I had my first acupuncture session 4 days’ after the mastectomy, my surgeon agreed to release me for 4 hours from the hospital. He knew that acupuncture helped calm my agitated system down and gave me a reasonable night’s rest.
However, two days after the electromyography
torture test, I had an encounter with acupuncture that wasn’t so pleasant.
Acupuncture works by releasing blockages or facilitating flow of energy by the insertion of very fine needles into energy lines (meridians) in the body. Pain when needles are inserted may indicate a blockage at that meridian.
The acupuncturist I saw wasn’t my regular acupuncturist (who was on holiday and recommended I see this other acupuncturist instead). This second acupuncturist used to be a concert pianist and I was looking forward to meeting him because I was a pianist myself. The room where he had his practice couch had a grand piano in it!
He inserted a needle into a classic acupuncture point, Colon 4, which is between the thumb and index finger. OMG. I nearly jumped into the air. The pain was unexpected. The point actually started swelling up and bruising blue-purple before our eyes. I felt the pain radiate into the knuckles.
I burst into tears. I’d never had such a major reaction to an acupuncture point previously. The acupuncturist and I concluded that it must be a release of the trauma that I’d experienced during the EMG session. And yes, I did feel better after the session, but this yet another painful needle experience after the EMG session did set me up for the start of needle phobia.I have since been having acupuncture at least once a week. At one stage, after I was discharged, I was having it daily.
I usually find it hard to relax and let go, and especially after the post-surgery trauma of the mastectomy, but there are always moments in an acupuncture session when my mind would drift and I would fall asleep. I believe that it is these moments that train my body to learn to relax.
In traditional acupuncture, nerve injury on the left-hand side of the body would best be treated with needles on that side of the body, into the limb which had been affected by the injury. That is the most effective way – straight to the source.
However, the problem was that lymph nodes had been removed from the left side.
When lymph nodes are removed, the circulation of lymph (which transports fluid and help fights infections) is affected. Any injuries to that limb could cause massive infection, inflammation and the much-dreaded lymphoedema.
In vain I pointed out that if I had to have surgery on the left side of the body to fix the nerve injury, wouldn’t that be worse than the eeny-meeny damage needles could cause it? But every acupuncturist I went to agreed that they could not needle that left arm.
As a result, no acupuncture needles could be used on the left arm. I could have howled with disappointment. Instead, all the acupuncturists I saw had to do something called contra-lateral needling, in which needles were inserted into the opposite side of the body to mirror the side with the injury.
I cannot say that acupuncture alone helped cure the brachial plexus injury, but it did play an important part in helping me to recover after the mastectomy. Turning up for the sessions kept me going in the weeks of uncertainty that lay ahead when all I could see was no improvement at all.
With cancer, or injuries, it’s best to combine different types of therapies. It’s the synergy of the treatments that enhance each other.
John Tindall is my main acupuncturist. I also consulted two others when he was on holiday: Rachel Peckham and Wainwright Churchill, both of whom generously discounted their fees so I could have the treatments I needed.
John Tindall is the most remarkable man with a big heart and incredible wisdom and experience. He both practices and teaches acupuncture, specialising in critical and acute illness. He set up the UK’s first full-time Natural Healthcare Service on the NHS (Lambeth Community Care NHS Trust) – the Gateway Clinic, where he was the founder and director. Patients travel from all over the world to his clinic, such is his reputation for getting incredible results. He also runs low-cost clinics and student-facilitated free sessions. John practices in Yuan Clinic, Collier’s Wood, South London.
Rachel Peckham is one of the most gentle and sensitive acupuncturists I’ve come across. I always leave her sessions feeling nurtured and relaxed. I was able to talk to her about female issues, and what to do with my scars, and she listened without judging and with sympathy. Rachel practices in Shepherd’s Bush, West London.
Wainwright Churchill has a very good reputation in the acupuncture community . He used to be a concert pianist and has a really nice gentle manner about him. I was privileged to be treated in a room which was home to a beautiful Steinway grand piano. He practices in Muswell Hill, North London.