I’m going to give you a sentence, and you have to picture it for me, OK?
“Today I took Fluffy to the veterinary acupuncturist.”
So what are you seeing? Some frizzy haired tank top wearing hippie haphazardly sticking insulin needles in your cat while waving catnip in front of her face, right? That’s what I was picturing when I heard some classmates talking about it in vet school. “Oh, you went to one of those vets,” we’d snicker, then go back to studying NSAID effects on renal perfusion.
I went on with this attitude until my anesthesia rotation in my senior year. Before me stood the chief of anesthesia, a guy whose entire career is based on pharmacological ways to mediate pain, and before him was a patient with chronic arthritis. “OK guys, get out of the room,” he said to us students. “I’m doing acupuncture on this dog.” We looked at each other incredulously. This vet was about as non-hippie looking as they come. Actually, he looked like Bill Gates with a British accent.
Intrigued, we asked him to give us a lecture on this befuddling thing, this sticking needles in random places. He sat down before us, and instead of talking about qi and spleens and energy, he showed us an article from the prestigious JAVMA medical journal, discussing in medical terms acupuncture’s proven ability to mediate pain.
4 years later, I took a rigorous month-long course to learn acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS). It was pretty crazy, if you’ve never been exposed to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and come from a Western oriented background. Learning Chinese medicine in a month is much like trying to learn, well, Chinese in a month. It’s a whole different way of thinking, but much like learning a new language, you’re still saying the same thing, just in a different way. Instead of “arthritic dysplastic hips,” for example, I might diagnose “kidney yang deficiency.”
We had some fantastic teachers; some were world renowned veterinary practitioners from China. Others, like Dr. March, were from right around the corner. He was president of IVAS at the time, and I was fortunate enough to shadow him to get some hands on time with animals.
I’m not sure what I expected Dr. March to look like, but he was pretty much the exact opposite. He is an equine practitioner, a well respected one. About 10 years ago, he heard from a client how much her horse had benefited from acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment, so he decided to give it a whirl. He looks like Danny Devito, a jovial, good-ole-boy, coverall wearing bundle of energy who drives a beat up pickup truck, and just so happens to know a hell of a lot about Eastern medicine. Because, he said, it works. And why not offer everything you can for your patients?
If he can believe in this stuff, I reasoned, anyone can. And I was right.
I haven’t had as many opportunities as I would like to practice my acupuncture- in my previous practice in emergency medicine, there wasn’t the time, and in my current place, I just don’t get a ton of clients who are, shall we say, open to the idea. But I do have a few brave souls, and they are all functioning better and with less medicine than they were before we started. It is so gratifying. I love it.