When first considering acupuncture, I vowed not to look.
It's a habit: I never glance down when donating blood, and while I can stitch an open wound closed, I'd prefer never to do it again.
Piercing makes me queasy. Talking about piercing makes me queasy. Needles. Punctures. Ugh.
But of course, some five or six visits into acupuncture treatment for a long-standing shoulder injury, I really really really want to look.
The Chinese doctor who punctures me is a bright woman with a PhD, whose accent moves the English words just a bit too fast and loose for me to follow her the first time she explains. Except of course, when she tells me, "Sorry! You not gonna like this."
Right she is.
Having attached alligator clips with color-coded wires between a small device and -- I must assume -- the needles inserted into my arm, she begins running a mild electrical current. She asks if I can bear some more.
Taking deep breaths, focusing on relaxing the muscles that want to jump up and run, I soothe myself by contemplating electrical shockings of my past...These pulses sting, sure, but, it's not as bad as the shock from an electric fence or that faulty plug in a socket or the time I zapped myself across the kitchen trying to clean the fan over the stove.
Still, the cycle continues for a long while, at precisely my sorest spots. There's a scent of burning herbs, rubbing alcohol, and the faint, regular tzeet, tzeet, tzeet of the machine at my elbow.
Curiosity, meet cat. Cat -- curiosity.
I lift my head from the pillow and take a long look.
A line of four or five thousand slim needles lead a meandering course from my shoulder to the base of my fingers.
Second look: there are maybe 18 needles, set in pairs along the same pathway that is marked in red in the medical poster on the wall above me. I didn't feel the needles go in, and only sense them now when the electrical pulse squeezes the muscles along the way. Maybe muscles. Maybe nerves. Maybe chi. Chakras might be implicated. I don't know. And I am okay with this ignorance.
I'm rarely okay with ignorance. Beyond reason to me is the comfort of research, data, trivial facts, theories, original sources.
But for the little I know about acupuncture, let me counter with a separate and equal lack of understanding of the chemistry of aspirin or the architecture of my own ulna.
What I do know: in a week or two weeks, something will change. I'll be able to stretch this arm without this creeping heat of irritated nerves or tendons or chi or whatever it is that has been sending a jangling bolt of sensation -- radiating from this shoulder. I'll rotate my hands and stretch my wrists without wincing. I'll put fingers on the keyboard and type about it, not thinking about what hurts or how much.
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