This weekend marks the completion of a three year quest to graduate as an acupuncturist and Oriental Medicine practitioner from Acupuncture Massage College in Miami, Fl. When I first embarked on this journey, I was not sure what I was getting myself into, nor how rigorous these last three years would be. From the first acupuncture point I learned in Dr. Tang’s class, to the last formula and modification we learned in Internal Medicine 2, the process of memorizing, learning, and applying the theory and practices of Oriental Medicine to real patients has been an adventure I am fortunate to have taken up.
Every journey begins with a first step, and for me that step was taken years ago when I lived in New York City. There, I had my first brush with acupuncture when I was treated for a case of foot pain that wouldn’t abate. Vanity and pride led me to Dr. Shu who, along with a massage therapist, showed me what could be accomplished with needles, touch therapy, and a little electric stimulation. The experience left such a mark on me that years later, when I was searching for a way to reinvent myself and redirect my life, I found the opportunity to immerse myself and learn this ancient healing art.
Below is the text of the essay I wrote for my application to Acupuncture Massage College. It marked the start of a journey I’m only just beginning, and that promises to never end.
Why I Want to Study Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine
I blame my shoes. I can tell if I’m feeling depressed, stuck, or if my Qi is not flowing depending on how badly I want a new pair of shoes.
When I lived in New York City, I worked as an art director in an advertising agency on Madison Avenue. Back then, shoes played an important role in my life. Every time I needed inspiration, DSW was my empty canvas. When I needed a shot of confidence before a client presentation, Bloomingdales’ Shoe Department was my life-coach. At the end of every relationship, I became intimate with the Sheplers’s Western boot catalog because cowboy boots are my favorite type of shoe. That last one is a bit hard to explain.
Shortly after I turned 40, however, my feet started hurting. Every morning, I’d wake up with cramped feet and soreness no dosage of Aleve or Tylenol could relieve. In the morning, when I got up to get ready for work, I hobbled to the bathroom in pain, every footstep feeling more like a stumble than a step forward. It would take 30 minutes of walking barefoot around my room before the tendons and muscles in my feet stretched enough for the pain to become manageable. After, I could walk normally, though not without discomfort.
A few weeks after my birthday, I had enough of the pain. I was not ready to spend the rest of my life limping or stumbling around the City—paying for cabs—because my feet could not get me where I wanted to go. Soon after, I made an appointment to visit a podiatrist who told me I had to stop wearing fashion shoes and boots and instead wear prescription shoes that accommodated insoles for arch support.
“You mean, I have to wear ugly shoes?” I asked in horror. The doctor said he wouldn’t exactly call them ugly, but that it was up to me to either continue to live with the pain or wear shoes that offered my feet sensible comfort and proper support. Being neither sensible nor practical, I opted for a different approach. Interestingly enough, the same doctor’s office offered acupuncture and Chinese massage treatments to its patients. After inquiring about the two options, I decided to try both to see if anything could be done about my pain.
My first appointment was with Mary, an acupressure and massage specialist. She treated my feet by massaging them, along with my calves and knees, with strong, firm, confident hands. Mary kneaded, pulled, tugged, and stretched my soles and toes the way a former East German Olympic trainer would care for her pet poodle. With every squeeze of her hands and applied pressure from her thumbs, Mary sent shivers up and down my body like no masseuse had done before. I began crying shortly into our first session. When Mary asked if her massage was too strong, or if she should let up, I begged her to go at it harder, and stronger, if she could. “It’s like your touching my soul,” I sobbed. “If you have to, find a baseball bat and beat the pain out of me.” Mary’s massage was the first time I felt relief!
The following week I met with Dr. Shu, the acupuncture specialist who worked with Mary. I told him about my discomfort and how I had enjoyed Mary’s treatment. Dr. Shu proceeded to ask me several questions I thought a bit odd for a doctor to ask. Then, he tapped my back and chest with cupped hands, had me walk up and down the hallway a few times, felt my pulse on both wrists, asked me to stick out my tongue so he could take a look at it, and felt my joints and head before suggesting several acupuncture treatments. “Not just for the feet,” he suggested. “You’ll feel better too. You’ll have more energy. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back.” I accepted. After all, my insurance covered up to six visits, and I’d do anything for another date with Mary’s hands.
Each acupuncture treatment lasted about 40 minutes. Doctor Shu inserted needles in my hands, arms, legs, and feet. In two of the six sessions, Dr. Shu attached a small machine that sent electric pulses to one of the needles inserted in my left leg. I didn’t care much for that; the burning sensation was not unpleasant, but I had not yet overcome my fear and resistance to needles. The rest of the treatments were relaxing enough.
Seven years later, my feet remain healthy and free of pain. I can walk freely around campus, run easily on the treadmill, and still wear shoes and boots that help me feel confident when I lecture a classroom full of students. Though I don’t have the same energy levels Dr. Shu promised and I felt after my treatments, I do wonder how much better I’d feel if I had continued to receive further acupuncture treatments and massages. I cannot say with certainty whether the massage, acupuncture, or both treatments in tandem freed me of my pain. What remains is the ability to walk without the crippling discomfort I thought I’d have to live with for the rest of my life.
How or what exactly helped me with my pain is what I’m hoping to find and learn as a student of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. As a meditator and student of Asian philosophy and arts, I have always been drawn to alternative forms of medicine and therapy. Since I first discovered acupuncture, I’ve been interested in learning more about Traditional Chinese Medicine’s history, philosophy, and applications. I’m a firm believer that Oriental Medicine practices can complement Western medicine and aid in a patient’s recovery after surgery. Friends who receive acupuncture treatments praise their doctors and acupuncture specialists; they tout the benefits of their procedures and find themselves recommending their caregivers after successful therapies.
Perhaps mine is not the most direct or inspirational story for wanting to become an acupuncturist or trained Chinese medicine practitioner. If, however, I’m able to provide the same level of care and relief to my patients that I received when I was first introduced to acupuncture, I’ll be happy to share my learning with anyone seeking a healthier lifestyle and help them achieve the freedom from pain and discomfort they may be hoping for in their care.