Sticking with It: Acupuncture Takes Me to The Twilight Zone

I’m afraid of needles.

I hate having my blood drawn. I hate getting immunized. When I was briefly in the hospital last fall, getting an IV was worse than the intense pain that made me think I might have appendicitis.

I’ll suffer these things. I stay current on my vaccines, and let the doctor steal my blood to check my lipids.

But I don’t like it.

So getting acupuncture was pretty near the top of my No Way in Hell That Will Ever Happen list.

And yet . . .

acupunctureI didn’t seek acupuncture out. I would never have walked into a specialist’s office and said, “Can you stick a bunch of needles in me so my pain will stop?”

I put acupuncture in the same group of “medical” practices as chiropractic, reflexology, and aromatherapy — horseshit science sold to the desperate and foolish.

But I was having trouble with my rotator cuff and elbow. It was getting hard to lift my arm or deal with anything heavy. I went to see a doctor, and he referred me to physical therapy. All this was as expected.

Then the licensed physical therapist at a major university healthcare institution decided acupuncture would be part of my treatment.

I tried not to panic. I tried to find my way out of The Twilight Zone. But Rod Serling started his narration.

“Meet John Phythyon — an ordinary writer, who is about to take an extraordinary trip through pain and fear. A trip that will take him to the strangest corners of . . . The Twilight Zone.”

As I lay face-down on the table, begging for a presidential address to interrupt tonight’s regularly scheduled program, I reflected that I could get up and walk out. I could refuse to let him do what he intended.

But pain breeds a certain kind of desperation. You start thinking, “What if it works?” “What if I’m wrong that this is BS?” “This guy is a licensed physical therapist, not a New-Ager or foreign mystic. He knows something about real science.”

And it was covered by my insurance so . . .

I’d heard over and over that acupuncture doesn’t actually hurt. It seems like it would because all those needles are going into you, but they don’t actually cause pain.

That’s not true. It did hurt. A lot.

But not in the way I expected.

There was a small sting every time he put one in, but that was no big deal. What was a big deal was what happened afterward. The needle hits what he called a trigger point — the source of the tension in the muscle. Each time that happened, a deep, aching pain spread across the part of my shoulder he was working on.

I endure pain, particularly muscle pain, pretty well, but every time he hit a trigger point, I groaned in anguish. This was agony unlike I’d ever experienced. It was totally different from any other pain I’d ever felt in my life, and I didn’t know how to process it.

After he’d stuck me enough times that I thought death might be preferable to healing, he started manipulating my arm to see how it was.

And it didn’t hurt. He did things with my arm and shoulder I hadn’t been able to do for months. And nothing caused any pain.

He had me sit up and move it around. Aside from the aches caused by the acupuncture, it didn’t hurt. At all.

A week later, I was back for a second appointment. I was still struggling with my motion. The improvements he’d made after one session quickly faded. He inflicted his sadism on me again.

And this time, I actually got better. After a third session (the most intensely painful yet), I had greater range of motion in my shoulder than I’d had since March.

He’s done more than stick me with needles. There is massage and exercises to strengthen the muscles and icing.

But acupuncture has been a key component of my recovery. I find myself looking forward to going. I look forward to him sticking me with needles. In fact, he didn’t think I needed acupuncture at my last session and skipped it, which disappointed me!

What sorcery is this?

I don’t know how to explain it. I am beginning to wonder who I am anymore. I’ve become lost in The Twilight Zone.

But I’ve submitted to acupuncture. Not only did it help, I think I actually like it. Perhaps I am a masochist.

Regardless, despite having made significant progress, I have more physical therapy. I’m not fully healed on the shoulder, and we haven’t addressed the elbow yet.

Hopefully, he’ll stick me with needles to fix that too.


4 thoughts on “Sticking with It: Acupuncture Takes Me to The Twilight Zone

  1. Masochist!

    I have wondered about trying acupuncture for the heck of it. I’ve had electro-stim and ultrasound to deal with injuries along with stretching/exercises/massage.

    One thing I won’t do again is a deep tissue massage.

    When I broke my leg, the pain meds allowed me to, for the first time in many years, to move my arms normally, and suddenly my rotator cuff injuries were not so bad. Absolutely nothing helped my shoulders and elbows better than smashing my Tibia to a few dozen pieces and knocking out a chunk of Fibula.

    Good times.

  2. Thanks for this, John. Heather’s mom has had recurring joints issues (including shoulder and knee surgeries), and I wonder if she’s checked out acupuncture or not.

    And I do understand your abhorrence of needles—I was phobic of them as a child after a particularly horrific experience with a vaccination when I was little, but after going to work in two different hospitals (and the batteries of additional vaccinations you get to work there), I eventually got over my fear of needles. Not my loathing of them, but at least the fear of them šŸ˜‰


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