I schedule an hour and a half for an initial consultation and treatment. Due to the length of the first appointment, this can complicate scheduling, and occasionally new patients must wait a week or two for their first appointment. I am often asked if I can cut down on the time allocation and somehow squeeze them in sooner. I am eager to accommodate, and I let the patient know if I have any cancellations prior to the scheduled appointment; however, the time allotted for that initial appointment is necessary.
There are few shortcuts in life, and most don’t take us to the same final destination we envisioned. During this first appointment, I review a new patient’s complete medical history. It is pretty extensive, and unless they have been to an acupuncturist previously, it is unlike any other intake they have had.
During the questioning of their medical history, current medications and supplements, recent illnesses, and previous surgeries are relevant as they are in any medical office. A complete body and systems analysis is discussed, including joint pain, digestive concerns, sleep habits, and daily stress factors. Questions such as “Do you prefer cold or room-temperature water” are asked as well. Their pulse is taken in three different positions on both wrists, and I also observe their tongue.
I am often asked why this type of questioning is relevant. In traditional Chinese medicine, we do not diagnose according to a symptom or illness. Rather, a diagnosis is formulated according to the individual and his or her overall constitution, and only then are the disease or symptom manifestations evaluated. This is a preemptive type of diagnosis. The best cure for a disease is never coming down with the illness in the first place. We therefore engage in a medical-history review that is very thorough to determine the individual’s overall constitution.
It is important to properly ascertain the overall health of the individual, where their deficiency may lie, and the effect it is having on the person. Once we ascertain their individual tendencies, we can then fully understand and recognize the disease and symptom manifestation. This approach may be foreign to many people in the U.S. We are accustomed to experiencing symptoms, going to the doctor, and receiving a script for the symptom presentation. Certainly, this is our initial primary concern when we are in pain or feeling sick. However, we are often treating the symptoms alone, and failing to diagnose the deficiency in the body that allowed the illness to take root in the first place.
Pharmaceutical medications treat symptoms. They rid the fever, the aches and pains, and what the patient is suffering from right now. They do this very well, and this is of key importance during an illness. However, the ultimate would be to strengthen the body’s overall immunity and to recognize its weakest link to avoid illness from being able to set in to begin with. In my practice, I have patients who tell me they feel that receiving acupuncture on a regular basis gives them a coat of armor, a shield against disease. Many of my patients who previously got sick often and had prolonged symptoms tell me that they no longer get sick easily. They are less susceptible to illnesses overall. And when they are working too hard or are not sleeping enough and they do get sick, they find it is abbreviated.
I am currently treating a 57-year-old female who has a disease that affects the eyes. It is a chronic illness where she suffered from pain and burning in the eyes that affected her at work and in daily life. It is exacerbated by stress and overwork, as many illnesses are. She responds well to acupuncture, and we have been successful in mitigating her pain and keeping it at bay. Last week she had a cough and sounded congested. She was quick to say that this is the cough she gets this time of year that persists for 2—3 months through the spring season. This is relevant to her eye issues as well, which are representative of her liver meridian in Chinese medicine.
In looking at associations, the liver meridian, as opposed to the organ presentation, correlates greatly to stress, as well as the meridian opening to the eyes. Springtime relates to the liver, which is why so many people suffering from allergies affecting the eyes are more sensitive during this time. I took the patient’s description of her yearly persistent cough as a challenge. I utilized specific acupuncture points to get rid of the upper respiratory congestion as well as strengthen the lung meridian, which was relevant in this case. I then used cupping (a.k.a. Bankas) on the upper back in the trajectory of the back of the lungs.
Cupping is often diagnostic in and of itself. It received a lot of media attention recently but has actually been around for thousands of years. There are many randomized clinical trials that show its efficacy. An article published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal, “An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy” (Cao, H., Li, X., Liu, J. 2012), analyzed 135 trials and established its efficacy.
In this case, the red circular marks were much darker than they normally would be. Additionally, they actually had some minimal damp oozing exuding over the areas that were cupped. The patient returned the next week for her usual appointment. Her symptoms had remarkably improved. She had no cough–not even a residual one. She explained that she’d felt much better by the day after the treatment, and continued to improve every day thereafter. She could not get over the remarkable healing time. I am confident that this was not only because of the single treatment given that week during which we focused on her upper respiratory symptoms, but because of her incorporating weekly acupuncture into her overall health regimen.
There are few shortcuts in life. Utilizing acupuncture and other modalities such as cupping strengthen the immune system overall. It may also help ensure that when illness does set in, it is abbreviated so you can continue living life with all it has to offer.