East Meets Skeptic
March 31, 2013
The unassuming door is easy to miss, so there is a simple stand to catch your eye from the sidewalk. The uneven, narrow stairs lead me to an office space above a cheese store, but a strong floral scent is all that lingers in the air. I needn’t have worried about basking in the old-sock smell of stinky cheese.
I work on opening my mind as I climb the stairs on a Saturday afternoon, trying to stay positive, but keeping my expectations low. My last brief foray into Chinese medicine and acupuncture therapy had only increased my already healthy skepticism.
The reception area is small, cluttered, and dimly lit, with just a couple of chairs for waiting patients. Soft, foreign music plays as I fill out the obligatory medical history forms, and try to decide whether I feel more “stressed” or more “anxious”; more “irritable” or more “angry”. I felt much calmer until I had to answer these questions. I eye the wall of mysterious-looking jars with suspicion, now feeling a little nervous. Is there a box for me to tick for that?
Dr. Susan Hu greets me right on time, and takes me into the room directly beside the reception desk. We sit across from one another, and I’m surprised to discover that I instantly relax. The music is soft, the lighting is soft, and Dr. Hu’s bedside manner is excellent. She smiles easily, laughs often, and listens carefully.
To my surprise, after the review she asks me to strip to my underwear, and leaves the room. My past experience of acupuncture involved hands, feet, head, a minor adjustment of clothing…but that’s it.
Dr. Hu returned and methodically worked her way up my body, pressing and kneading, asking if I felt any pain. At the centre of my chest, her reasonable amount of pressure had an unreasonable effect: the pain was so great I couldn’t catch my breath. She tsked, and shook her head.
“You are very angry. You must not get angry, you carry it all here,” she said, pointing to the centre of her own chest. “Very bad for you. Even if you do not have condition, you will have heart attack.”
I admitted to struggling with this emotion as of late, and she waved her hand at me.
“I get angry once in ten years. If I get angry, and it change things, then I would get angry. But when I get angry, changes nothing. Only hurt me. So I don’t get angry.”
She shared some personal details as she began tapping the needles into my body, telling me that she’d moved to Canada 13 years ago without knowing a word of English. Although she has a heavy accent, I have no trouble understanding every word she says and am duly impressed. She earned $2 per day as an ER doctor in China, and moved to Canada for a better life. I’m happy for her that she has obviously accomplished this, and once again feel a little rush of patriotism for our country that is almost universally viewed as a safe haven of opportunity.
Dr. Hu noticed me wince as she placed a needle in the side of my finger, and said “fingers always hurt; just nerves and bone. If it hurts bad, you tell me and I will take it out. But if you can, I ask you to try to suck it up.” She smiled; I laughed out loud.
I passed the next 30 minutes staring at the ceiling, and trying unsuccessfully to empty my mind. I relaxed my body as much as I could, and honestly felt the stress begin to drain from me. Regardless of whether the poking of my various “meridians” had any added benefit, the act of consciously focusing on the health of both my mind and my body made me feel better.
My second visit was a very different experience. I chose a lunch hour appointment (knowing I would need to allot some extra time for travel), to see if the break in a work day would be helpful. The stress of fighting traffic and trying to find a parking spot at lunch time on the Danforth was not conducive to the relaxation plan.
Dr. Hu was running late that day, because she was juggling patient care with child care in her husband’s absence. A friend watched her 6-month old baby at the clinic, and Dr. Hu ran from room to room, calming patients and calming her child. Light flooded my room, and having an outside wall and window meant I could hear a fair bit of street noise. It was also next to another treatment room, and the dividing wall did not meet tightly at the window, causing me to unintentionally (and inescapably) eavesdrop on the other patient’s treatment. The opposite wall was obviously shared with an apartment, where the sound of a litter of puppies whimpering and squealing came from within. I mentioned this to Dr. Hu when she returned and she seemed relieved, explaining her recent worries that a family of raccoons had taken up residence in the ceiling.
I saw her baby on my way out—a beautiful, beaming little girl. Dr. Hu is 46 years old and this is her first child, conceived without any medical intervention. Obviously her commitment to living a healthy, anger-free lifestyle is working for her body.
Knowing that midday appointments were the wrong choice for me, I scheduled my next visit after work. I left plenty of time for the drive and to find parking, which allowed me to stop and take some photos as I walked to the clinic during the light snowstorm.
This time I knew to ask for a quiet room, and the receptionist led me to an entirely different area in the back I hadn’t even realized existed. It was cozy and dimly lit.
Not five minutes after Dr. Hu set me full of pins and left the room, there was a power outage. The lights and music went out, and I was left alone with my thoughts. It was an interesting exercise for me, as I don’t practice yoga, meditation, or any of those other inward-looking therapies. The power didn’t come back on until just before I left, and I have to say that I didn’t entirely mind the silence.
I’ve been back several more times, and despite having no tangible proof of the benefits, I feel certain that each treatment leaves me calmer, happier, and more aware of my body. Dr. Hu remembers our conversations and treatments, and alters the needle placement slightly each time based on how I’m feeling. A day of headaches means fewer needles in my hands/arms and more in my head and the bottom of my feet (ouch). She runs her hands over my body once the needles are out, often pressing on various therapeutic points, and says she can feel the improved flow of energy after our sessions.
I’m inclined to believe her.