Whether it was the unpaid bill from the animal medical center lying on the kitchen counter for $800, the ominous apartment lease termination contract next to it, or my recently dwindling job opportunities that caused the blinding hot pain pulsating through my head, I don’t know. In a city where everything is constantly changing, it’s hard to keep up and stress can take its toll. For me, it has always manifested itself in the form of migraines. I’d simply learned to live with chronic migraines for years and get on with my day despite them, but this time it was pretty bad.
My boyfriend Kristofer, who takes better care of me than I bother to take of myself (always feeling that there is something else that needs to be done before), decided it was time to book an appointment for an acupuncturist and I finally agreed. He himself had had a positive experience with well-known acupuncturist Dr. Nan Lu (Ph.D. in traditional Chinese medicine as well as a high-level Qigong or energy master) and thought that it might help to manage the pain. He tried to book an appointment for me with Dr Lu, but since moving his practice from Canal Street to 27th Street, his success had grown so much that the waiting period for an appointment was two months. His popularity had even landed him a minor role in Oliver Stone’s latest Wall Street movie (playing the role of Chinese executive). Instead, I got an appointment at a little practice in Queens with the mystical sounding name “Moon Acupuncture” which had good reviews from fellow migraine sufferers.
Kristofer holds the door open to the acupuncture office in Astoria as I enter cautiously. There are plastic covered dining chairs lined up against the wall. Some chairs contain people with weary expressions who look like they’ve been waiting for a while. I look back nervously at the door closing behind. Waiting is only going to add to my growing uneasiness. I just want to get this over with.
A friendly looking lady (who I assume is the receptionist/assistant) sitting behind a glass case welcomes us in and waves a clipboard in my direction. I take it, feeling instantly daunted by the prospect of paperwork. There seems to be at least eight pages here. I turn them over with apprehension and soon my suspicions are confirmed — these are double-sided.
The plastic crinkles as I sit down to fill out the forms which include a very thorough questionnaire of my past health experience. Anxiously awaiting the impending encounter with sharp needles, I’m really not in the mood to fill out paperwork. I write my name, sign where I’m told to and check a few boxes on the pages in between for good measure, before handing it in. The assistant suspiciously looks through the empty pages. I should’ve stalled a bit. “Did I pass the test?” I joke nervously. Smiling, she points at the blank pages with a resounding “No!” I take the clipboard, sit down and do as I’m told.
I’m eventually led into Room 1. Worried, I look back at Kristofer who gives me an encouraging nod. Once in the room, I’m told to remove my shoes, pull up my sleeves and wait. Again. Looking around, I instantly feel a sense of relief. Everything is clean and tidy, as you would find in an actual doctor’s office, but with much better lighting. The spa music softly playing in the background is soothing and for a moment I successfully trick my brain into thinking I’m waiting for a massage, which helps calm my nerves.
The acupuncturist Dr. Moon (a third generation acupuncture and a licensed herbal medicine practitioner) comes in wearing a white coat and serious expression. I discuss my history of health with him, getting reprimanded along the way for “not including that detail in my chart” as he flips through the pages. Next he reads my pulse, warning me that the method used is very different to what I’m used to in other medicinal practices. “Uh oh,” I think, bracing myself — this is where it’s going to get weird. However, all he does is take both of my wrists into his hands, closes his eyes and quietly concentrates. Not knowing where to look and feeling awkward by the palpable intimacy of shared silence, I decide to close my eyes as well.
After a few minutes, he releases my wrists and taps the side of my neck a few times, the way one checks to see if someone’s heart is still beating. He sighs deeply, shaking his head. I feel a sense of alarm. There is no way to prepare myself for what he says next. Sharing the observations he gathered from taking my pulse, he includes details he’d have no way of knowing — occasional sharp pain in my left side, irregular heart palpitations, etc. — but the next thing he says hits me hard. He tells me that my heart and left kidney aren’t working properly for someone my age. He says that this is a symptom of having used my heart too intensely and that somewhere along the line I stopped protecting my heart from emotional stress. This hits me hard because I know it’s true.
After putting in the dreaded needles — each insertion accompanied by a pinching pain — he turns off the light and leaves the room. I suddenly feel extremely vulnerable. I’m scared to move, twitch or even look at the needles unless one clumsy move accidentally drives these tiny stakes in deeper.
The red lamps placed above feel hot on my skin and provide an eerie red glow to the darkened room. I give in to the stillness and my thoughts begin to consume me. Dr. Moon´s words swim around in my head. I realize that my vulnerability has little to do with my current physical state, but instead is a reflection of the emotional impact his words have caused. I feel exposed. I’d always sensed my migraines were a symptom of poorly managed stress since they always followed stressful moments, interactions and decisions, but what I hadn’t realized (at least on a conscious level), was that I was essentially allowing it to happen to myself. His words are a wake up call. I’m humbled by my realization.
After 20 minutes the assistant comes in. She takes the needles out and tells me “okay,” which I interpret to mean, “you may go now.” Gathering my things, looking slightly disheveled but feeling calm and serene, I say thank you and tell her I’ll see her next week. I walk out of the room and can see reflected in Kristofer´s face a change in mine. I feel different. My mind feels clear. A self-imposed weight has been lifted.