For months Maggie had been telling me about this great acupuncture doctor she had found in Beijing. She had been using the practice for years for ailments and aches from sports injuries, but this guy, Dr. Jhang, who is affiliated with the Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, was the best she said. Her recent pulled back was back to normal in less than two weeks, the fastest ever.
I had wanted to try acupuncture for years—for migraines, neck and back aches, sciatica, planter fasciitis—mostly because I’ll try just about anything I’m curious about at least once. And if it worked, it seemed like a better method than popping pills or, worse, surgery.
Still, though I have no trouble with shots, the thought of having several needles sticking out of my body for an extended period of time made me a tad nervous. She strongly encouraged me to see him while in Beijing. “If you’re going to ever try it, this is the place,” she argued. “Plus, not only is he one of the best in the city, but he’s also participated in symposiums in New York.” (Why that should influence my decision, I don’t know.) “Besides, it’ll be cheaper than doing it in the States.”
Now she had me. And hell, if something went wrong, my hospital bill would be a lot cheaper in Beijing too, I reasoned. Nevermind about potential injuries. So long as he doesn’t put needles in my head.
I accompanied Maggie to the clinic. The place was new and spotless. Her doctor serious yet gentle. (I spoke no Chinese and he no English, so I had nothing to go on but my gut and Maggie’s encouragement and translation skills.) He examined me (which consisted of his taking my pulse from both wrists, then looking at my eyes and tongue) and said I hadn’t been getting enough sleep. As a matter of fact, the main ailment I had wanted to treat was my recent insomnia. This might be good.
But my palms started sweating as soon as I saw the room of patients, lying still on beds, several pins protruding toward the ceiling—with many from heads. I couldn’t commit. I had 15 minutes to make up my mind before a bed would open.
Time was up. OK, what the hell. I head downstairs to get a little Beijing hospital record book that I’m supposed to take with me to all doctor appointments in the city. It’s my official Chinese medical record. The doctor makes his notes and recommended treatments, then I head back downstairs to pay: 60 yuan, or roughly $8.75.
Maggie was on a bed next to me, the cart of needles between us. She on her stomach to have her back treated; me on my back, with my pants pushed slightly down to expose my stomach. Was he to prick my tummy? Maybe I’d be able to get rid of my belly fat in the process! I had no idea what needles were going in where and asked Maggie to find out. Wrists, ankles and—wait for it—head.
I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and waited for the pain. He started with the head. Three needles. First one: slight prick, then nothing. Second one: slight prick, then nothing. Third one: big prick, eyes open wide in alarm. He gives me the universal sign for stay calm—hands waved twice, palms down—I close my eyes. I felt nothing when the pins put went into my wrists and ankles because I kept worrying about that last head pin. I had 45 minutes of stillness ahead of me.
Maggie was chatting with the people around us. I was afraid to move. My head throbbed slightly, and I could feel a mild tingling moving down from that last needle in my skull toward my face. Was that normal? I tried to concentrate on the other needles. Eventually I dozed.
Before I knew it, the doctor was back. Needles out, I sit up, and immediately feel the blood start to run down my forehead. Uh oh. He quickly grabs an alcohol swab and wipes me clean. Maggie says she’s seen a little blood from the punctures before but never as much as that. Great.
I ask her how quickly she notices a difference in her back pain. Immediately, she replied. Oh. I napped that afternoon, and slept for about four hours that night, which was better than most nights the previous few weeks. Otherwise? Let’s just say I started writing this post at 3:45 a.m.