As soon as I say, "I'm studying
acupuncture," their eyes light up. Everyone likes the idea of
acupuncture. It sounds exotic, ancient, and trendy all at the same
time. What could be better? Yes, the interest is there, but so,
undoubtedly, is the follow-up question, "What can acupuncture help
Gee, let me think. My first instinct, based on clinical and
personal experience, is to excitedly shout "EVERYTHING" in
someone's face. We all know that's not helpful, not specific, and
usually not socially acceptable. Instead, I try to reign myself in
and itemize a few conditions that might be of concern to the
individual in question. My answer then comes out sounding like,
"Oh, several things...trouble with sleep, irritability, irregular
periods, pain, you know...basically everything." I just can't
resist throwing that all-inclusive ending on there.
Maybe I'm not way out of line in doing
so. In ancient China, obviously Chinese medicine was the entire
medical system, including preventive care, acute care, chronic
care, you name it. Your acupuncturist could needle your face, moxa
your feet, gua sha your shoulders, tui na your back, and even
perform certain surgeries. Back then, "What does acupuncture treat"
would have definitely received my favorite answer, "EVERYTHING!"
Although, that's probably too rude and aggressive for ancient
China. They probably would have responded with something much more
humble, and then surprised the pants off you with their amazingly
effective acupuncture treatment.
Let's look for a compromise. In America
today, you can't just walk around saying that something that's not
a drug can treat, prevent, or cure a disease. You can't say it. So,
what can we say? In these delicate cases, I defer to the World
Health Organization, which lists conditions that acupuncture has
proven to be an effective treatment through controlled trials.
Although the list we all seem to use is incredibly old -- from 1996
-- we continue to see additional conditions helped by acupuncture
in individual studies such as those found via www.pubmed.gov.
Here's our old starting list:
Plus, for our reading pleasure, the World Health Organization
also gives us some hopeful additional categories. They list over 60
additional conditions and diseases that acupuncture has been
demonstrated to be effective for, but for which additional research
is needed. There are about 15 other conditions for which
acupuncture has been shown effective for in individual cases, or
for which conventional treatment is difficult or ineffective.
So, next time someone asks
me what acupuncture can help them with, I'm going to give in and
shout, "EVERYTHING," at them. After all, odds are I'd be right.
Does it treat this? Check. Does it treat that? CHECK!
My lychee plant is alive!
I can hardly believe it, because I've almost certainly killed it at
least four distinct times. Dr. Cai gave several of us AOM students
a small branch -- a twig, really -- around 18 months ago, and those
of us arrogant enough to think we could grow them proceeded to take
them home and plant them in something.
"Don't worry," Dr. Cai
kept telling us. "It's easy to grow." I felt so reassured that I
would be growing my bush/tree in my own yard and harvesting
handfuls of lychee berries in the fall. I was definitely wrong.
Although I pride myself as a master novice gardener of vegetables,
the lychee proved to be a new beast. Sure, I've grown a few potted
herbs for cooking. Yes, I dry my own peppermint leaves and make
tea. These small feats in no way prepared me to raise a baby
For most of its 18-month life with me, the twig remained a twig.
Yes, it sprouted a couple of leaves here and there, only to be
killed off again with the next cold night. Did I mention I tried to
grow it outdoors in Chicagoland? Technically I forgot about it a
few times, leaving it out in the snow and hard frost. Ooops, sorry
This October I pledged to
be a more responsible lychee parent. Sure, I'm successfully raising
two actual human children, but that's different. They scream when
they're cold and hungry. The lychee just sits there and practically
dies in silence. So this October, I brought it inside. I placed it
lovingly next to my dining room window, and I think I managed to
water it every few weeks or so.
This week, the unspeakable
happened. Out of the corner of my eye, while speed walking through
the room in a late, chaotic frenzy as always, I thought I saw
something different about the lychee...something...red?! Could it
be? Did I facilitate the birth of the first Baby Lychee Yelnick
berry? I leaned in for closer inspection, and I couldn't believe
it. Not one, but TWO berries had grown on my tiny, twig-like
Who cares about lychees anyway? Well, the Chinese do. They use
it to tonify the Spleen, improving transportation and
transportation functions around the body. Lately, the West has been
turned on to the powerful anti-oxidant feature of the gogi berry,
as we tend to call it.
How many names can one fruit have, you might ask? Well, let's
take a look:
So, lychee, lycii, goji, gou qi zi, whatever your name is...Grow
on! I'm happy to have you in my humble home for the winter. In the
spring I will place you back outside in my herb garden, and I will
probably almost kill you again (sadly). I'll try not to, but I'm
just being honest.
That's what I say to myself, in my head thankfully, whenever I
look down at my hands and realize my nails are long...again. Yes,
to clarify, having long fingernails makes you a bad acupuncturist.
Sure, you can still stick needles into flesh with respectably long
nails, but you sure can't perform tui na very well. You
might even pierce the skin just trying to palpate the channels to
find the points. It's just bad...very bad.
I'll never forget the day I learned this pearl of wisdom. It was
rough for me. I've always had long nails -- not creepy curled
"never cuts" -- but nice, clear, totally decent nails. I'm also
particular about them and the relationship of my fingernails to my
own health. You will not catch me with fingernail polish -- toxic,
poison-fume leaking, nail-bed suffocating anti-health gloss --
ever. I find it to be a disgusting disregard for health, and I'm
not even going into the additional toxins associated with going
somewhere to "get your nails done."
In other words, I already thought my nails were in good shape
and I was a shining example of a "live what you preach" type of
acupuncture student. My vision was shattered on April 28th, 2014,
at 8am. It was our first day in the NDI clinic in Nicaragua, and I
was all set to start needling the people (right through their tight
jeans, but that's another story). Suddenly, I was slapped in the
face with the comment "OH, you need to cut your nails!" by the
acupuncturist, starting down at my nails with sheer mortification
on her face.
What? "I just did!" I replied. Apparently my version of trimmed
nails was nowhere near the skin-nubs-only level that my peers had
adopted. OK, I took the nail clippers and went to town. I couldn't
have picked my nose if I'd wanted to. No nail remnants survived
this attack. Suddenly, everything felt weird. I was stimulating
fingertip nerve endings that had never before been stimulated by
anything but gently passing breezes. Now, here they were, bald and
exposed to the world of stimuli -- Nicaraguan stimuli, nonetheless.
Hot air, cold water, thick dust, tight jeans on strangers.
I was totally unprepared, but I put a smile on and went on with
my week. What did I learn? She was right. They were all right.
Having short -- extremely short -- fingernails is critical to being
a good acupuncturist. I palpated so accurately; I tui na'd
six layers deep. I was officially a convert. As she said to me when
I began the AOM program two years ago, "Those are beautiful nails,
but cut them. You'll never have long nails again if you're
serious." And she was right.
Until today, when I looked down and realized that I've been so
busy between midterms, kids, work, and Thanksgiving plans, that I
must have forgotten to clip those things for almost two weeks. In
my defense, I'm taking really good supplements, so they do grow
like wildfire. "Why is the pinkie nail longer than the rest," you
might be thinking. Well it's not because I'm secretly a coke
junkie. It's just the only one finger that I don't have to actively
use in pulse taking, point palpating, or tui na. So,
secretly, I sometimes don't clip that one...just to see if I can
still grow one. I'm beard-challenging myself.
Rest assured I grabbed the clippers and transformed myself from
bad acupuncturist to good girl in less than two minutes. Ah, if
life were always that easy!
Curious ladies are dying
to know. Could the articles be true? Is drinking a glass of wine
the health equivalent of working out at the gym? This. Is.
Here's the article: Resveratrol may be natural exercise performance
enchancer - Science Daily. If you have a Facebook account, I'm
sure you've at least seen the headline "Glass of Wine Equal to Hour
at the Gym!" and the equally delighted personalized status updates
by every woman and half the men you are "friends" with.
So, does the study actually prove this?
Kind of. A team of researchers on the University of Alberta Faculty
of Medicine and Dentistry found that resveratrol, a natural
compound found in some fruits, nuts, and wine, mimics the effects
of hard physical exercise on the human body. Although their
conclusions leaned more towards creating a resveratrol supplement
that could be given to patients that were unable to exercise --
such as a car accident victim with four broken limbs, I guess.
Naturally, the people did not stop there. Our lushy society has
taken it upon ourselves to extrapolate the potential ways this
could impact the average person. Can't make it to the gym tonight
after all? No problem -- have a glass of wine! Don't feel like
going for that run in the rain? Don't worry about it -- go back
inside and drink wine!
What's the catch? There
are a couple of details here. Again, their research was geared
towards creating a performance-enhancing supplement, not a
substitute for performance entirely. They said resveratrolmimicsthe
results of endurance training...it's not quite as perfect in every
way. Also, we are only talking about red wine here. "Why?" wonders
the lady who only likes sweet dessert wines. The answer is that
resveratrol -- the important part of the wine for this discussion
-- is found primarily in the skin ofredgrapes. White wine just
doesn't have the resveratrol levels that would make an impact in
your big sea of body.
Western medicine always
thinks it's discovering something new. Well...not this time,
fellas! Chinese medicine has listed red wine as a therapeutic
dietary choice for thousands of years. In TCM, red wine is dry and
hot, so it expels dampness and warms the interior, expelling cold.
Is that why I always crave a glass of Pinot Noir on a cold winter
The Chinese also use wine as a guiding element, directing other
herbs or foods where the body needs those influences. They see wine
as capable of moving blood and qi, which can help dispel not only
cold but also stasis and stagnation of many types and
manifestations. Both East and West recognize that red wine can
I'm not going to say that TCM wins again, but yes I basically am
saying that TCM wins again. Let's compromise over a glass of red
group of volunteers just returned from dusty, hot Nicaragua a mere
6 months ago, it's already time to muster our energy, our spirit,
and our medical supplies and get ready to head back. A stock-pile
is already starting to form on the floor of my husband's
office...first it was a few bottles of homeopathic cough syrup for
infants that wouldn't fit in my bag last year...then it was a case
of toothpaste samples from my dentist...now it's growing again as I
add several bottles of essential oils from my generous sister to
the little medicine mountain.
Why am I going back for the third time to volunteer at the
Natural Doctors International (NDI) clinic on the island of Ometepe
in Lake Nicaragua? Well, I'm basically hooked. Sure, they've made
me the IL Chapter Representative for NDI, and they call me the
brigade coordinator. But honestly, they had me at "would you like
to come back next year?" Yep. Yes I would.
I'm hooked on
the country, which is immediately to the north of my long-time
favorite--Costa Rica. Nicaragua itself is absolutely beautiful,
with beaches, surfing, mineral springs, mountains, and volcanos.
Oh, the volcanoes -- talk about a love-fear relationship. This year
I'm planning to venture off after the medical brigade and attempt
the famous volcano-boarding, which is where you don a protective
suit and surf down the scree of a semi-active volcano on a modified
snow-board. I think that counts as exposure therapy.
I'm hooked on
the people, many of whom I know by name and family now. I see the
same faces year after year, all who seem genuinely happy to have
the natural medicine option on the island. They have options off
the island, too, but they have to take a bus, then a ferry, then a
bus, and then wait all day at a hospital that may or may not have
time for them that day. It's an expense that most people can't
meet. The children follow us around the village, giggling and
holding up signs they made that say "Thank you."
I'm hooked on the clinic. The clinic offers free acupuncture,
botanicals, homeopathics, massage, chiropractic, and whatever else
we volunteers bring down on the brigade. I've seen premature
babies, clinging to life, which honestly wouldn't have made it had
they not found their way into the NDI clinic that day. We treated
pregnant women and farm laborers, both with excruciating back pain.
Liliam, the local licensed psychologist, quietly walks the abuse
victims over to her counseling area, where we really learn about
the dark side of a community. We've called the police to pick up a
rapist. We've escorted a barely teenage girl off the island to that
distant hospital to get imaging done on the lemon-sized lump she
found in her breast.
If you want to give back, to experience another culture, and to
see many types of case that you might have not exposure to at our
clinics in Chicagoland, then contact me.
Check out www.ndimed.org for more information on the
upcoming brigade -- a 10-day program including 1 orientation day, 4
clinic days, 1 farm day, 1 free day, 1 closing day, 2 travel days
and informal evening courses in global health and natural medicine.
Come back to school after your spring break with a certificate
showing your 40 service hours of hard and rewarding work in a truly
integrative medical setting.
volunteers: medical students, providers, and Spanish speakers are
preferred but not required. We need donations: vitamins,
supplements, probiotics, botanicals, needles, and herbs
Want to learn more about this opportunity? Contact me anytime
with questions, concerns, help with setting up the first-giving
fundraising tool that most of us choose to use, or just stories
about how we treat people even when there's no water or electricity
for days. The group is forming NOW, and I hope to hear from YOU
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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