I’m pretty sure it’s my first memory.
There I am, laying on a table, staring up at my hands and feet squirming around above me. My mom’s head is off to the left, and a guy in a white overcoat is slowing moving his arms toward me with a slim sharp metal object pointed in the direction of my buttocks.
What happened next I’m sure I can’t tell you, because I passed out. Since then, I’ve passed out every time some quack has tried to stick a needle anyplace in my body.
It’s true! By the time I was ready for high school - and I had to take a blood test to get in - I was so frightened of needles that, even at 14, I ended up on a gurney being fanned by two nurses ready to break out the smelling salts.
"I guess it WAS as bad as he thought it would be," I heard one whisper as I came to.
I don’t want to belabor the point, but I didn’t get another physical for about 15 years, and the outcome was just as grim.
So what, I’m sure you’re asking by now, was I doing in the Bay Ridge office Dr. Lei Yang, licensed acupuncturist?
The answer can be summed up in two words (and a few paragraphs): Graig Nettles.
That’s right, Graig Nettles - the former Yankees third basemen from those championship teams of the late 1970s. And yes, his name IS Graig, not Greg or Craig.
He also happens to be the same guy who wrote a New York Times bestseller, titled "Balls," which I picked up in paperback as soon as it was released around 1983. Now, as an impressionable 12-year-old, I took everything Nettles had allegedly written ("with Peter Golenbock") to heart. And when Nettles claimed that, as a last resort when trying to treat an ailment that left his right arm virtually lifeless, he visited an acupuncturist to make things right - and it worked - I was sold.
Now, a mere two decades later, I’ve worked up the nerve to visit an acupuncturist to help me deal with my own aching right shoulder.
Throwing a baseball across the diamond or swinging too hard for the right field fence, of course, does not cause my problem. Still, it is an occupational hazard that I’ve always thought caused it. You see, as a writer, you spend a lot of time playing "solitaire" on your computer as you try to come up with things to write. This requires the use of a "mouse" - a pointing device used with computers to help move the red cards onto the black cards and vice versa.
This mouse movement, I’ve always figured, requires the use of a bunch of muscles and nerves and other things in your arm that all attached somewhere in your shoulder and, after hours and hours of "writing," tangled things up into a mess.
In short, my "Qi" (pronounced "Chee") was out of whack.
And as we all know by now, when your Qi is out of whack, there’s only one place to go.
According to Yang - who trained in Shanghai and here in the United States and has been practicing acupuncture in Brooklyn for more than 10 years - Qi is what most would refer to as "old school" acupuncture theory. The Qi, you see, is the flow of "energy" through "meridians," or pathways, on the body. When these pathways get blocked, or when the energy flow is slowed, pain ensues.
While Yang says he believes this theory, it’s never quite been proved by science - what we like to call "Western Medicine." You know, the good people of Bayer Aspirin, the wonder drug that keeps working wonders.
Instead, Dr. Yang told me he likes to explain things this way - when the needles are inserted, blood flow is increased and the body releases its natural pain killers, endorphins and seratonin, thus halting the pain in the afflicted area.
All this and no upset stomach!
Treatments do vary, Yang told me, according to the problem with the patient, but they all start off the same way - with a brief check of the patient’s tongue.
Mine, Yang said, showed that not only was I having a hard time sleeping recently (which I was), but apparently I was also having a hard time moving my bowels.
Embarrassed, red-faced, and near tears, I told him he was right.
But this, I told him, was something my readers and myself would call "too much information," so I’ll move on.
He then looked at my ears and, spotting some veins near the skin’s surface, he said I was suffering from a bit of stress.
"You would be too," I thought to myself, "if you were having a problem taking a crap."
Thankfully, the next step in the process had Yang simply take my pulse. He told me that seemed normal, and we could now move on to the treatment stage.
I hopped up on the table, threw off my shirt and laid face down while Yang began inserting the needles in my back. I couldn’t tell you exactly where, because I couldn’t see, and could barely feel but a twinge. After putting 10 needles, he told me, around the middle of my spine and into my problem shoulder area, he hooked them up to a machine that sends just enough of an electric current through them to jiggle them around a bit. He then put a heat lamp on my back to warm me up, put on some soothing music, and left me to myself for about 15 minutes.
During that time, I had a constant sensation - caused by the needles - in my back. It didn’t hurt, feeling more like a rapid-motion tapping followed by a bit of a pull down my spine.
The time went quickly, and I believe I might have nodded off a bit. When Yang returned, he slowly pulled the needles out, before applying some acupressure - a type of massage focusing on the body’s meridians as opposed to muscles - to bring me back to life.
The pain in my shoulder was gone, replaced with a feeling of heat - as if I had a heating pad on the treated areas and throughout my back. The sensation lasted until about today, and I’m happy to report that, some four days later, the pain has not returned.
According to Yang, stiff shoulders aren’t the only ailments he treats in his Bay Ridge office at 852 67th St. In fact, he claims most of his patients come in seeking help in quitting smoking or losing weight. He’s also good at offering advice. He pointed out that if I replace my present mouse with a different type - one with a trackball on top that would be controlled by my thumb - my aching shoulder would fix itself.
And with all of this information, I was ready to go home to play some solitaire.
But before I could, it would first be necessary that my photographer, Greg Mango, take some pictures (see photo above) to go with my story. While Greg (who’s name is not spelled "Graig") had been doing so throughout this whole process, he insisted on getting the acupuncturist’s version of the "money shot" - me with about a hundred needles sticking out of my face. This, of course, had nothing to do with my treatment, but Greg insisted that it would get people to read what I wrote. So, when Yang explained to me that it could help with some of my "problems," I went along with it - albeit kicking and screaming.
So there I was, laying on the table, my hands and feet flailing in the air above me, a photographer’s lens off to the right, and a guy in a white coat slowing moving toward me with a long, thin needle headed right toward the center of my forehead
Honestly, I can’t remember the rest, but for the past few days, I have been less stressed out.
For more information about Brooklyn Comprehensive Acupuncture Service, see the Spa Directory.