Wednesday, March 21, 2007

a million little pin pricks (part one)

I’m walking down the avenue.
I’m in Pain.
My back.
My mind.
I try to accept the moment. Try to surrender to the pain. The only thing I have is the certainty of change, the certainty that my back will stop hurting one day. My mind will stop hurting one day. Life changes and that's for certain.
I’ve read the Books. I’ve done the time in Therapy. I know the answers intellectually. Why can’t I integrate what I’ve learned with how I want to be? Why can’t I be better? Why can’t I be Wise?
I’m scared.
I’m desperate.
I see a sign.
The sign says Acupuncture.

I remember something about hearing something about acupuncture helping with back pain. I have nothing left to lose.
I walk inside.
Inside is white. Bright. Fluorescent lights, not like I’d imagine in a movie, where it would be darkdarkdark with gold Buddhas in the corners incense burning music playing dark. This place is bright white sterile but not sterile. It’s Chinatown. The rules are different here. One woman sitting at a cluttered desk with an elderly lady. Talking Chinese. Taking blood pressure. The woman with the short dark hair and cardigan sweater removes the blood pressure cuff from the elderly lady. She looks up at me. A million little fears move through me. Does she think I’m silly? That’s the glaring fear.
She speaks.
I falter. I’m scared. I have nothing left to lose. I speak.
I’m thinking about acupuncture?
It comes out like a question.
My back.
I point and rub my lower back on the right side.
She nods. She speaks.
Acupuncture is very good for back.
She approves.
I feel relieved. I hate that I feel relieved to have a stranger’s approval. I wish I were different. I don’t feel relieved.
You want appointment?
I think so. Yes.
You have time…today?
You come back…two o’clock?
Yes. Thank you.
I leave.
At home I google "acupuncture" and “back pain.”
I return at 1:50.
The woman with the short dark hair and cardigan sweater is standing behind a glass counter. She speaks.
Sit down.
I sit in an empty chair against the window near the desk. The desk is covered with photographs of a little girl. There is a piece of glass pressing the photographs into place on the desk. The little girl looks Hispanic. I wonder whose daughter she is. Maybe she only looks Hispanic from where I’m sitting. From where I’m sitting she is upside down.
A woman around my age sits with her elderly mother in the two chairs to my right. The elderly mother smiles at me. I decide her smile is one of reassurance and approval. Good white woman. Come here to heal. Very good. You won’t be sorry. I feel relieved and I don’t feel relieved.
The woman with the short dark hair and cardigan sweater stands at the glass counter weighing dried herbs twigs mushrooms berries. She holds a long worn white stick with a round metal tray dangling from one end. The long worn white stick is notched with black marks and from the other end of the stick hangs a dull brass weight. The woman holds the stick, moves the weight, scoops the dried sticks onto the round metal tray. Does it again with the berries, the twigs, the mushrooms, the herbs. Inside the glass case below her are boxes. Thousands of boxes all with Chinese lettering on them. Gold lettering. Red boxes. Black lettering. White boxes. Boxes and boxes. A couple of the boxes have English lettering. Ginseng. Behind the woman are rows of drawers faced with fake woodgrain and dark brass colonial handles. I count across. Eleven. I count down. Seven. Seventy-seven fake colonial drawers along the long wall filled with flattened white chalky sticks and berries and herbs and mushrooms and twigs. The woman weighs and scoops and piles the items into three identical piles. I watch and wonder. Wonder what it all is. Wonder what it does. Wonder if I’ll get some. Wonder what they’re saying to each other.
The woman around my age and her mother leave with the three paper bags inside one plastic bag.
The woman with the short dark hair and cardigan sweater calls me to sit in the chair facing her desk.
I take off my coat and stuff my scarf and hat and gloves and sunglasses into my coat sleeves. I am a good girl. I drape my coat on the back of the chair and hold out my left arm for the blood pressure cuff but she opens a binder and pulls out a sheet of paper and asks me to sign.
I read the piece of paper and see that it’s a waiver and that it’s in English, which means I’m not the first non-Chinese person to come to this woman for acupuncture. Though this is comforting, it’s also discomforting. In case I die here I won’t hold this woman accountable. It will be all my fault. I fill out my information in my best architectural handwriting. I sign my name in the loopiest most graceful script I can muster and hope she is dazzled by my penmanship. I sign my life away to this woman whose name I don’t know. Whose language I don’t speak one word of.
She takes the waiver and shoves it into the binder and places the binder to the side. She takes my right wrist and presses her fingers onto my pulse. She stares at the desk while she listens to and feels my pulse. She speaks.
Your back. Pain?
Yes. My lower back. I have babies.
She lets my wrist go.
I mime bending over to pick up babies. Hundreds of babies. I feel desperate. I want her to understand everything and know the answers. I want a brown paper bag of dried answers.
She takes my left wrist. Presses my pulse point with her fingers. Stares at the desk.
She speaks.
Stick out you tongue.
I stick out my tongue.
She looks at my tongue.
She stands. She gestures for me to stand.
I stand.
She comes around from her side of the desk.
Where does it hurt?
I turn around so my back faces her front and touch my back where it hurts the most, under my ribs to the right. She touches my back. She thinks. She speaks.
I follow. I want to ask her what she saw in my tongue. Did it hold any answers? Did it tell her what’s wrong with my back? With my mind? Did it tell her what kind of twigs she should stuff into a brown paper bag to make me all better?
Behind the desk with the photographs of the little Hispanic girl is a thin white wall. On the wall hangs a Chinese New Year decoration with Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy from Peanuts. There is also a flimsy sliding door leading to the place where they stick needles into Skin.
The woman slides the door open.
I see a narrow examining table with a white paper cover and a thin pillow. There is a small white refrigerator at the head of the bed. On top of the refrigerator are boxes and in the center of the boxes is a small white plastic statue of a man criss-crossed with a rainbow of lines and dots. The Meridians.
At the foot of the bed is a boom box playing instrumental Chinese music. I like the music. It does what it is meant to do. It lulls.
She speaks.
Take off shoes. Lay down. Face down.
I speak.
Where do I put my jacket?
She points at the examining table. I feel confused. If I’m on the table and my jacket’s on the table, how will this be any good? I am scared.
She leaves.
I take off my Uggs. Place them neatly under the examining table. Put my jacket on the table. Push it into the wall. Wish it would shrink to nothing so I wouldn’t feel confused and scared.
There is a small square table next to the examining table with a small almond colored machine on it. The machine has black dials all over it and colored wires protruding from it like hair. At the end of the colored wires are metal clamps. There is a round container of copper pins on the table. There is a fan blowing hot air next to the examining table. There is a heat lamp on the small white table with Chinese characters written on it in green foil. I lay face down on the examining table.
The woman returns.
She lifts my shirt above my hips and touches my back. She’s wearing one latex glove. She swipes alcohol across my lower back, on the right. I keep my head turned, pressed to the pillow and wish I could see through my hair and behind my back what she’s doing and I am glad I can’t see what she’s doing. I hear her rustle paper and decide it must be a needle that she’s removing from its sterile packaging and then I feel her tap something sharp into the skin on my lower back. I feel relief. It doesn’t hurt. It’s barely anything. Barely below the surface. There is no ceremony to this acupuncture. There is no deep breathing or chanting or lighting of incense to commence this procedure the way there was in my mind. It’s just medicine to her. Just another day.
She does it again. Tap. Relief.
She does it again. Tap. Pain. I yelp in pain.
I speak.
I’m scared.
That hurt?
You nerves.
Yes! I’m nervous.
You have acupuncture before?
No. First time.
Oh. Acupuncture is good for back. Lot of people see for back.
Oh good.
She does it again. Tap. Pain. I yelp and arch my back and decide I’m doing everything wrong. I decide I’m the first person who ever yelped in pain from getting needles tapped into her back. I am a scared white woman. I wonder if I’m doing everything wrong and I wonder if she’s doing everything wrong. I hope it’s me.
The woman picks up a wire from the small almond colored machine and attaches it to my back. I can’t see if she’s laying it on my back or attaching it to a needle sticking out of my back. She does it again and again and then starts turning dials on the machine. My back starts to get hot. My back starts to vibrate. Zzzt. Pause. Zzzt. Pause. She speaks.
Can you feel vibrate?
A little.
She turns a dial on the machine.
I jump from the pain of electrocution.
Oh my God!
Too much?
She turns a dial.
Zzzt. Pause. Heat.
I speak.
That’s good.
She leaves. Slides the door partly closed.
Zzzt. Pause. Heat.
I stare at the white room, the wall of shelves with even more herbs and remedies and boxes of ginseng through the partly slid open door.
Zzzt. Pause. Heat.
I wonder if this is working. I wonder if this is all that different from a heating pad and a massage. I wonder if I am relaxed enough. I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. I close my eyes and try to stop wondering.
The almond colored machine dings.
The acupuncturist returns.
She turns a dial on the machine. She speaks.
Close your eyes. Sleep.
She leaves. Slides the flimsy door partly closed.
I close my eyes.
I open my eyes. Stare at the white room beyond this examining table. I try not to wonder.
The machine dings.
The acupuncturist returns. She speaks.
Lots of time, mothers have weak kidneys.
Yes. Childbirth.
I think about this. I wonder if she means that my weakened kidneys have to do with my strained lower back. I wonder if she can see that my kidneys are weak. Did she see it in my tongue? Did she feel it in my pulse? I wonder if acupuncture is the magical answer. It was my kidneys the whole time. Imagine that.
Ten more minutes.
She leaves.
I wonder what ten minutes will feel like. I close my eyes.
Zzzt. Pause.
Zzzt. Pause.
Zzzt. Pause.
Zzzt. Pause.
I open my eyes. Turn my head. Try to sleep.
Zzzt. Pause.
Zzzt. Pause.
Zzzt. Pause.
Zzzt. Pause.
I close my eyes. Turn my head. Try not to wonder.
Zzzt. Pause.
She slides the door open. She turns a dial on the machine. She removes the metal clamps. She pulls out a needle. I tense my back muscles and feel embarrassed. She pulls a needle out. I yelp. I wait for her to give me answers. She pulls out the rest of the needles. I relax my back. She pulls my shirt down. I feel for pain. She rubs my back with her fingers. Hard circles. She slaps my back. Slaps it over and over. With force. It surprises me and refreshes me. A stranger is slapping my back repeatedly and I like it. I am sick. She pulls my waist one way and pushes my hips the other way. She does is again in the reverse direction and it doesn’t hurt as good. She speaks.
She leaves. Slides the door partly closed.
I sit up. Feel for pain. There it is, still there. Maybe not as much. Look at the table with the machine and the dials and the wires. I see forceps with a cotton ball clamped in the tines. I pull my scarf and hat and gloves and glasses out of my jacket sleeve. Feel for pain. I slide off of the table and stand. I stick my right foot into my Ugg. I see a needle wrapper on the floor. I stick my left foot into my other Ugg. I think about taking the needle wrapper. I leave the needle wrapper on the floor. I leave the room. Feel for pain.
The woman is behind the glass counter weighing dried remedies. She speaks.
Forty dollars.
I pull out my wallet. I pull out two twenties. I give them to her.
I speak.
Thank you.
How you feel?
I don’t know yet.
Two sessions.
Two sessions?
Yeah. Come back…Wednesday. Same time.
Okay. Yeah. I think I can do that.
She nods.
I speak.
No herbs?
No herbs.
I leave. There are no herbal answers for me. There is no ceremony, no deep breathing. No incense lit. No homework. No chanting. I am alone with my questions once more. I walk home. I feel for pain. I wonder.


Amelia Plum said...

I love this post and can't wait to hear the next installment. This could be a great short story.

Amelia Plum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amelia Plum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amelia Plum said...

sorry about the plague of comments, I hit send and the same thing came up three times.