As 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.