Fear and the needle7/3/2013
Fear can raise a rebellion even in the smallest of hearts. It certainly was the force that propelled me at the age of 8 to barricade myself in the family station wagon on a hot summer day many years ago. The windows were rolled up, and my parents and seven siblings clamored outside the car, as they alternated between threats and promises to get me to open up. This standoff began because I had just bolted from the doctor’s office out of sheer terror. I had watched the doctor’s routine that morning just one too many times as he made his way through my large family. Judy, Carol, Marla. John, Joyce, Jim, Cathy. Yikes, I was next… for a shot… with a needle! No thank you.
“If afraid of needle, a lot of time is because they don’t know the needle,” Yimin Xu said in his soft voice. “The unknown is scary. If they come in, I tap one needle in, and they see it is comfortable. A lot of time they sleep. They relaxed. It is very odd. They not afraid anymore. Children also. Especially the children that don’t have regular shot experience, they come here, try the acupuncture, they just fine.”
Xu is ramrod straight, lean and bespeckled. The long, white lab coat covering a shirt and tie appears part of his person and is perhaps what he wears even when lounging around the house. His rare smile and laugh makes you a little self-conscious, causing you to smile more broadly and laugh more frequently. You eventually see the smile is in his eyes, and the laughter is in the slight pull at his cheeks. And you begin to wonder what else you are missing about this man.
Xu is a licensed acupuncturist practicing in the Des Moines area. He’s come a long way from his home in China. It was there where he received a degree in traditional Chinese medicine and where he taught acupuncture for several years at the college level. He then came to the United States in 1992 to study pharmacology at Northeastern University in Boston. However, he was soon enticed to New Mexico to teach at the Southwest Acupuncture College. And that he did for many years. Better schools for his son, and the encouragement of two of his former students already in Des Moines, enticed him to Iowa.
That’s all nice to hear. Good to know he’s licensed and trained and a teacher and smart. But can we get back to the needles? Acupuncture?
“I usually don’t need to explain the theory behind it, because if they have a problem, if I can do some changes, the trust will be immediately established,” he shared. “One man from Camp Dodge, he sprain his ankle. He doesn’t believe in acupuncture. The girlfriend bring him here. He doesn’t want to be here. I use scalp acupuncture. Afterward, I ask him to walk. He walks without pain. He quickly apologized to me for the attitude.
“I don’t need to explain, I just let them see the effect. That’s my approach.” Xu said while sharing a small smile.
OK, fine, thank you… and the needle?
Xu carefully unwrapped a single needle from its individual sterile package. It was as thin as a dog’s hair.
“As to how acupuncture works, there are a lot of theories,” he said. “In the traditional Chinese medical theory, if a person has pain, we believe it is energy stagnation or the blood has some stagnation. If there is pain, there is stagnation, if there is stagnation, there is pain. The modern theory is that the acupuncture needle is a pure physical stimulation. No chemical there. It is pure stainless steel. When it is put into our body, there are chemical changes in the body. For example, release of endorphins.
“However, none of these theories adequately explain what happens.”
So there I was. Stretched out on the table with more than 20 needles sticking out of my feet, legs, arms and hands. Of course, this didn’t top last week’s appointment, when I sprouted half a dozen needles from my head. Somebody must be getting a kick out of this, right? Some former high school bully turned YouTube producer is filming a horrible video: “Can we really get the bald guy to lay on the table and put needles in his head?” Apparently so.
“More men than women are afraid of the needle,” Xu explained as he tapped the last needle into place in my hand.
I snapped the picture with the other hand and promptly fell asleep. A fearless pincushion at rest. CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.