I’ve managed life with chronic pain for years. Over the past month, however, I suffered a flare up so severe that one of my dog training students expressed concern, and she shared her own experience with acupuncture—not only to relieve pain, but also to aid in healing certain musculoskeletal conditions.
I had heard about acupuncture here and there, and my own doctor had recommended it on occasion, but I (apparently mistakenly) had the notion that it was only about pain relief, and the cost of acupuncture treatments (being so very much more expensive than pain management drugs) seemed out of reach. However, something my student told me about the way her acupuncturist, Rong Zhang (at Harvard Vanguard in Cambridge), had explained it to her got my attention.
Feeling I had nothing to lose by trying out a session, I got to hear more about acupuncture first hand. Rong Zhang told me a lot about the practice, but to boil it down as succinctly as I can manage, it goes something like this: all of us have within ourselves the capacity to heal our own bodies. The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture works by using super-fine needles inserted at certain points aligned with the central nervous system and related to various internal organs to send a message to the brain’s “self-healing center” in order to get the brain to pay more attention to the body part in need of help, in order to boost and speed up the healing process.
It’s all fine and well to talk about this kind of stuff, and I suppose, theoretically, it makes a certain amount of sense, but I often describe myself as “skeptical yet hopeful” about topics like this. I tend not to believe in them, and yet I wish for them to be true.
So it was that my acupuncture adventure began. After taking a detailed history of my aches, pains, past and present conditions, and so on, my acupuncturist formulated his plan and set to work. The first needles went in with no pain at all. A few of them stung for just a few seconds, and a very few hurt quite a bit. Rong Zhang had asked me to let him know if any of them hurt too much to bear, but also mentioned that the more I could tolerate, the more benefit I could receive, so I toughed it out. I was all in.
Once all the needles had been meticulously placed, he dimmed the light and told me he’d be back in about twenty minutes. My heart nearly stopped! That sounded like an eternity as I laid there feeling a bit like a paralyzed porcupine, yet after what seemed like just a minute, he returned. What a merciful nap!
After the procedure, I could hardly believe how well I felt! I had arrived in a great deal of pain, and I left feeling about 70 percent better! Some of my aches had vanished, and others had vastly improved. At that point, I could hardly wait to continue the program: twice a week until reaching a certain level of improvement, then once a week and eventually once a month for maintenance. Why hadn’t anyone ever convincingly explained to me just how miraculous acupuncture could be before this?! Perhaps I just wasn’t ready to listen.
In any case, it was with this experience in mind that I took Tatsu in to Mill Brook Animal Clinic for what I suspected to be a pinched nerve in his neck, a recurring problem that once took four months of doggy bed rest to heal. Essentially, Tatsu had to be crated at all times to restrict his movement, only going out on leash for bathroom breaks. Any time I pressed the limit and tried to give him more freedom, he suffered a setback in healing. I remembered that Dr. Fallon had once performed a bit of acupuncture on a previous dog of mine for an ACL injury, so I wondered if acupuncture might be able to help Tatsu, too.
Poor Tatsu arrived for his appointment shrieking any time he lowered his head, lied down or moved to stand up. I was a tiny bit dismayed when Dr. Fallon asked his newest veterinarian on staff what she thought about Tatsu’s condition. I have to admit that I was a little resistant to being handed off to a new doctor. Tatsu is such a medical conundrum! Dr. Fallon has known him since he was a sick little puppy, and I’ve come to regret taking Tatsu to any other establishment for treatment, since without understanding his background, they’ve usually gotten his treatment wrong (wasting my money, time and patience).
Dr. Ashley Baron set my mind at ease in no time! She had already read through Tatsu’s thick medical file and was able to list when he’d been in and for what complaint, although Dr. Fallon’s and my own memories of Tatsu’s numerous visits were hazy. When her assistant in this procedure, a veterinary technician named Jodi, mentioned that Dr. Baron had once done acupuncture on a giraffe and Dr. Baron modestly recounted the tale as if it were no big deal, I knew Tatsu was in the right hands. She was confident, personable, professional and very gentle with my “baby dog.” I got to sit and pet Tatsu while she deftly placed her needles. Tatsu never even flinched. It was even almost as if he felt some immediate relief, or perhaps he was just enjoying having three women tend to him at once.
In the end, Tatsu stood up, sauntered out of the clinic and then up his Pet Loader steps into my van to lie down on his mat as if there had been nothing wrong with him less than an hour ago. Of course, I booked his follow-up appointments straight away. In fact, both he and I have our second acupuncture appointments later today. We have fingers and paws crossed that today’s visits yield similarly astounding results.
I am now a bit less skeptical and a bit more hopeful that acupuncture may be a useful part of our family’s healthcare going forward. According to a pamphlet from the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, acupuncture can address a wide variety of conditions ranging from back pain and disc problems to seizures, gastro-intestinal issues and even some behavioral problems to name just a handful. If acupuncture continues to be successful for Tatsu and me, it will certainly be something I recommend in the future!