07 August 2010

Why Not?

Or-- The Best Treatment I Ever Gave

The last post looked at external resources, how their simplicity and beauty can be overlooked in acupuncture. This one looks at internal inspiration, its ideal conditions for ripening, and how Mind, Ego, and collective experience combine into the amazing experience of doing acupuncture.

After a few years of practice, I had the 54-bed facility to myself. I'd spent a year being encouraged and coached by a dedicated team of acupuncturists: David Eisen, Arlette Siekmann, Sheila Moran. They were patient and kind co-workers and teachers. My boss, David, went on to develop an out-patient clinic that I'll write about later.

I'd arrive by 8:15 in the morning after a killer commute to disappear into a our blocky, brick building. Then it was time to take blood pressures, orient new patients, serve up some herb tea... then head upstairs for the main event: treating 54 people, ostensibly there to detox for 5 days or more.

One man I'll never forget. He had a wiry intensity, a kind of integrity despite his compromised circumstances. We had the best and the worst come through our doors, and he was on the brighter side of that continuum. People in Recovery can emit a kind of light. It might turn on after several days or several visits, but once it's on, you can't miss it.

His light did not have the fierce shine of newness. It was there, but dimmed by a struggle with something else, a physical malady.

He was sitting in one of the big green vinyl chairs in front of the TV (the arena for my finest treatments, it now appears). He told me he was scheduled for surgery the next day to remove his prostate. And that he had every urinary symptom known: painful, dribbling, burning, frequent, urgent, and bloody.

I was making my rounds. I was a young man around 30 with limited training and a few clinical references. The best part of my training was hiking for about an hour, then doing acupuncture on peers in some remote canyon or mesa in Northern New Mexico.

When this patient told me his plight, I was moved by both the novelty and intensity of his symptoms, and the earnestness of his approach. When people 'hit bottom,' it can be a fertile ground for healing.

I'd treated most of the other patients, already put in their ear points --I was warmed up, like after those 3 mile hikes.

Instantly, an idea to treat him arose in my mind. It was a single point near the nail bed of his left ring finger. But it's not a conventional nail bed point, also called Well points in the Chinese nomenclature, which sees the channels as a waterways. Instead, it's a few millimeters above the known point.

How did I know to use this point?

I don't know--it came out of nowhere.

What else to do the day before surgery, on a patient with every possible symptom on a body part?

The beauty was this: nobody was there to ask me, "Why? How come? What is this point?"
I'd not started teaching yet. I was absolutely alone, just myself and the patient, lost in a sea of non-onlookers, waiting for the next smoking break prior to group.

He had his standard detox ear points in already, a set of 5 needles popularized by the National Acu-Detox Association. They were both wise and coyote-like enough to choose the acronym NADA, which means "Nothing" in Spanish.

I put the needle in, and went on my way, putting more needles in other patients, taking others out when someone was restless and needed to go back to bed or stand by the smoking room door to be the first one in, or what-have-you.

After about a half hour, he flagged me down with an urgent look in his eyes, like a deer in the headlights. "Gotta go!" he said. Out the needles came, and he went to the restroom.

He returned some minutes later, to announce that every urinary symptom was gone. The look on his face was glowing with some amazement but mostly certainty.

His surgery was cancelled.

We did some follow-up treatments the next several days. Everything improved, and symptoms were clear after 2-3 treatments. It seemed odd that I'd treated him for at least several days prior to the breakthrough, with no effect.

Some might interpret this as placebo, but he had needles before this, twice daily for several days.

What was different was the one needle on his ring finger in the special location.

Afterwards, I considered the point a lucky gift, and used it on other men with urinary issues. I pushed my luck, and used it as a first option on every single one. Naturally, as other acupuncturists know, I had a run of men with urinary/prostate issues. We acupuncturists often find 'runs' or synchronous patterns of patients with similar conditions in our practice. Years later, my own father died of cancer, and the prostate was a major area for it in him. But these treatments never worked as well. The effects were, well, we could say dribbling at best. They were enough to keep me going.

I gave the point a Chinese name. I told my students to find new acupoints like this one, since if we each found a new point, wouldn't that be wonderful?

Some ego!!

Almost 15 years later, I was learning in a program that bothered to teach the acupuncture classics. OCOM realized when they set up their clinical doctorate program that very few times in acupuncture education were students regularly exposed to the seminal classics of acupuncture.

Dr. Tran, Viet-Dzung was our first teacher. He'd translated with Dr. Van Nghi as his student for 40 years. I first saw him in our little 'barefoot doctor' acupuncture school in Santa Fe in 1985. These acupuncture scholars came in their sharp French suits. We sat on the floor, and they talked to us as brothers. They were overjoyed with what we were learning. They left us with a Zen-like koan, "The yang channels carry water, and the yin channels carry fire."

Twenty years later, after Van Nghi died, Tran knocked himself out for 3 days solid as our keynote speaker. He poured himself into the teaching, giving his all. Most of my peers didn't get what he said, but I was entranced. He answered the riddle of the 'magic' point that worked so well on the one patient.

It was not a new point, nor 'my' point at all. No. I'd simply re-discovered the classical location--different from what I'd learned--for the Well points. Tran described these Well points as in the depression in the bone next to the nailbeds. What I'd needled was a 'classical' location of the first point on the San Jiao channel.

This year, I had the pleasure of reading Lorraine Wilcox's translation of the Ming Dynasty classic of acupuncture, the Zhen-Jiu Da Cheng/Acu-Moxa Great Classic. In it, she bravely translates the original point locations. Those for the Well points on the nailbeds as something like, 'one green onion's width from the corner of the nail bed.' This moves it several millimeters up from the modern textbook location. (Now, I need to do the cross-cultural anthropology of what green onions were like in China, especially in the Ming Dynasty!)

Why does this matter? Because all of our conventional textbook locations for this category of points, (one of the 5 major Phase categories at that) may be inaccurate. My treatment on that gentlemen may not have worked if I were better trained, had a supervisor correct me, or a student to impress, or doubted my intuition.

This case may illustrate some optimal conditions for healing:
  • a patient who is doing their work, working a spiritual program daily
  • a practitioner who is trained enough to know what their doing, but not so much that their intuition is closed off --and is not self-conscious
  • a resonant response by the universe
How did I know that one point would have a chance of working, on one channel and on one side of the body?

Later, I learned about the San Jiao channel, and more about left-right dynamics.

There is nothing like a burst of inspiration, especially when somebody really needs it and is 'ready' for it (something we can't determine as practitioners). When it takes 14 years to understand it, it is even better. The universe is a generous place.

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