Why I Became a Chinese Medicine Practitioner
Back in the year 2000, I was in a car accident. I was at a complete stop and, although the light had not yet turned green, the driver behind me hit the gas, causing my head to snap backward. The result was a whiplash injury.
Later that day, I experienced slight aches and pains in my neck. I decided it would be best to go to the hospital for x-rays. The medical doctor stated that he did not see any damage, that I should take ibuprofen, and that I should be fine after one week. After one week, my neck felt much worse and the pain progressed to my thoracic vertebrae. I decided to see a chiropractor. My chiropractor gave me regular adjustments once per week for several months, in addition to exercises that I performed diligently throughout the day. Although I felt instant relief from an adjustment, I noticed that my neck would go back out of alignment several hours after the appointment. I discussed this with my chiropractor, and she recommended that I see an acupuncture practitioner.
I had heard about acupuncture through a good friend of mine who was getting regular treatments. Each time she described her treatment—how it felt, and how her health was improving—it made me quite intrigued. I decided that this was an opportunity to try something new.
My First Acupuncture Treatment
I remember my first acupuncture appointment quite well. The practitioner did a full health history, asking me questions like these: Do you generally feel hot or cold? Do you prefer salty or sweet foods? Do you have vivid dreams? (In addition, of course, to questions about my neck and back pain.) I did not understand why she was asking me these questions, especially since I was visiting her for my neck and back pain. And, quite frankly, I did not really know how to answer these questions, because I had never thought much about my general body temperature or food preferences before. She explained that although I was getting a treatment for neck and back pain, Chinese medicine looks at the patient’s entire health presentation. The answers to these questions are helpful in making a Chinese medicine diagnosis. I noticed during the following weeks that I became more thoughtful about these kinds of questions and, therefore, more aware of my choices and patterns. As my acupuncture treatments continued, I found it much easier to answer the questions.
After the initial acupuncture treatment, I felt instant relief. Not only did my neck and thoracic vertebrae feel less tense, but I felt an overall sense of well-being. After regular acupuncture treatments, I was able to decrease and eventually halt my chiropractic treatments. And, as my neck and spine improved, my acupuncture practitioner was able to focus on other areas. For example, at that time in my life, my sleep was not sound and I didn’t have the best eating habits in the world. We worked on improving my sleep and on regulating my metabolism so that I would crave less-sweet foods.
I had never experienced such effective results from other medical modalities, and it made wonder, What exactly is Chinese medicine? I began to read books about the topic; I attended an introductory class at the local community college. At this time in my life, I was employed at Portland Community College and on a career path. However, I was looking to do something more fulfilling. I wanted to have a direct impact on transforming people’s lives. I considered counseling but after further research realized that that was not enough for me. I also considered massage therapy but again felt that it did not make as much of an impact as I personally hoped to make.
The more I learned about Chinese medicine, the more I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Through my own experience receiving regular acupuncture treatments, I had had the opportunity to feel just how effective Chinese medicine could be—Chinese medicine had significantly changed and improved my life. And it was this experience that I wanted to pass on to others. I realized I want to help others transform their own lives, whether through resolving back pain or relieving chronic anxiety or lifting depression. For me, such change became my purpose, and I have never regretted this decision.
Chinese Medicine Training
The next step in my journey was to research acupuncture schools. I visited seven different schools in the United States, on both the West and East coasts. I chose the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine (SIOM) for many reasons, reasons that are unique to SIOM: 1) The apprentice style of learning. Students are performing in clinic within a few weeks of starting school (rather than at the beginning of the program’s second year, which is typical of many schools). There is less time sitting in the classroom and more time actually treating patients. 2) Small class size. I have never done well in large class environments. SIOM accepts about twelve students per year; my class had eleven students. 3) The requirement that students must learn to translate articles in Chinese medicine journals to further their knowledge of the medicine. After all, it is a Chinese medicine!
Patients as Teachers
One of my teachers once told me, “Your patients are your teachers.” I always remember this, and it has had quite an impact on my practice. I am quite humbled to have the opportunity to treat my patients. I always learn something new from them, as I hope they learn something new from my treatments. My patients show me that the healing process is different for each and every person, that progress towards health comes in many forms, and that medical practice requires a careful balance of individual diagnosis and general precepts. My goal is to continue to improve the health of my patients with every opportunity, as well as to continuously improve my skills as a Chinese medicine practitioner.