

    1. That’s great to hear, Beth! I went for my second appointment yesterday and didn’t even need another treatment. My back feels so much better after he stuck me in that one spot where the energy was blocked. Maybe you should schedule a trip to Taiwan for a tune-up? 🙂

      1. I’m up for it!! When is a good time to travel there? ????

        1. The best weather months are October/November or April/May. Start planning now!

  4. Marjorie moore says: Reply

    Lots of good acupuncturists in California using similar techniques as described. Taiwanese
    Doctor taught me. Many insurances now cover acupuncture in the U S. Of course costs
    More than 20.00 a treatment. Probably from 60 to 100. Acupuncturist should have an OMD
    From China, Taiwan or Hong Kong. . In hospitals in Bejing acupuncture is used to straighten
    Crossed eyes as well as stroke recovery (needles are inserted in head for that). Works as well
    Or better than anything I have seen in US. I spent six month in training there. Of course
    Sanitation needs a little help especially on trains and out in the boonies.

    1. Thanks for your insight into the world of acupuncture! I’m still amazed at how much it helped my back. I hope more Western doctors learn to incorporate a bit of traditional Eastern medicine into their practice.

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