The Road to Acupuncture

The Chinese Medical Centre, Westgate St, Gloucester

For more than 18 months I have been avoiding a wide range of foods as I have been ‘diagnosed’ as intolerant to them. I blogged about this back in February 2011 with the fond expectation that three or four months’ abstinence would have me on the road to recovery. This has not been the case.

The situation is getting desperate. I have tried a variety of pseudo-scientific approaches to aid my recovery and the latest is Traditional Chinese Medicine. Frankly, I am surprised it has taken me so long to try this as, of all the wacky ideas out there, this seems to have the best pedigree.

To provide some brief background, I have for as long as I can remember suffered from a general low level feeling unwell-ness. The symptoms can generally be lumped into two categories: gastro-intestinal and fatigue. This was getting more frequent and more debilitating and finally drove me to action.

I started in the traditional way with a visit to the doctor. After numerous blood tests and a variety of embarrassing and uncomfortable examinations, western medicine was unable to find any cause for the fatigue and simply gave the other symptoms a name: IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

As diagnoses go this is pretty useless and made the rest of me feel pretty irritable as well. This ‘diagnosis’ offers no explanation as to why the symptoms happen, and is therefore silent on how you can avoid them, much less how you can cure them. You wouldn’t accept such a diagnosis with other symptoms. If you went to the doctor with recurring headaches would you accept a diagnosis of ‘irritable head syndrome’? I think not.

Anyway, a friend who knows about such things said it sounded like food intolerances. The main medical profession doesn’t really seem to believe in food intolerances, so I found myself wandering out to the fringes of medical science.

First I tried Applied Kinesiology. This is a process where vials of various food stuffs are laid on your stomach and they look for an effect in the muscle response of your arm. It identified some basic food groups I should avoid – mostly cows dairy (very common, apparently) – and I did feel a little better for avoiding it.

From the beginning this seemed like the wilder imaginings of new age mumbo-jumbo though, so I progressed to an on-line blood test. These test for IgG antibody reactions to food, which sounds much more reassuringly scientific; it is still widely disputed in the mainstream medical community however.

It was this that produced the much longer list of foods to avoid and, through avoiding them I did unquestionably feel much better. However, I can’t go my whole life avoiding all of these foods: is life worth living if denied the simple pleasures of, for instance, pizza, egg and mayonnaise sandwiches, sticky toffee pudding and custard and, perhaps worst of all, beer?

So, assuming that food intolerances are the problem (and experiential evidence tends to suggest that they are), surely there must be an underlying reason why my body can’t handle these foods in the normal way. My next mission, therefore, was to seek a cure.

I’m not sure why, but my first port of call was homeopathy. The lady I saw was very nice, and certainly spent far more time listening to my symptoms than my doctor. At the end of the consultation I was prescribed some little white pills, with some very specific instructions on how and when to take them.

Again I thought I felt some benefit and persevered for a while with a few different types of tablet, but I couldn’t shake the nagging doubt that basically I was paying quite a lot of money for sugar pills. With that level of nagging doubt, they weren’t even likely to work as a placebo, so I gave it up.

And so I find myself at the Acupuncturist’s door. As I said at the beginning, I wonder why it took so long. Unlike Homeopathy, invented in the eighteenth century, or Kinesiology, a product of the mid-twentieth century, traditional Chinese medicine has a long pedigree going back thousands of years. Modern medicine can’t explain how it works, but in the more enlightened corners they are starting to grudgingly admit that it looks like it does. This appeals to me on both mystical and scientific levels.

I made myself an appointment with Dr Lei at the Chinese Medical Centre in Westgate Street, Gloucester. I had kind of hoped that Dr Lei would be a wizened old Chinese man with a long wispy moustache, but in fact she was neither old nor had a moustache. She was, however, Chinese and had trained in Beijing. During the initial consultation she made notes fluidly in Chinese. Well, for all I know she could have been doodling, but it looked like authentic Chinese writing.

The consultation room was reassuringly workman-like: the lighting was not subdued, there were no candles or burning incense and, thankfully, there was no annoying new age music plinking away in the background. Basically it was much like any doctors surgery.

The treatment was exceedingly pleasant. It started with a good massage (Tui Na Manipulation), which found all of the knots and tight spots, but was not overly vigorous or painful. Then came the Acupuncture. Many people are squeamish about the thought of the needles, but although there was sometimes a faint scratch or pin-prick as they were applied, on the whole the process was painless.

The session lasted more than an hour including the initial consultation and afterwards I felt very relaxed and a little light headed. The process effects different people in different ways, Dr Lei advised, but you may feel very tired after your first session.

And boy, did I feel tired. I was going out that evening (Limehouse Lizzy at the Guildhall – very good!) and felt the need for an hour’s sleep before I could manage it.

When I woke up I had the beginnings of cold symptoms, which over the next 24 hours or so blossomed into the worst cold I’ve had for some time.

I’m hoping that is just an unfortunate coincidence, and will be back for more Traditional Chinese Therapy soon.

I remain hopeful.


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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