Friday, September 27, 2013

*Taking a Stab at Acupuncture

When our Boston Terrier was still a puppy a few years ago, I had let him outside to take care of business.  We had had snow, and the porch and stairs were covered with an icy crust.  While waiting for Marley to finish, I stepped onto the stairs, and promptly lost my footing. My feet flew out from under me and as I began my swift descent, my arms flew up in the air, grasping nothing but air. After I scudded to a stop at the bottom, I surveyed the damage, more concerned about my gluteus maximus and my legs.  No harm; no foul.  Well, I was slightly embarrassed that once again my inner klutz had come shining through. Nothing serious, though. Or so I thought.

The whiplash effect settled into a spasm of muscles off to the right of my spine, near my shoulder blade.  My shoulder has ached ever since, despite the best efforts of our chiropractor who performs active release technique.  

Then a couple of years ago, I was in the middle car of a three car pile-up on I-15 during rush hour...on April Fools' Day.  Try to convince your family you're in trouble, and need help on that little holiday.  It took awhile, but finally folks realized I wasn't foolin'. My shoulder ache continued with a vengeance.

Combine the damage to my shoulder with back issues I've had since I was in junior high, and I am just a mess, musculoskeletally -speaking.  

Each day I perform the rituals of my morning. Start the coffee, heat the corn bag in the microwave, grab an ice pack, and settle down with my laptop on the couch. I spend a good 15 minutes with the heat on my shoulder and the cold on my back, attempting to make moving later in the morning less painful. I'm not big on pills; an irrational fear of addiction keeps me from even taking ibuprofen often enough to alleviate my symptoms.

When a friend recommended Master Lu in Ogden for acupuncture, I filed away the information in my head. I've tried family practitioners, chiropractors, active release specialists, rheumatologists, massage therapy... why not acupuncture?

Master Lu is from Taiwan. He teaches Tai Chi (Yes, I had another moment of sweet synchronicity. I've been wanting to learn. "When the student is ready, the teacher will come."). He is a master of Shaolin Kung Fu.

When I found Master Lu through my Google search on a Thursday, I was so happy to see that the only day he was open was Thursday, and I just hoped he had an opening for me today! I called him immediately.

"Master Lu Acupuncture." 

(If you want to have as much fun reading this as I had writing it, every time you read the dialogue of Master Lu, read it with a strong Chinese accent. I love trying to read in the voice of the person speaking. I'm weird like that.)

"I would like to make an appointment, and I am hoping you have an appointment available for me today."

"Not today. Tuesday? You want to come Tuesday?"

"Not today?"

"Not today. Only open Tuesday."

"Oh, the information on the internet said you are only open on THURSDAY. I can't come today?"

"You want to come now?"

"TODAY? I can come right now?"

"Yes. Come right now."

Well, that was confusing. The internet information said he speaks two languages. Judging from his accent, I'd say Chinese is his first language. Judging from our conversation, his second language is up for grabs. Our communication was sketchy at best.  (In all fairness, I double-checked the internet. The sidebar highlights the current day's hours, and the only way to see the other days is by clicking MORE, so it LOOKED like he was only open Thursday. Master Lu and his son have two offices and work every day. My confusion grew.)

Master Lu's place of business is an older home in an older residential area in Ogden. The porch creaked as I made my way to the door. I knocked, and a small, older man opened the door. The former living room now contained an office desk, filing cabinets, a shelf with an assortment of bottles, and some chairs and a couch. No feng shui approach to decorating here. There was a no-nonsense feeling that permeated everything:  the furniture, the room; even the master. I was handed a clipboard, and was told to "rerax" on the couch. He finished up with a patient while I filled out the single sheet of personal information.

The former bedroom had been converted into a treatment room, with a bamboo and paper room divider separating the room in half. He gave me a hospital gown and told me to change. The portable massage  table was covered with a single layer of paper from a roll on the floor, and a bed pillow covered with a pillowcase. On a small table there were tissues, a couple of disposable lighters, and a box that contained a package of shrink-wrapped needle packages and a black bulbous apparatus that I later figured out was a cup that was stained with smoke. 

Before I lay down, I covered the horseshoe-shaped face pillow with a tissue. (My inner germaphobe resurfaces from time to time.) Once I was in position, looking down at the floor through the opening, I noticed small pink plastic tabs on the carpet below the table. I hoped they weren't attached to needles.

Without so much as a word of explanation, Master Lu began tapping my back, and inserting the ultra-thin needles into my lower back and shoulder. Honestly, I thought he might be trying to decide where to start, but I soon realized he'd already placed several needles. There was no pain, and essentially no discomfort. While he placed needles into my skin, he talked to me, but between my hearing challenges and his broken Engrish, I can't tell you much of what was said. Within moments he was done; he turned off the lights, told me simply, "Rerax," and he left the room.

Time passed very slowly while I lay there.  I should've asked what to expect. Master Lu made a phone call in the adjoining room.

"How you feeling since I saw you? (pause) Only one time. You only here once. (pause) You want to feel better, you come five/six times. (pause) You come Tuesday? Same time? (pause) See you Tuesday."

I waited and waited. I wish I had asked him how long I would be there. Knowing would have made it more bearable. I tried to pray to my western God that this ancient eastern practice will help. I started to try to meditate; to focus on my breathing. Thank heavens, he came back in shortly after that. I really suck at meditation.

Again, no talking. Master Lu removed the needles, and the next thing of which I was aware was the sound of a Bic lighter being lit, and then I felt a cup on my lower back. I strained to sense if it were hot.  No, the only sensation I had was that I could tell there was a circle shape being pressed into my skin. "Is that called 'cupping'?" I asked while staring at the carpet.

"Yes. Cupping." With a loud sound of the suction being broken as the cup was pulled off my back, the process was repeated on my shoulder.

"Get dressed." So, we were done. I paid him $60 for the one session. My next appointment is Tuesday.  

Before I left, I told him that I loved to write and I have a blog. Would he mind if I wrote about my experience? (That would be fine.) Could I use his name? (Yes.) I asked if I could bring my camera next week to take pictures of the needles and the office. He was agreeable to all of my questions. 

As I was walking toward my car, I rushed back into his office where he was still sitting at his desk.  "Would you mind if I take your picture with my cell phone?" I thought he would laugh. He did not. (Yes, I could take the picture.) He didn't move from his seat. He didn't smile, but I detected a hint of approval in his eyes. "Thank you, Master Lu!"

Today is Friday.  I've iced my back, but for the first time in a long time, I am not worrying about my shoulder.  No heating pad for that today. I have Master Lu to thank for this little miracle. My heart wants to soar, if only tentatively, that he may be able to help my back. That WOULD be a miracle.  

For more about my acupuncture experience...
ANCIENT CHINESE SECRET, HUH? (A return visit to Master Lu)

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