The flight, as detailed here, was brutal. My sciatic was flaring up by the time I got to campus. Within a day or two, I was directed to a massage parlor near campus. There is a cosmetic store on the ground level, and you go up a flight of narrow stairs to get to the massage place. I took a picture of the front so that I could find it again. I’ve since shown this picture to many foreign faculty on campus so they could find their way to some hurt-so-good sweet relief.
When I walked in and saw the acupuncture charts all over the walls, I knew this was exactly what I needed.
“It’s not like what we think of as massage” Kristine had warned when I told her I was going to go. Understatement of the year. There are 3 narrow tables in the main room. The window to the street is open, and the music from the shop next door blares through. People are walking in and out of the room, and the masseuses are carrying on conversation with them and each other. You don’t take your clothes off, but they still drape you- so they can dig down without actually pulling off your skin is my guess.
The woman that works there started on me while I was face-up. She dug down my thighs with her thumb along the meridians. I sounded like I was in a Lamaze class I was breathing so deeply. When she got to my knee, it felt like she was trying to shake my patella off and loosen whatever was under there. I don’t know what inhuman noise I made, but it got her to giggling.
She was to giggle often in the time we spent together.
I flipped over on to my stomach, and when I heard talking over me, it was a man’s voice. I could see the shoes moving around the table. Sometimes the socked-slippered feet of the older guy I’d seen would appear.
There was this move he did with my calf at the end that hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was as if my entire calf muscle was some zit or blister and he was working to pop it. The breathing I had to do through that to not jump off the table was enough to give me a bit of a rush.
I came back 5 or 6 days later and had another massage. This time, I got the older guy that always wears a tank-tee and the socked-slippered feet. He does these chiropractic moves where he bends you up like a pretzel, the leans in on you like he’s trying to rip you back apart again. Then nimbly runs his fingers up your spine to make sure everything’s back where it ought to be. He also had me sit up on a stool at the end and he worked more on my shoulders and did a few more chiropractic moves.
The next time I returned, the trace amounts of soy sauce and MSG in the food in the dining hall had caught up with me and I was feeling absolutely miserable. Monday had felt like a Friday, and the following morning it was all I could do to get myself out of bed even though I’d slept more than 9 hours. Monday took me there so she could translate. My joints were inflamed and killing me, and I had absolutely no energy. I was hoping they could help—I was going to try acupuncture.
She explained what was going on and he asked where I had the most pain. I showed him and told him that I wanted acupuncture and a foot massage.
He did the acupuncture on my sciatic, so I had to take off my britches so he could get to it. It was morning, and they’re very slow—I was the only one there. The look on Monday’s face when I told her I’d never done acupuncture before made me even more scared than I already was.
So there I was, braced for this wretched pain… that never came. I would feel a pinch. I would feel sensation along the sciatic nerve. That was about it.
In contrast to the foot massage. Which was sheer freakin torture. He started out by running his thumb up my calf in a move that felt like he was trying to filet my leg. I don’t think there was more than 3 minutes of the hour massage that I wasn’t off the chair huffing like a woman minutes away from giving birth. It was absolutely excruciating.
But it worked. I was able to go upstairs using both legs afterwards. I hadn’t been able to do that since I got here.
So I went back the next morning to get some more acupuncture to work on my left knee a little more.
The knee was a bit more uncomfortable than my sciatic. There were 2 pins in particular that hurt going in. The way they seem to do everything here is to keep at it until it doesn’t hurt anymore… then they release you. There is no soft relaxing movement. If the body is tense and tender, that’s where they apply the pressure. Once the tenderness is eased, they move on. I know that’s because the purpose of this is to make you feel Good, not just make you feel good… but still….
He also did acupuncture on my left ankle. That was quite painful. Whereas most of the needles just caused the tiniest prick when they went in, the ones on my ankle felt like big huge long needles being jabbed against very tender tendons. Then he would jiggle them. He would be watching me very carefully—concerned that the first treatment hadn’t gotten rid of everything. I don’t think he’s used to not having his touch heal instantly. My pain was an indicator we were getting right in to where we needed to, so he’d smile. “You like this!” I’d joke. By this time, there were several people in the room all looking at me like I was insane for allowing myself to be used as a pin cushion. That all the Chinese people were looking at me like I was nuts for doing a traditional Chinese treatment amused me enough to make the pain a little more bearable.
“How can you do that?” they would ask me through Grace.
“Trust me, it hurts way less than the massage!” I answered.
I’m doing much better now- able to climb 4 of the 5 flights of stairs to my evening class before I have to resort to only climbing with my right leg. I’m still having a little pain behind the knee, though. When we’d talked about it yesterday, the woman said if the pain is directly behind the knee, acupuncture may not be the best treatment. She described the treatment, but Grace said she didn’t really understand it. As I told others what they were suggesting- I realized they meant cupping.
Don’t know if I’m brave enough to try that just yet… though I know a student that had it done at the beginning of the week. We’ll see…