The World of Needles and Giant Hickeys

I’ve never actually had a hickey – at least not the kind we normally think of when we think of someone biting or sucking on our neck. I seem to recall it being “cool” in my circle of friends in 1st grade (or so) to suck on our arms and leave red spots, but that’s about as close as I’ve come. Not anymore…

I had my first acupuncture appointment last Wednesday, and I left with spots on my back that looked like this:

It looks awful, I know. But it felt amazing. As the acupuncturist said, I’ll look like I’ve been hugged by an octopus, and I must say she was right.

In all seriousness though, I was impressed. My appointment was scheduled from 9 AM to noon. I was a little tentative at first — what could we possibly fill that time with? (To be fair, I usually plan to be at a doctor’s office for 2-3 hours for appointments, but I know my actual appointment will only last 20 minutes. There are just so many other things that tend to happen outside of actually seeing the doctor – blood work, x-rays, a visit from a resident, then the nurse has to ask you everything the resident just asked you, and then of course the doctor doesn’t talk to either of the previous people, so you have to recap it all for him!)

I walked into her office, and I was greeted by a friendly face, a very warm room (literally, it was roasting in there), some soft music, and a soft, pleasant aroma. It was completely different from walking into the cold, sterile office of a doctor buried at the bottom of a bureaucracy that is impossible to understand. It was more like walking into the home office of a good friend, and there was no aura of anxiety surrounding this fairly small space. I was immediately offered some hot tea, and I gladly accepted. After the necessary paperwork was filled out, she and I sat down across from each other in comfortable armchairs while she looked through the information I provided.

She began the conversation by going over the biggest issues I was having — in this case, my sinuses were causing severe pain. We talked a little about my medical history and the issues I’ve dealt with my entire life related not only to my sinuses, but to the Cystic Fibrosis in general. We also talked about other health issues I have had in the past, whether they were related to the disease or not. Finally, we talked about my life in general, including my dreams and goals, stressors in my life, the things I’m happy about, and those that I’d like to improve. She took notes on her laptop that would be attached directly to my file, while I talked.

Once she was finished asking me questions, and I was finished telling her about myself and my reasons for choosing to try acupuncture, she explained how it works, what she was thinking she would try that day, and the possible side effects. She then explained that she was going to give me some Chinese herbal mixtures afterwards to take home, and we would talk about her thoughts regarding my treatment plan and issues when she was done. She also explained that she thought many of my issues could be greatly improved through further diet changes (beyond what I’ve already done in an attempt to improve my overall health). Though she wants to talk about nutrition and diet changes, she wanted to save that discussion for a later appointment and focus on starting treatment that day. It can be hard on your body, apparently, to make so many changes at once.

She explained that she would first do the cupping therapy, which, as you can see above, is what caused the lovely hickeys all over my back. I think it is worth repeating that the cupping felt amazing! It was like an intense massage, but I could practically feel it lifting the “yuck” out of my body and trapping it in the cups. I hold so much stress in my neck and shoulders/upper back, and it felt like these cups were releasing some of that stress instantly. I’ve had 2 or 3 massages in my life, and I’ve never really gotten anything out of them, but this was absolutely effective. After about 9 minutes with the cups on my back, I started to feel extremely anxious, like I was having a panic attack and couldn’t breathe. I let her know I was feeling this way, and she started to take the cups off of my back. Again, instant relief once they were removed. She said that just meant I was ready for them to come off — often you can start to feel a little claustrophobic because of the combination of the stretching and pressure on your lungs and the fact that you’re face-down on a table, apparently. Makes sense, I guess.

Once the cups were off and I was feeling normal again, she started placing the needles. This part freaked me out a little bit because I was under the impression that I wouldn’t really feel the needles. I was mistaken. Granted, it wasn’t exactly painful, but I definitely felt each one. It’s not like getting a shot or having your blood drawn though – it’s more like a little pinch. However, depending on where she placed them, some hurt more than others as she put them in. The ones that hurt most were on my foot, along the meridian that supposedly ends at my sinus. This also makes sense considering I was there to help with sinus pain and pressure.

Once she finished with my feet, she moved on to my hands, and then my head. Now, putting needles in the top of your head is weird. It hurt like crazy when she stuck the first one in, but the moment she put the second one in, I couldn’t feel either of them. She put three more in the top of my head, and then said she was going to try putting them in my sinuses. Keep in mind, I had been having insane sinus pain — it was so bad, I could barely touch my right eye at all. As you can probably imagine, I was not thrilled to be having needles stuck in there. So far though, my experience had been going well, so I let her try.

The first needle hurt a bit, and the second hurt a bit, but once they were both in I couldn’t feel them anymore. She tried to put one needle into my cheek, but I wasn’t having any of that — it hurt so badly it made my eye water, so I asked her to remove it. We left it at that, and she said she usually lets them sit for about 20-25 minutes. She told me to just try to relax, so that’s what I did. What happened next was unexpected, I must admit.

As I closed my eyes, it was as though I’d never been so relaxed in my life — beyond wanting to sleep even. I felt wonderful, and my mind started to imagine that I was floating in a warm, gentle stream with water flowing past me and all around me. It was an incredibly relaxing, almost spiritual experience — not in the sense of seeing any kind of deity or feeling a deity’s presence, but simply because I was able to focus so perfectly on such a relaxing, wonderful thing. It will of course always be something that seems so much better in my mind than I could ever explain to anyone else, but it’s not something I’ve ever experienced before, and that particular scenario is not something I’ve ever thought about before, either.

After about 20 minutes I started to feel funky again, so she thought that was a good time to take the needles out. I didn’t feel any of them come out until she got to the very last one, which happened to be in my sinus. That hurt like crazy when she took it out, and it continued to hurt for about 5 minutes afterwards. She said part of the reason those needles hurt so badly was because of the severity of the sinus problems, which I could have assumed I suppose. Once everything was out, she told me to take my time getting up, and to come out when I was ready.

The final step in the process was her evaluation and recommendations. I’ll spare you the details, but everything she said made a lot of sense. The most important thing she mentioned was that I had to remember that my body has never had anything like this done before, and it may take a day or more to really start to feel better, more balanced. In fact, I could actually feel worse for a day or two (I’ve been told this every time I’ve had a massage, and have never once experienced feeling worse, so I didn’t think much of it). She recommended I take the herbal concoction she created for me by mixing it in some hot water. She also recommended I hit up a Whole Foods or another health food store and pick up some eucalyptus oil so I can put a couple drops in a bowl full of boiling water, put a towel over my head, and breathe in the steam.

I left not feeling much different than I felt going in, and I was really trying to be optimistic that this whole experience was a step toward better overall health, and specifically a step toward less pain. At that point, all I could do was cross my fingers that it would start helping. . . .

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