Adorable wife and I were about town yesterday, enjoying a local get together in the older part of Banbury, cunningly titled the Old Town. As we were walking past the Chinese herbalist I asked adorable wife whether she thought they could help with my hayfever. She had visited the lady doctor for pains before and had reported good things and I kept thinking I should try it one day.
On Saturday in particular I had suffered horrible hayfever all morning before we had made our way out. My head had been thick and heavy, as if I were suffering from a cold. My nose refused to stop running, dribbling and otherwise being slimy and unpleasant. My eyes were full of miniscule grains for sands scraping at their sensitive surface. Overall I felt pretty miserable. I snorted double the dose of nasal spray, doused my eyes liberally with eye drops, took my loratadine tablet, took iboprufen and paracetamol, all in the hope of clearing my head and no longer being a walking snot machine.
It was decided that it was worth a try and in we went. I enquired if she could help with hayfever and a few basic questions about how often it happens and how long I've had it and it was agreed acupuncture and herbs could do the trick. I agreed to go back after lunch to do the deed.
With adorable wife duly in her shop, I attended my very first acupuncture appointment, unsure what to expect.
First up the doctor, named Caroline, but most definitely Chinese, took my pulse.
"Oh, you are weak," was the first thing she said.
Oh, well, that's not so good I thought, as I nodded and mumbled something in agreement.
"Do you have IBS?" She asked a few seconds later.
Blimey, she's good. I came in about hayfever, never mentioned anything about any other health issues, but yes, I do have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. I haven't even bothered telling my doctor, and they've never thought to ask. This instantly reassured me that she could do something that modern medicine couldn't.
Let's face it, Chinese medicine has existed longer than most cultures, there must be something about it, or it would have died out long ago, like blood letting.
She checked the pulse on my other wrist.
"You need more nutrition," she added, with me nodding in knowing agreement.
At last, she was sure she knew where to shove those needles and so I was led to the back of her surgery, which is effectively just a shop, with two areas sectioned off with wooden panels. I was asked to lie down on the bed, knees up and bent. I only needed to expose my stomach arms and legs, so clothes could remain on and decency maintained.
Honestly, the worst part were the cold cotton wool swabs she used to prep my skin, because that was all I felt. The needles were effectively flicked in with a finger (as far as I could tell) with no sensation of being touched at all. Within a minute I had two needles in each arm, three in my stomach and three in each leg. And that was that. A heat lamp was positioned over my stomach to keep me warm, a timer was set, Caroline said goodbye and I was alone in my small wooden panelled cell. There was no roof joining the segments, so as I lay I could see the bright strip lighting from the shop floor and the generic large square ceiling tiles, with the random jagged lines splayed all over, that is seemingly a requirement of hospitals, even Chinese ones.
Traditional Chinese music wafted intermittently from a weak sounding CD, or possibly even tape, player, but the ticking of the timer was louder. I'm not one for sleeping in public places, and although I was technically somewhere unseen by anyone I was still not comfortable enough to just close my eyes and doze. However, staring at those stupid tiles got dull quickly and not wanting to look into the light like a moth entranced, meant occasionally I did close my eyes and listen to the faint music, the tick, tick or the timer, or the merry making of people passing by.
The first session is always longer, and this meant forty-five minutes of lying with little wobbly needles sticking out of me. I can't deny I leaned forward a little to see how it looked. The needles were ever so small and delicate, thinner, I thought, than a cat's whisker. They bobbed and swayed gently as I moved, so I was cautious not to shift too much, for fear one would pop out too soon.
The forty-five minutes actually passed surprsingly quickly, though it would have been preferable to have headphones and my own music on, in retrospect. Caroline reappeared within seconds of the timer pinging to say I was cooked. Just as I had felt nothing upon entry, the exit of the needles caused no concern whatsoever. Within seconds I was no longer a human pincushion.
Next up Caroline clearly decided I had relaxed too much and decided to torture me with hand to hand combat. That is to say I was turned over and subject to a painful massage, in which she indentified I was full of knotted muscle on my back. Her thumbs kept finding painful spots where she would proceed to swivel one thumb, while pressing firmly, presumbly un-knotting me. It did feel a little like someone was reaching through my skin and gripping some previously untouched part of my body.
As she tortured me, Caroline also tutted and uttered her surprise at how tense I was.
"I am surprised," she said, " in a forty or fifty old yes, but you are young!"
She was expecting payment after calling me weak, with the back of a fifty year old?
Once the massage was over and I was released from the rack, I mean bed, I went to collect the second part of this treatment.
In a small carrier bag were five paper bags of herbs. This was to be the routine for the next week. Each paper bag is to be poured into a saucepan, cover with a litre of cold water and soaked for 30 minutes. After this you simmer the herbs for a further 30 minutes, until there is about two cups of liquid left. The herbs are disposed of and the first cup drunk at night. The second cup is left in the fridge to be re-heated and drunk in the morning.
I may have to return in a week for more needles, possibly some more violence upon my back, and more herbs. But Caroline did say that potentially within a month I would need no further treatments. She also told me I had to keep my head and back warm, and that I must gently blow all the snot from each nostril, one at a time, and never, ever sniffle! I must admit that when it's really bad I am terrible for sniffling.
So far I've taken my first night and first morning dose of herbal medicine. It's not the worst thing I've tasted, not being too bitter or too intense. I won't be substituting it for coffee any time soon either!
I'm sure it's too early to tell, but today, with medium levels of pollen reported, I have yet to take a single nasal spray or tablet and I have been okay. It may just be that it is lower than yesterday, or it may just be that the medicine and those funny little needles have already started to work their magic.
I'll let you know how it goes...