Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 163 - 13 Things About My First Year of Acupuncture

1 - Last June, my life was ruled by the all-encompassing migraine. I'd been captive to pain for years, and couldn't see a way out of it. Ever.

For my 45th Thursday Thirteen, I opened the door slightly on this aspect of my life by posting 13 Things About Chronic Migraine Pain.

Art work by Clayton Campbell

2 - I also had chronic knee pain from an injury I'd sustained in 1993. Sometimes it was so bad I had to borrow my gram's cane. This was after I'd had physiotherapy and surgery on it.

Basically, I was in pain 24-7.

3 - A woman from my office went to see an acupuncturist here in Halifax, and my close friend and co-worker asked her if the acupuncturist could treat migraines.

Of course, said our co-worker.

And does our health plan cover it? my friend asked.

Of course, said our co-worker.

So my friend made me call the acupuncture office, which was nervewracking for me, because I have phone-out phobia. But I persevered, made the appointment, and so began the most astounding year in my history here on planet Earth.

4 - Wei Yuan began my treatment with two sessions a week, treating my whole body literally from head to toe, generally using about 30 needles a session.

She focused immediately on my knee, and in a matter of weeks I regained strength in that joint, which used to give out on me without warning. The perpetual swelling which stiffened the knee disappeared. The unending pain which made touching the knee impossible faded away. Now I can actually tap my knee, which a year ago was unthinkable.

5 - When I first arrived at their clinic (she treats patients along with her husband, Tom Tian at I Stop Pain in Halifax) Wei sat with me and went over my symptom history, establishing what had brought me to her in the first place.

She asked me what my goals for treatment were.

I said I wanted to stop missing work (my migraines made me at the least, late on hideous days, and absent when I just couldn't take it any more.)

Last year at this time I took painkiller with codeine every four hours, nearly 24 hours a day. This had been going on for years.

When my migraines reached a shrieking crescendo of agony, I had narcotic painkillers to turn to. But one must have experienced that level of pain to understand that it never actually goes away, opiates or no opiates.

6 - You'll have to excuse me for inwardly scoffing at Wei's stated goal to get me off those painkillers.

But hey - who am I to get in the way of anyone else's dream? Sure, I thought to myself. Like that is ever going to happen.

I didn't even have that little glimmer of hope perking up inside of me at the idea. I had a full-time job I had to keep. Painkillers kept me upright and functioning, and prevented me from hurling myself off of tall things when I just wanted it to stop.

7 - One year later, my treatment with Wei has radically altered my life.

Though I hadn't expected to be completely freed from the Iron Maiden of my pain-filled life - had hoped for some relief, but not freedom from it - one year later I have gone entire 24-hour cycles without any painkiller at all.

Imagine the power in these tiny, fine needles, and their placement at specific meridian points on the body. These needles spoke to the dormant energy inside of me, known as Chi.

Wei asks my body to listen to itself as she treats me. I am called to participate in my own healing.

8 - After Wei places the needles, she sets a heat lamp over whichever area needs a little extra nudging, dims the lights and leaves me to heal.

It's during this time that I use my own powers of visualization. I meditate on whatever my body brings to my attention. To begin with, I say a prayer of thanks for being given this opportunity to heal. Then, whichever section of my body aches, feels heavy or blocked, I focus on that area and imagine all sorts of things to break up the blockages:


Swirls of butterflies


Beams of light

9 - After she removes the needles, Wei often treats me with cups, which are placed over meridian points and the air vacuumed out of the cups.

These are left in place for awhile, but not as long as the needles, which generally stay in place for about 20 minutes.

10 - Because I knew I wanted to document my healing, I've been taking pictures of the myriad patterns that appear on my body after my treatment. This particular set of marks came from a session of moving cupping, where she rubbed the cups up and down my meridian line.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, marks are expected after treatment, as the body responds to the stimulation of blocked Chi. The types of bruising and redness, how dark or bright they are, informs the practitioner of the state of the body being treated.

What has been fascinating to me is what marks show up where. Not every cup will produce a bruise. Sometimes there's no mark at all. Sometimes it's incredibly dark.

As you can see from my back in this shot, the left side of my spine has no marks - yet she used the cups there in just the same way as on the right side. But the left side had no blockage.

Here are some of the cupping marks that appeared on my husband's back after one of his sessions with Wei.

Because he could see the incredible results I was getting with her, my not-so-great-with-needles husband actually began acupuncture treatment.

Brad has bipolar disorder and has been on powerful medication for two decades. We're both hoping to preserve his liver health, because he has no option but to take his sanity-preserving drugs. So he began whole-body treatment with a view to keeping his body in balance.

I have to say, I never in a thousand lifetimes would have imagined my husband receiving acupuncture. But his first session was on his birthday last November, and in these seven months he has missed two major depressions which generally hit in the winter and in the spring. They generally last for a month, and so far he has had episodes this year that have lasted about a week. We're heading into the summer now and normally that would bring a third month-long downer. So we'll see how it goes.

11 - This is the Gua Sha tool used to rub in a scraping motion along the skin to promote healing through stimulating the blood. It helps to break up blockages in the body system. It's often used for people with chronic conditions, such as my pain levels and asthma.

As well as cupping, Wei uses Gua Sha in my treatment. Sometimes I get the Full Meal Deal: needles, cupping and Gua Sha.

Below is the photo I took after my first Gua Sha treatment. You can see I had a lot of chi blockage in my neck, and along my spine.

Here is another treatment with an altogether different pattern showing up - although following along the energy meridians and focusing again on my neck.

This is my husband's first Gua Sha treatment - check out how dark the mark is on his neck! He looked like he'd been in a motorcycle accident.

Here is another pattern of healing for my husband, including Gua Sha and cupping marks.

12 - I have also been treated with Chinese herbal pills, which are perfectly round like tiny, 18th century grapeshot. So far I've had herbs for my lungs, my head pain and my stomach/spleen/gall bladder. As opposed to western medicine, symptoms aren't always what they seem. Currently Wei is concentrating on treating my stomach area, which has been the root of my chronic pain.

Who knew?

13 - As I embark on my second year of treatment, I no longer doubt the possibility that my life will no longer consist of four-hour blocks counting down the seconds until I can take my next painkiller.

I've discontinued a daily pain management drug (that I was surprised to discover was more effective than I'd thought.)

I've downgraded to extra-strength acetaminophen - something I haven't taken for at least a decade. Without the pain management drug, my pain levels shot up over these past two months, but still not in the same league as when I began treatment. Even though it felt like two-steps-forward, twenty-five-steps-back for awhile there, I had the memory of what we had achieved very solidly in my mind.

By next June, I may very well be truly pain free. Who could have imagined it?

Janet says Not only have you shared a most personal journey, but in that sharing, you will have opened someone else's eyes to the possibility that is Eastern Medicine.

Deborah Hale says Doing Toaist Tai-chi for the past year has certainly given me a great appreciation for the Oriental view of health and healing.

Akelamalu says I haven't tried acupuncture or cupping but I have tried reflexology (amazing) and of course I am a Reiki practitioner so I know the benefits of that. It's a shame that some people dismiss alternative therapies so readily.


Michelle Helliwell said...

Julia - what a journey for you. I suffer from migranes as well but blessedly they are infrequent. I applaud your strength for getting through each day and still having such a wonderful, creative outlook despite being imprisoned by pain. Thanks so much for sharing this! I hope to see that pain-free day for you too!!!

Nessa said...

Wow, what a fascinating post. Thanks for all of the information and I hope you and your husband have continuing improvement.

Janet said...

Thank you for posting this, Julia. Not only have you shared a most personal journey, but in that sharing, you will have opened someone else's eyes to the possibility that is Eastern Medicine. I hope you achieve your (and Wei's) goal of living a pain free life!

I must say, having known you for a short amount of time and not knowing the pain you suffer, you are one of the most happy, upbeat, positive people I know. You may be ruled by the pain, but you certainly don't succumb to it. Brava!!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I had acupuncture after The Girl Band was born, to help with my hips. I'm a believer.

HOOTIN' ANNI said...

How on earth did you get all the photos of your treatments?

Come on over to visit and read my Thursday post if you have time. It's HERE

I am Harriet said...

You never know do you. My MIL swore by the acupuncture used to treat her aging Shepard.

Have a great Thursday!

Julia Smith said...

Hootin' Anni - My mom came in to the session and took the pictures for me.

Tory said...

Absolutely fascinating, Julia! I am so glad your pain is dimming. I look forward to next year's report.

Deborah Hale said...

Go Julia! Reading about your journey this year, it occurred to me that your vivid imagination is probably a great asset during your treatments. Doing Toaist Tai-chi for the past year has certainly given me a great appreciation for the Oriental view of health and healing.

Anne MacFarlane said...

What an amazing journey, Julia. So glad the acupuncture is helping you with chronic pain.

Heidi Hamburg said...

Julia, that is a wonderful. Your progress has been so steady that I expect you will get to the pain-free goal within months.
My husband was relieved of long-lasting shoulder pain from an old injury at his first (and only) acupuncture session. That didn't convince me, though, until I saw how it helped my dog.
My little dachshund had injured his back, and spent six weeks in pain, never playing, using a ramp to carefully walk up the two steps to the house. One session of acupuncture and he seemed more comfortable. The day after his second session he was dashing around the yard and leaping up the steps.
For me, that kind of wiped out any thoughts of "Oh, yeah, placebo effect."
It was my turn. Acupuncture has helped my own back pain a great deal over the past year. Yay! This year I may get my garden all planted before July!

jillconyers said...

As someone who suffers from debiitating migraines I found this fascinating. TFS!

Jennie Marsland said...

Julia, you amaze me. I am so looking forward to freedom from pain for you.

Akelamalu said...

WOW what a great advertisement for alternative therapies. I haven't tried acupuncture or cupping but I have tried reflexology (amazing) and of course I am a Reiki practitioner so I know the benefits of that.

It's a shame that some people dismiss alternative therapies so readily.

Bev Pettersen said...

Aw, Julia. What an ordeal but I'm thrilled you're moving in such a positive direction. Those pictures are amazing. Best of luck to you and your husband.

Nikita Banerjee said...

My went in for a similar treatment for her frozen shoulder. Its almost cured. Hope you are well now. :)

i beati said...

This is marvel;ous hopw blessed you are and you know it works becasue you give your self over to it.Cannot wait to hear next year..sk

Alice Audrey said...

Seriously cool. I'd heard about it before, but you really showed how it works.

Annette Gallant said...

Thank you for sharing this, Julia. I'm so happy to hear the treatments are working for you and Brad! My SIL also suffers from migraines and has been undergoing acupuncture for a couple of years now. She said it's made a huge difference in her life.

Kelly Boyce said...

Thanks for sharing, Julia. You and I have talked about your treatments at length so it was great to see the photos. I would love to get this done. I think it would go along with the chiro cracks great. Unfortunatley, my chiro uses up all my health benefit from that group, but maybe once John gets me hooked up on his health plan I can swing it!

Travis Cody said...

I'm glad you're getting help for your pain. I haven't looked into acupuncture yet, but it's on the list.

Stella MacLean said...

Dear Julia,
This is a wonderful post, and so helpful. I've had chronic pain (pelvic/abdomen/clotting) for over twenty years, and I can identify with what you're saying about how invasive it is. Your use of acupuncture has certainly worked. I'm not familiar with the cupping you talk about, but it sounds interesting. I truly believe that we need to stop fighting with the pain and work with it instead. So many people feel their in a 'battle', and I have found that fighting with pain feeds its destructive forces.

Americanising Desi said...

OMG! I just hope you heal your pains

check mine at http://bit.ly/bNGC3a