A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: An Agony Of Acupuncture

Originally published: 26 October 2004

Thumbing my way through the Cape Times yesterday I came upon an article about the link between acupuncture and fertility treatment in women.

Research that was carried out was presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Philadelphia not too long ago. In it the authors concluded that acupuncture can dramatically "boost pregnancy rates for infertile women".

It's not normally the sort of article I would be interested in, but the key word in it all was "acupuncture". I honestly couldn't care less whether women are able to give birth or not and personally I wish they'd all just bloody stop for a moment to give us all a bit of a breather, but I certainly have a vested interest in acupuncture.

I've been under The Needle before and I'm here today to tell you that it hurt like buggery.

I'm not one for mystical crap and ghosts and alternative medicine. Stuff me full of Myprodol and I'll sit smiling at you all day, whereas no amount of St John's Wort will ever do a damn thing for me, no matter how much it helps you.

In fact - what the hell is St John's Wort? Never mind, actually - I couldn't be arsed.

But I will concede that there are mysteries to medicine and natural healing that science is unable to find the answers for, and I've seen the effects of acupuncture first hand.

Tashi had terrible back pain for a long time and the only thing that saved her was an acupuncturist. Sorted her out in four or five sessions and she's never had the same pain again.

Which was why I decided to give the acupuncturist a try - I'm a complete girlie when it comes to needles but I had to do something. Tashi's back was a model of helpful efficiency compared to my Quasimodo-like monstrosity and no amount of physiotherapy or operations or chiropractors or specialists or painkillers was able to help me.

So I took the plunge and allowed her to make me an appointment (I never make my own appointments for anything - I can't, since every time and place you can possibly think of are usually a gross invasion of my time and right to personal freedom alone in a darkened room).

The guy Tashi had gone to is something of a celebrity quack in Cape Town - one Dr Lin, a Chinese doctor who couldn't speak a single word of English at the time (I sincerely hope he's made an effort since, and let me tell you why).

When Tashi first went to visit him his waiting room was crowded with patients awaiting the spike, and she announced herself and went to sit down. The good doctor was obviously overbooked and in a hurry, and he came swooping out of his room with an armful of needles, got Tashi to show him where the pain was by pointing on her body (she tried to explain what was wrong but he couldn't understand her), and suddenly - without warning - he drove a needle deep into the top of her head and in a flash was gone, leaving her sitting there.

Naturally she wasn't 100 percent comfortable - she was sitting in a room full of strangers with a needle sticking out of the top of her head, having been accosted by a mad Chinese doctor whose intentions were anything but clear.

It's at that point, you see, that I rip the needle out and run for my life. But Tashi is made of sterner stuff than I, and her story - as we know - ended happily in the end.

Once she'd told me her horror story I was naturally never in a million years going to go within a thousand miles of Dr Lin, even if it meant I'd never have another day's pain in my life.

I'm sorry, but when you have communication problems with a mad Chinese quack whose pockets are stuffed to overflowing with vicious needles and whose eyes convey a deep madness that even evil fears - you stay away from him.

It's a little philosophy I hold very dear to my heart and I'm reasonably convinced that it's the reason I'm still alive today.


So Tashi organised for one of Dr Lin's students to do me, as it were, and even though I was still prepared for the worst at least I knew I could curse in a language the guy would understand, and explain precisely what I thought about his mother.

There was no crowded waiting room, and everything was clean and efficient. The nice lady behind the reception desk was an empathetic sort whose eyes conveyed all the pity in the world, and although it's not very confidence-inspiring when a doctor's receptionist has pity in her eyes, at least she was professional about it.

The student was about my age and he had all the charm, charisma and devil-may-care attitude so common to butchers, sadists and genocidal maniacs. There was no sign of any needles and my spirits soared - maybe he'd just gently poke me with a few blunt objects and be done with it.

He asked me to lie on my stomach and explain my story, and as I was doing to he drove the first needle - which had been carefully, and oh-so-cunningly concealed up his sleeve - deep into the back of my knee.

To my eternal credit I didn't scream or faint or howl blue murder - a solitary tear carrying all the pain I've ever had simply rolled down my cheek as my body exploded in pain.

I knew there was nothing I could do and he was very encouraging, recognising that I was in agony. He explained that people regularly passed out from the pain and that I was doing pretty well all things considered, which I'm sure lightened my mood no end.

All the while he was adding needles in the most excruciatingly painful places - the top of my head, my neck, all over my back, behind my knees (which was by far the worst, especially in the moment when my leg jerked up in reflex when he put a needle behind my knee - acupuncture is all about alignment of the blood flow in your body, and the combination of a needle telling my blood to go one way and my leg forcing it in another direction was not something that was supposed to happen).

"Painful, huh?" he asked smilingly but devoid of mirth.

"Sure", said I, in a grand gesture of understatement. "Sure".

After half an hour of insane pain I was allowed to go, and as he ushered me to the door - half-holding me to prevent me from collapsing - he told me how it would probably get a little worse in future sessions, but that after five or six times it shouldn't be quite as painful.

I thanked him profusely with ironic tongue pressed firmly into sardonic cheek, got into my car and hit the freeway, heading North.

The camera panned from a closeup of my drained, white face and my knuckles tight around the steering wheel to reveal the hospital I was driving away from in the background, and as I hit the Pinelands off-ramp - and the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack swelled up from the very depths of hell - the entire place went up in a massive explosion of student doctors, pretty receptionists and a thousand needles of torture.

I lit a smoke and threw the detonator out of my window, and to this day it lies beneath the dark and sulky waters of the Liesbeeck.

I drove home in silence.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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