Fun with Acupuncture

acupuncture-on-wristAs you may know, I am in my elder years. As you may not know, I have been experiencing hot flashes for several of those elder years. If you don’t want to know that information, you can stop reading now. But if this revelation holds any interest to you, and you want to know what it’s like to have acupuncture, read on!

At first, my hot flashes weren’t so bad – just a minor inconvenience. After a few months, they went away. I thought they were over and that the whole hot flash thing wasn’t so bad. WRONG. They returned and were a bit peskier than before – interrupting my sleep, arriving at inopportune times during the day, eliciting knowing looks from other older women in airports and grocery stores as I fanned myself.

My doctor offered the idea of estrogen therapy or some anti-depressants, but I shied away from those. Reports of problems with those drugs made me skittish, besides, I figure there’s a good reason our bodies are no longer making estrogen. Why prolong this with adding it back in?

As my hot flashes became more severe over the past year, I tried a few different herbal supplements, but they just made things worse. On the advice of several friends, I decided to try a local acupuncturist.

The first step in my appointment was filling out about a 15-page health history. Wow! I dropped it off at the practitioner’s office a week beforehand so she would have time to look at it before my appointment.

When I arrived for my session, we went over the document and she asked for details on a few things. She quickly zeroed in on several habits I have that can worsen hot flashes, those being drinking WINE and eating CHOCOLATE. She suggested I give those up for a month or so to see if that helps.

WINE and CHOCOLATE. These are the only things that make my life bearable. Because I’m intolerant to wheat and corn, I can’t have pastries, pies, cookies, doughnuts, etc., unless I go to great (and rare) lengths to make them myself from alternative ingredients.

I have often said that I am so glad I can still eat chocolate. If I ever become allergic, someone should just shoot me.

This woman might as well have had a gun to my head. Granted, she wasn’t saying I had to give up these two elixirs forever, just for a month. But still. The only good part of that conversation is that hard liquor (spirits) might still be okay to drink instead of wine. I grasped desperately at the idea that scotch could get me through this deprivation.

As we spoke, the practitioner took notes for my treatment plan. Then she asked if I was open to the idea of acupuncture. I agreed, so she laid me down on a table. She made me stick out my tongue so she could see the color of it, etc. Then she took my pulse in both wrists. Then came the needles.

I didn’t want to watch. I also don’t watch when I get shots. I’d rather not see sharp things approaching my skin. During television news stories about the importance of flu shots, I cannot watch as other people get shots, either.

As I looked up at the ceiling tiles, she inserted seven thin, stainless steel needles into my wrists, lower legs, and feet. It hurt a little bit, but not as much as I was expecting. On a scale of ten, they were about a three. She flicked the needles as she inserted them.

She said she was going to leave to write up my treatment plan. She asked if I would like some music while I waited. When I asked how long it would take, she said fifteen minutes. “Yes, music, please!”

The practitioner exited, leaving me alone with seven long needles sticking out of my body. Well, not having the courage to look at them, I didn’t know they were so long at first. Eventually, I lifted my head and looked at my wrist. A needle stuck about three inches out of it!

I put my head back down, fighting the urge to rise up, tear out all the needles, and get the heck outta there.

“Breathe,” I told myself. “Relax. This is supposed to help you.”

I tried to concentrate on the music (Carlos Nakai flute music, BTW.) That worked for a while, but then I just had to look at my legs. Mistake! The urge to flee came back.

I laid back down and fought it. I tried to meditate, with limited success. I tried to write this blog post in my head, but that made me concentrate on the feeling of the needles and how to describe it.

My right wrist was developing a deep ache. A nerve in my calf twitched. Was this normal? I began to wish the practitioner was in the room so I could ask her. What if my leg cramped up? If I called for help, would she hear me?

I did not like the being left alone part.

After a long fifteen minutes, she came back and took the needles out. I expected her to ask how I felt, but she didn’t. When I sat up and she noticed me rubbing my wrist, she asked if it hurt. I told her it was a deep ache. She said that meant there was a blockage, and suggested I rub the pain out through my hand, not back toward my body.

I could hardly tell where the needles had been. There was no blood, just some tiny discolorations that disappeared quickly. I felt fairly normal and was able to walk down the hall to her office just fine.

There she gave me a different herbal supplement than the one I’d had before. We talked about a follow-up visit. I paid and was on my way.

Once I was back home, I had a hot flash, but it wasn’t as powerful as before. That night, I had another, but it was at a different time than usual and didn’t last as long. I felt more rested than before when I awoke.

Today is the next day. I just read a research study that says acupuncture has been scientifically proven effective to help menopausal sleep disturbances, which is reassuring.

It’s too soon to say definitively if it is helping me. That will take time. I’ll let you know if it does!

In the meantime, I’m glad I resisted my urges to flee the acupuncture table. That would definitely not have been helpful. Time for some scotch.

* * *

UPDATE: Two months later, what’s the verdict?

During the first week or so, I thought the treatment wasn’t working. It involved an acupuncture session and herbal supplements to take later. Then I realized I wasn’t taking the proper dose of the supplements. When I fixed that, things seemed to improve.

I’ve done well avoiding chocolate, as the acupuncturist suggested. Not so well avoiding wine, but I have cut back quite a bit.

I went back for a follow-up session a few weeks ago. This time, she wanted to stick her needles a few new places to help my allergies and my stuffy sinuses. She asked me if she could stick some needles in my face.

Let me say that again: MY FACE. Stupidly, I said yes. I LET HER STICK NEEDLES IN MY FACE. Specifically, I let her stick two needles in that space between my upper lip and my nose. (Also known as the philtrum.)

I felt nothing with the first needle. I felt the second needle go in, plus she twisted it a bit. She also stuck a needle in the TOP OF MY HEAD. That one started to sting.

I asked her if it was normal for it to sting. She said she thought it would calm down after a while.

Happily, the pain did lessen, but it was rather disconcerting for a few minutes. Lying on the table for 20 minutes was a bit easier this second time. She also gave me an additional herbal supplement for my allergies.

For the first day or two, I had no hot flashes. Then they started returning at night, but only a few times a night. I’ve also had them during the day, but not as often as before I started treatment.

The supplement she gave me for my allergies worked like a charm.

Overall, I’d say that my hot flashes have improved by about 65%. And the flashes I get are not as extreme. They are more like warm flashes than hot flashes. I am sleeping better and plan to continue taking the supplements until I feel like I don’t need them any more (or I get sick of them, whichever comes first.)

If you are thinking of trying acupuncture for help with hot flashes, I say go for it.

Personally, I feel like I’ve had enough sessions with the needle now. I fear a continuing escalation of where she’ll want to stick needles next, and I’d rather not go there.

The Love of Their Life

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I have developed a fascination with obituaries lately. Most likely, this is because I read them out loud every month from the local newspaper for my volunteer stint with the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss.

Despite my history as a romance writer, the cynic in me always gets a kick out of obituaries that state the departed met or married someone who was the “love of their life.”

I have noticed that the “love of their life” phrase is usually used when the “love of their life” survives the person for whom the obituary is written. Could it be that the survivors are the ones who wrote the obituaries? If so, are they including the phrase because it’s true, or as an ego boost for themselves and a way to assert their important status in the departed person’s life?

The romance writer in me would like to think the phrase is true. But I have done an informal survey and have noticed that almost every time, the “love” is the one who is the survivor.

If the couple had a long relationship, I’d be inclined to believe that the phrase is true, but length of a relationship does not always indicate a happy, loving relationship.

I often wonder if the departed person would have included the phrase in their obituary if they had been the one to write it. Since they are dead and I cannot ask them this, I guess this is one of those unanswerable burning questions that will plague me for the rest of my days during the wee hours of the morning.

What do you think about this phrase? Is it overused? Is it just a way for survivors to feel better? Am I entirely too cynical? Should I try to solve world hunger instead?

When Classical Music Goes Bad

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Image courtesy of Syracuse New Times.

Look what I found in the classical record collection that I inherited from my father.

During the two years since he died, I’ve been listening to my dad’s records whenever I exercise on my elliptical strider at home. It’s a way of getting healthier, figuring out which records I’d like to keep, and remembering him.

I’m about halfway through the stack and probably have another two years to go, unless I start exercising a whole lot more.

As a child, I used to hang out in my dad’s “radio room” when he played music after supper. I remember some of the albums vividly, others not so much.

I don’t recall this album (“Switched-on Bach” played on Moog synthesizers) and somehow don’t think it’s going to make my cut! Although all classical music is retro, this is just a little too retro-techno for me.

I wonder what possessed my father to purchase it? Maybe he thought it was cutting-edge at the time.

According to an article this spring in the Syracuse New Times, “Switched-on Bach” was released in 1968.  It “dropped like a bunker buster on the world of classical music, fostering incredulity and pushback from classical music purists, who considered such treatment to be blasphemous.”

Apparently, those objections were quickly quashed by enthusiasm from younger listeners who were otherwise not interested in classical music. The album vaulted to the top of the classical charts where it remained for 49 weeks. It was honored with three Grammies in 1970: Classical Album of the Year, Best Classical Performance by an Instrument Soloist, and Best Engineered Classical Album.

It even sold one million copies (!) – the first classical album to achieve that status.

*   *    *

Okay, I just listened to it. My judgement hereby is that the music does not stand the test of time despite all the awards it won.

Sorry dad, this one’s going in the rummage sale pile.

“I was blown up eating cheese.”

That’s my favorite quote from the 1932 movie, “A Farewell to Arms,” starring Gary Cooper. He says it when he’s in the hospital after being wounded in a bombing. His doctor friend is about to operate on him and asks if he was doing anything heroic during the bombing. All Gary Cooper can come up with is, “”I was blown up eating cheese.” LOL!

Somehow, I don’t think a line like that would ever happen in today’s movie industry.

Gary Cooper

Writers’ Bumps: An Endangered Condition?

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Photo by Jak of the Mast Cells & Collagen Behaving Badly blog.

The picture above of the middle finger is not me flipping you off. It’s not even my finger. I found it on this blog. I am featuring it here because it shows a writer’s bump, which is something I, and many other writers have.

These bumps are formed from the pressure of a pen or pencil pushing against the middle finger when a person is writing. If you’re right-handed, it will form on your right hand. If you’re left-handed, it will form on your left.

I once asked a manicurist if she could ever tell what profession a person has from looking at their hands. She had never considered it. Then I told her about how to spot a writer from their bump. I’m sure she was edified forever by this information and it changed how she approached her job.

I realized the other day that my writer’s bump is much smaller than it used to be, presumably because I hardly ever use a pen anymore, opting instead for a computer keyboard. This caused me some dismay since I rather like my writer’s bump and the distinction it gives my profession.

Then, I realized in horror that most young people probably don’t have a writer’s bump. They might not even know what one is since they all use phone and computer keyboards.

Truly, writers’ bumps are endangered. We just can’t stand by and let them disappear. They have been with society for hundreds of years. Somebody should do something about this. We need a public information campaign to “Save the Writers’ Bumps!”

Where is the outrage? Why are we complacent with the disappearance of this badge of honor earned by hours of slaving over paper with a writing utensil?

Cast aside your computer keyboards and your phones my friends. Start a movement!

(Smirk. I think not. I actually love the convenience and speed of typing.)

Vegan Shoes, Who Knew?

Vegan shoes

Did you know there’s such a thing as vegan shoes? I didn’t either, until I bought these, and the veganism came as an unexpected side benefit. They feature “microbuck vegan leather uppers,” whatever those are.

Does this mean I can eat them if I get hungry?

Getting my Blue Mind on — Part 2 of 2: Stuck Inside a Psychedelic Washing Machine

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The float pod in purple. Would you get in this thing?

At the suggestion of Wallace Nichols, I made an appointment for a sixty-minute session at my local flotation pod. The pod was in a room in the basement of a yoga studio, and it’s the only one in these here parts of northern Minnesota.

The pod technician led me to the room, which contained the pod and a shower. He gave me the choice of silence for my impending pod experience or four types of music. I chose piano music. He explained that he would have to program that into the computer, which was upstairs in the reception area.

The pod was about ten feet by eight feet. It featured a large hatch, which was open, and rotating, pulsating colored lights that illuminated the ninety-eight-degree water.

The technician explained that all the Epsom salt in the six inches of water is what makes a person float. A bottle of fresh water stood nearby to rinse the salt out of your eyes in case some happened to get in, plus a towel, and a small floaty tube if a person wanted it for head and neck support in the water. Earplugs were also available, to keep the excessively salty water out of one’s ear canals.

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The float pod in its yellow phase.

I asked the technician how I would know when my session was over. He said that the music would stop and a voice would say, “It’s time to exit the pod.” (Somehow this struck me as funny, and I almost giggled.) Then the filtration system would come on, which he said was rather loud and was bound to wake me up if, by chance, I fell asleep in the pod.

He mentioned that after the session, since it was late in the evening, he probably wouldn’t be at the desk once I finished, so I could just get out and head out on my own. I asked him how I should pay for my session because I hadn’t done that yet.

This seemed to surprise him and I ended up giving him my credit card, which he was going to process while I was in the pod. He said he’d leave the receipt and card for me on the front desk and I could get it on my way out. (Damn, why did I say something? I could have had a free session!)

Details done, he left me to my experience.

I was expecting soft piano music during my pod float. I expected to emerge totally blissed out. That didn’t quite happen.

After showering and putting in the ear plugs, I entered the pod wearing only my birthday suit. I wondered when the music would start. It never started. I suspect the technician was so distracted by processing my payment that he forgot to turn on the music.

I laid there in the water (which is weirdly buoyant), and decided I didn’t need no stinkin’ music. I even got brave and turned out the psychedelic lights. As I lay there in the silent dark, suddenly a jet of water came on. My body started spinning slowly around in the pod.

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The float pod in green.

The filtration system! Hey, I thought that wasn’t supposed to come on until my session was over. Surely, sixty minutes hadn’t passed yet? It only felt like ten minutes. Now what to do?

I could push the red button in the pod, which the technician said would cause an annoying sound to come from the computer in the reception area. But would that work since the music wasn’t working? Would anyone even be there to hear the annoying sound?

I didn’t feel like getting out of my warm pod and running upstairs in a towel to complain to the technician. Besides, that wouldn’t be very Zen.

So I stayed where I was, getting pushed in slow circles by the filtration jets. At some point, I turned the lights back on because it was just too weird having all this stuff happen to me in the dark.

Then I started giggling. This was like being stuck inside a giant psychedelic washing machine. Yes, I could always raise the hatch and get out if I wanted. But I didn’t want to. Besides, that wouldn’t make for a good story.

After about five minutes, the filtration system turned off. Although I wasn’t sure when it would strike again, I was finally able to relax and get into the floatation groove. It was very blissful. I could hear my heartbeat and my breathing.

Pods are supposed to inspire creativity and help with pain management. I didn’t have any pain. Mostly, what I thought about during my session was how to describe it in this blog post.

My bliss was shattered after about a half hour when the filtration system came on again. I floated around and around in more slow circles. As before, the system eventually shut off. I laid there until I thought my session was over and I emerged from the pod, checking my watch. I was only about ten minutes over my time.

I took another shower to rinse off the salt and got dressed. My credit card was waiting for me at the reception desk. Nobody was there. I debated again whether to find someone to complain about my expectations not being met.

Nah, that just didn’t seem very Zen. Besides, it was all kind of fun.

Would I try it again? Maybe, if I was really stressed out. But I don’t see it as something I would need regularly.

I picked up my card and walked into the night, peaceful.

***

Update: The owner heard about my experience and offered me a free float as compensation for my interrupted experience. I told him that I wasn’t dissatisfied at all by the experience and didn’t feel like I really needed another float. But I have a friend who is very stressed out lately. I asked him if my friend could have the float instead, and he said yes. How nice of him! Bliss all around.

Waking Up My Face: A Skincare Diary

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A few hours post-procedure. Lots of redness!

March 20th

Today, I willingly let someone drag needles all over my entire face, and I paid good money for it, too ($300 with tip). The procedure is called micro-needling. It’s an optional skin care treatment designed to reduce signs of aging and improve scarring.

Perhaps you remember the painful fun I had a few years ago with the Lamprobe. Masochist that I am, I have had an additional Lamprobe treatment since then, plus a facial or two. But now, the hint of droopy jowls, enlarged pores, and lines around my lips and eyes caused me to look for a different type of therapy.

The woman who gave me my last facial recommended micro-needling. It involves the use of a micropen, which is a device that looks rather like a large magic marker. It has a dozen tiny needles on its tip, which, according to the brochure I got from my skin care clinic, creates “controlled micro-injuries to the skin in order to aid in the production of collagen and elastin.”

How is it done? “In a single motion, the pen will be gently pressed against the skin while simultaneously gliding in one direction until the entire treatment area has been covered.”

In other words, someone drags needles all over your face and you pay them for it.

After my previous painful beauty experiences, I was not looking forward to the procedure. BUT, unlike with the Lamprobe, a topical anesthetic was applied to my face beforehand. The technician waited 20 minutes for it to work (during which I got to listen to New Age Space Music) and then she broke out the pen.

While she worked, she explained that the tiny injuries “wake up” your skin and make it start producing the materials that keep it firm and youthful. Did it hurt? No. I did feel some pricks, but nothing too bad. Mostly, I felt the vibration of the pen as it glided across my skin. It felt like an electric razor. It even tickled, especially near my ears and nose.

From check-in to check-out the session took an hour. My face was still numb when I left the office. Your face will most likely turn bright red afterward, so it’s a good idea to hole up at home for the rest of the day, unless you are totally unselfconscious.

Even after the anesthetic wore off, my face felt tingly and “awake” but it didn’t really hurt. It did turn red, though – reminiscent of raw hamburger with a sunburn. A few pricks of blood were scattered across my nose and forehead.

Eventually, my face got hot and dry. The technician had sent me home with an after-care kit, which included a cleanser, a cucumber spritz, a balm, a growth factor serum (what does it grow, I wonder?), and a hyaluronic acid serum. I used the balm and spritz as the technician recommended, and that calmed down my skin.

So that’s where I am at this point. I will write more later to let you know how long the redness lasted and what I think of the results. But I can tell you it didn’t hurt as much as I was expecting.

*

March 21, the day after

When I awoke, my face was about half as red as it was yesterday. It has graduated from sunburnt raw hamburger to just looking like someone attacked me with sandpaper.

I didn’t have any trouble sleeping – no pain or irritation. My skin still looks too inflamed for makeup, so I’m going to wait on that until tomorrow. At least I can put on eye makeup and lipstick.

*

March 22, Day Two

The redness has decreased again by half. I almost look normal – just a little tan. It seemed safe to put on makeup, so I did that today. Some tiny pieces of skin are flaking off, but that subsided after I applied the various skin care products in my after-care kit.

I can’t tell a whole lot of improvement in my skin yet, but my jawline might be a bit tighter. I suppose it will be easier to tell once the skin calms down.

I keep thinking of something the technician said — that skin care should be like going to the dentist. Once or twice a year, we go and get a deep cleaning, and the rest of the time we do our own maintenance. She recommended one or two procedures like micro-needling per year in addition to “home maintenance.” She almost made me feel like I wasn’t being vain, just practicing good self-care. But part of me thinks I’m still being vain. 🙂

As the day wore on, more flaking started around my lips and on my nose.

*

March 23, Day Three

Lots more flaking going on today, mainly around my lips and nose. The skin on my cheeks surrounding my mouth looks firmer. I don’t think it’s just my wishful imagination. I’m beginning to think this procedure might be worth it.

The redness is gone.

I like the fact that this procedure is somewhat “natural.” It stimulates your skin’s own mechanisms to improve itself. You don’t have to be put to sleep like you would with a face lift, or have weird chemicals injected into your skin (like botox). And no, I am not getting paid to write this!

*

March 24, Day Four

My nose shed the rest of its skin this morning. There’s still some flaking on the rest of my face.

The post-procedure instructions say that you’re supposed to let the flakes fall off naturally and not pick at them. I am doing pretty well at this. Well, maybe I am picking at them just a little. Okay, maybe I am standing in front of the mirror for minutes on end, trying to get rid of all the flakes.

Stop it, stop it, Marie! The problem is that a friend and I are in a social situation for the next few days – we’re around a bunch of people who we are meeting for the first time, and I don’t want to have a big chunk of skin hanging off my nose while I try to hold a conversation.

I gave my friend permission to tell me if/when I have a flake that needs addressing. So far, though, I don’t think anyone has noticed but me.

*

March 25, Day Five

Just a little flaking. Things are looking good! I am doing better at restraining myself from picking at them.

*

March 26, Day Six

Still some more flaking. My skin looks smoother. I am happy with the results, and I would recommend the procedure to anyone in their “elder years” who wants to do some upkeep on their face. You can also do the procedure elsewhere on your body to get rid of scarring or stretch marks. People also do it on their décolleté to firm up the skin.