Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ever Consider Acupuncture?

Deborah had never treated someone with Parkinson's disease, but I hear this is true of most acupuncturists. In some ways we were even, I had never experienced acupuncture either. It is mostly the word picture in the name that puts me off. Anything involving pins and the word "puncture" does little to comfort me.

My experience with acupuncture, and my relationship with Deborah, began as a random thought. That thought germinated into a greeting. Then the ensuing casual discussion sprang into a momentary suspension of disbelief, which grew into a commitment to experience the unconventional. Let me explain domino affect that led up to this unexpected passage into the somewhat sublime.

On a recent cruise, and before we even left the Port of Miami, I was wandering through the “Spa” area of the ship searching for the fitness area. I had promised my trainer back home that I would exercise every day and eat sensibly while on board. That commitment, despite being made in earnest, seemed to evaporate in the Caribbean Sea air. Deborah, a young, woman with blonde hair, did not fit the part of an eastern healing practitioner. But she was standing in a direct path to the treadmills and stationary bikes handing out pamphlets promoting the ancient art of acupuncture. I simply said, “Hi.” But as I glanced too long at the glossy trifold brochure, my curiosity went into overdrive and I found myself thinking, “Could acupuncture help my PD?” Before I could restrain that out-of-the-box idea, I was actually verbalizing the question and became engaged in a conversation with Deborah about the merits of this eastern therapy. She was perky and persuasive and, despite inadvertently admitting some ignorance about Parkinson’s, she suggested that there was evidence that acupuncture was able to help alleviate the symptoms of the disease. The promotional price seemed low enough to justify an experiment and I thought, “Instead of getting a massage, I may as well give this a try. Why not? When would I ever do this at home?” At that moment, with some faint fluttering of hope and anticipation in my chest, I signed up for one session to start at 9 pm that night.

Immediately upon stepping into the small candle-lit room, I was aware of that familiar professional skepticism creeping into my thoughts. The aura was more like one of those aromatherapy advertisements than a place of medical discipline. Deborah, who tried to convince me that she had been at it for many years (5 to be exact), explained the procedure. But she seemed considerably less convinced that it would do much good, at least without numerous visits (at the higher price of course) before the cruise was over. I suspected that she had sought to verify her prior enthusiasm by a quick follow up Google search of ‘Parkinson’s and acupuncture’ and realized that she might have oversold the curative potential somewhat. Regardless, we were both committed to the experiment, and I ultimately found myself laying face down in the quiet room, face pressed into a donut cushion and naked from the waist up. Soon enough she began traveling down either side of my spine with her fingers, tapping pins into seemingly random locations like pushpins in a map marking the route taken. The nagging universal question about acupuncture had been answered. You feel it but it does not hurt much. I could not see the needles even if I opened my eyes but imagined them sticking out of my back like a porcupine with a Mohawk haircut. The pin-marked journey down my back took only moments, after which the lights were lowered and I was left alone for 30 minutes.

The sudden thought of a fire alarm crossed my mind. How would I get off the bed without burying the pins permanently in my spine? How could I escape the dimly lit room to make a mad rush for the lifeboats, all the while trying to protect the small nails in my back from being hammered into place by the crush of the panicked mob? I surmised that Deborah would not be there to assist with hasty extraction of the needles, as in all likelihood she was busy in another tiny room poking and pricking another half-naked patient for the same promotional price I had paid.

When Deborah returned to see if I had succumbed due to loss of blood, or suffocation from the candle fumes, she politely asked how I felt. I sensed she was just pretending because before waiting for the answer she again tried to convince me that future visits were needed before there would be any noticeable benefit. I was a little concerned when I hesitated, given that she had not removed the tacks from my back. As she pulled the needles from my skin and I extracted my numb face from the donut-shaped pillow, the pinprick of hope that I had allowed to penetrate my skepticism disappeared. My short-lived optimism deflated like a balloon wounded by a chance encounter with one of the pins.

When you have a disease like PD, or any other serious ailment I expect, and the medical profession offers little hope except symptom alleviation options…with their risks and consequences, you consider alternatives. My experiment with acupuncture was worth the price and while this therapy may have helped others Deborah did not convince me of its merits. But there is still room in this skeptic’s mindset for selective consideration of unorthodox treatment of Parkinson’s. Why not? Stay tuned for my next experience: the hyperbaric chamber.


  1. Hi Bob, I've found Shiatsu to be pretty useful. I went to an acupuncturist (such a word?) even though I'm needle phobic. He failed to convince me of the benefits so off to the Shiatsu gal I went.
    Unusual to have a "dry" massage but it works for me and helps my range of motion.
    Happy New Year
    Mike O'Neill

  2. Mike;

    Thanks for that note. I have not found normal massages much help but maybe this is just me. I will try Shiatsu next time.


  3. Isn't shiatsu a dog? What is that?

    1. The first time I heard of Shiatsu back in '08, I also thought it was a Dog, but later found out that the Dog is called Shih tzu and not Shiatsu.

      Anyhow, Shiatsu literally means "Finger Pressure" in Japanese, and is a type of an alternative medicine. This massage therapy puts palm and finger pressure on specific nerves in your body to help people relax and cope with issues such as stress, muscle pain, nausea, anxiety, and depression.

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