The fine and ancient art of sticking needles into people
When I was pregnant with one of our children, I had a rather severe case of DSP. Those of you who’ve experienced it, know just how hellish it is to feel how every step you take sort of grinds your pelvic bones together, sending acute waves of pain through your back and your pelvic area. My midwife was the chirpy kind – you know, a healthy, rosy being who would now and then point out pregnancy was NATURAL and that in the olden times women had six, nine, twelve, eighteen children without making too much of a fuss. (A lot of them died, but maybe that doesn’t count as making a fuss). As my pregnancy proceeded and the DSP worsened, even this very cheery midwife became concerned, and so she came to suggest I should go and see an acupuncturist.
“What?” Despite being the size of a bloated walrus, I nearly leapt to my feet. (I hate needles, to the point that my veins contract into invisibility when a nurse approaches with a syringe to take a blood test. Said nurse tends to look very amused when I cringe before going on to tell me not to be such a baby, what with me having given birth to four kids how can I have issues with one teensy, weensy needle. As if that has anything to do with it …)
“It might help,” my midwife said, and when I protested she insisted, acquiring a rather mulish look that finally made me agree to go and try.
So off I went – or waddled, the resemblance to a walrus even more pronounced – to see the acupuncturist. A tall, very slim woman opened the door and waved me inside. Bright, intense eyes burnt into mine as she beckoned for me to precede her into a small room with several open cases of extremely long needles on display. All I wanted was to turn tail and run – except I couldn’t, first of all because running was totally out of the question given my condition, but also because Ms Acupuncturist was blocking the way. She gave me a very wide, very toothy smile and pointed at the berth.
“The Chinese have been doing this for centuries,” she says, placing a pillow under my head. Well, I’m not Chinese, am I?
“Will it hurt?” I ask.
“Who? You or the baby?” At the time in question, I was more concerned about my discomfort than that of baby X. As far as I could make out, the baby was as happy as a calf in clover inside of me, keeping me awake for most of the nights as it did acrobatic maneouvers within the constrained environment of my uterus.
“Umm…” I replied. (It is not the done thing to say you’re more concerend about yourself. Pregnant women – well, all mothers – are always expected to set the well being of the child first. And we do – nearly always)
Ms Acupuncturist patted my hand. “It won’t,” she promised. “It might itch, even burn a bit, but no more than that.”
As she went about preparing her things, she informed me about the ancient science of acupuncturism, saying that in China it was an approved anaesthetic technique while doing ceasarians or other surgery.
“Really?” I gulped, reflecting on how much trial and error must have been involved.
“Any volunteers?” Mr Wu said, shaking back the long, wide sleeves of his crimson robe.
The assembled people remained silent.
“Oh come on!” Mr Wu said. “How about doing your thing for science, hey?”
“I did my bit a month back,” someone mumbled.
“Ah.. yes.” Mr Wu tugged at his goatee. “That didn’t go quite as expected.”
“You can say that again,” the speaker said.
“It was only a small amputation,” Mr Wu said, “and I did treat you for free.”
“Fat lot of good that did me,” the man said and hobbled off.
Mr Wu sighed and shook his head. “Well; we’re not going anywhere until one of you volunteers. I have the Emperor’s mandate to try out my new methods – on you.” He smiled, showing off small, very white teeth.
There was a lot of foot shuffling and sliding glances, but still no one came forward.
“Very well,” Mr Wu said. He beckoned for one of his assitants. “Take her, he said, pointing at a woman with a badly infected hand.
“No!” the woman said, but it was too late, she was dragged towards where Mr Wu was waiting, needles aloft.
“One could think I was about to kill you,” Mr Wu said in a reproving voice. “Instead, all I want to do is help you. The finger must come off, you know it must. Look at how discolured it is.” He licked his lips and asked for his smallest saw.
“I don’t want to!” the woman said. “It will hurt.”
“Now, now, don’t be such a silly little goose, hmm? You must learn to trust your betters. First a needle or two to numb the pain and stem the blood flow, then I’ll slice that itty, bitty finger off.”
“It will hurt, those needles won’t work, they never do,” the woman said.
“Of course they will; ultimately I’ll get the needles to work. I just need to finetune things a bit.”
“But what if it hurts?” the woman whimpered.
“No pain, no gain,” Mr Wu shrugged and …
I was recalled to the present by a wet cloth on my belly.
“All set,” Mrs Acupuncturist said. She placed her hands on my belly. “Mmhm,” she nodded.
“What?” I said, very distracted by the pulsating heat that seemed to emanate from her hands. How did she do that? Was she using some sort of peppermint rub? A discreet sniff revealed no such scents.
“You’re a very old soul,” she said, looking at me.
“I am?” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or just agree. After all, this woman was about to sink four inch long needles into my body…
“Oh yes; and this one…” She placed her hands at the center of my belly. Heat radiated in lapping circles, the baby stopped turning inside of me. Very eery, let me tell you. ” .. well this one is an ancient soul, a carrier of so much wisdom.”
“Ah,” I said, having no idea what else to say. She picked up the first of her needles. It glinted in the sunlight that filtered through the thin curtains.
“Yes; at least two thousand years old or so,” she said, sinking the first needle into place. I had inhaled in preparation of screaming, but she was right; there was no pain.
“You think?” I said, caressing my bulge. An old soul, hey? Well how about showing some consideration for your poor mum and keeping still during the nights?
She sank six other needles into place before covering my hands with her own. Once again I felt that searing heat, energy radiating from her every pore.
“Originally from the Middle East or somewhere close,” she said. Oh good; my unborn child had lived previous existences in cultured societies rather than the savage backwoods of Stone Age Sweden.
“A boy,” she added. The baby kicked once, whether in agreement or not, I have no idea. (It was a boy. And by now he’s taller, stronger, smarter, wiser and kinder than me. An old soul perhaps?)
“Feel better?” she asked fifteen minutes later or so. I did! I could actually swing my legs off the bed unaided, I could even walk all the way out of her office without looking like a duck. So I came back – several times – and was eternally grateful that Mr Wu and all those other acupuncturists that had preceded mine through the ages had succeeded in finetuning the process before it was tried on me.
“It didn’t hurt,” the woman said, looking a bit dazed.
“I told you,” Mr Wu said, throwing the amputated digit into the brazier. It sizzled and crackled like a piece of tripe. He extracted his three needles from her upper arm and handed them to his assistant to clean. “Right; you there,” he said, pointing at a man with a swollen jaw. “Come here and I’ll get that growth out of you.”
The man approached, one hand held to his swollen face. “Will it hurt?”
“Oh, ye of little faith. Did you not just see? I sawed off her finger and she didn’t feel a thing!”
“I’ve never done a tumor in the mouth,” he muttered to his assistant while using long fingers to locate the possible trigger points in the man’s head. “I’ve never done anything above chest level.”
“Should you…” his assitant whispered.
“Pfff! Of course I must. And what’s this anyway? A lowly peasant no more. If he dies, well then he dies.”
“Die?” the man squeaked, having caught this last word.
“Oh yes, my man, you will most certainly die. Unless I get this abcess cleaned, it’s bye bye for you.” Mr Wu grunted as he sunk the first needle in place. The man moaned. Two more needles and the man was reclining against the wall, mouth wide open. Mr Wu wiped the blade of his knife on his robe and approached him. The man screamed and bucked, screamed some more, gargled and expired.
“Shit!” mr Wu said. “Wrong trigger point.” He clapped his hands for a quill and unrolled a lifesize drawing of the human body, pursing his mouth as he drew an elegant little cross right at the center of the crown. “There! Recorded for future generations.”