Pain sufferer gets the point of acupuncture


So I recently became accidentally addicted. Totally unintentional and, like addictions do, this one got me at my most vulnerable moment.

Hi, I’m Sheila. I’m addicted to needles … it’s been a rocky path to reach this point.

Let’s take a walk.

You may remember this is the Year of the Yard at my house. After plant life rebelled at the Home Place last summer — some of it dying, some of it propagating like rabbits — things got ugly. We nipped and we ripped, leaving a tortured terrain for all to see. There was no turn to take but up.

As you already read, we laid out the big paver project. It took weeks to find enough time to bring it all home, but in the end it looks gorgeous. Visiting ladies do that thing where they cover their mouth with a hand and stare at the interlocking blocks. And sigh.

That wasn’t enough. Our neighbor’s son, a big-city-important-clients landscape genius, wandered over on his last visit home. “John,” I said in my sad voice, “I don’t know what to do with this ugly side yard. I want a front patio and I want a pathway and this acre of vinca has got to go.”

This is known as “getting John’s brilliance for free” and I do not apologize for it.

John, like he does, had about a dozen ideas in as many minutes. Laying slate, he summarized, would solve everything.

Indeed it has. After days of ground prep and buying two tons of slate — heavy enough to blow out a trailer tire — from homeowners ecstatic to see it go down the road, we spent the entire spring lifting, loading, unloading, stacking, lifting, placing, lifting, reconsidering, lifting, plonking slate down ONE LAST TIME. Huge, four-person chunks of sharp-edged stone fitted like a prehistoric puzzle. And that was before we threw sand under it all.

For our efforts, we have a charcoal-and-coppery front patio boasting a view of the Blue Mountains and a wide pathway leading to the back yard.

In addition to an exhausted husband, I earned myself an awful pain in the neck. Slightly lower, actually, like an ax had embedded itself between my shoulder blades. I bit my lip, took drugs and hot showers. I rolled my shoulders and plugged in a heating pad. Driving to work meant 15 minutes of a spine on fire. Sitting and typing was a new brand of horrible.

Nothing helped, yet I indulged in magical thinking — if I ignored it long enough, I could outlast the pain.

Then it was a Friday and the specter of another weekend of agony drove me to search out a masseuse I could get to in five minutes. Not that I expected a cure … apparently I am the lone soul in the universe who barely responds to pressure and kneading.

A friend recommended a nearby office and I made the call. The massage therapist, I learned, wasn’t working this day. Elena, who answered the clinic phone, must have heard the despair in my voice at the news.

Turned out Elena, a nurse practitioner for 20 years, is an acupuncturist, and she began asking questions about my symptoms. Using just the soothing tone I needed, she explained acupuncture could help dislodge the ax.

Folks, I have never considered trying acupuncture in my life. Furthermore I have never agreed to a medical procedure without a lot of research, whining and waffling.

This time I went in a hot minute, dragging my suitcase of pain with me.

Oh, my, you should have seen me when I left that appointment. I have no idea how long it lasted or how many needles were used — no, to answer your question, those didn’t hurt or cause even a second of discomfort — but I time-traveled for months while I soared over villages and mountains somewhere far from my aching spine. When I walked out of the room, I wore a goofy smile and asked, “Is it still 2014?”

That’s right. I was legally high. Giddy. In la-la land, and out of pain for the first time in days. Take that, slate!

Elena cautioned me that acupuncture, like many therapies, is a cumulative process. “The pain is likely to come back and it may even shift, showing up in another spot.”

It did, and I went a second time. That eased things enough so I could begin exercising again. And since Elena also needled my worn-out knees, I could walk with Camo Man in the evening.

I’ve been for a third visit and I can’t wait to get there again. Each time I’ve left pain-free, and each time the pain returned, but greatly diminished. I no longer stumble to the Ibuprofen bottle before pouring coffee. My heating pad sits lonely in a desk drawer.

My energy level has increased, making Camo Man very … happy. Heh.

While this key in traditional Chinese medicine is thousands of years old, no one can explain the science of acupuncture, Elena said. “We have all these hypothesis, but we actually don’t know how it works.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, the term “acupuncture” covers a family of procedures, but lay people are mostly thinking of the thin needles that penetrate the skin and are manipulated by hand or with electricity for a wide variety of conditions including pain relief. Including knocking out that big knot of nasty in my back.

Few complications are attributed to the procedure, but it’s vital to use a qualified practitioner for all kinds of reasons, like his or her sanitation practices and training.

In my post-procedure research I see phrases such as “restoring balance to the body” and “connective tissue” and “unblocking the energy flow.” Elena is validated — no one knows why those needles work.

But for me, they do. Remember, I’m not a doctor, so this is just me. Flying high.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or


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