When acupuncture doesn't work
Its been a little quiet around here lately. Back in early January, I had to take sudden leave from the clinic, and I haven't been able to write or do anything much related to the clinic for the past 9 weeks, and I have missed it. I wasn't able to explain to my patients at the time the reason for my mysterious disappearance, but now I feel its time to share, with those of you who are interested, where I have been for the past few months. I feel that there are always great lessons to be learned from all challenges that we face and hope that me speaking up helps give a voice to others who may suffer in silence.
So first the wonderful news – I am pregnant!! This pregnancy is incredibly welcome and celebrated, and our little family is ecstatic to be expecting another bundle of joy in the near future.
But pregnancy isn't always fun and excitement. In fact, for some women it is extraordinarily difficult and can even be a challenge for survival. In my case, soon after discovering I was pregnant, I began to get very sick. I booked in to see my acupuncturist, keen to 'nip it in the bud' – as I had been very sick with my first pregnancy and didn't want to go through that again. Unfortunately, even with regular acupuncture treatments and my arsenal of natural remedies – ginger, peppermint, B6, chromium, homeopathy, reiki, meditation, visualisation, fresh air, dry crackers, you name it – I progressively got worse and worse. I had to force myself to eat and drink even though it made me gag, and more than a couple of mouthfuls would just come back up again. I was confined to my bed or the couch, curled up in a fetal position for most of the day because the nausea was so intense and relentless. I remember it getting so bad that I even began vomiting up mouthfuls of water and thinking – this isn't normal at all.
I was driven to the doctors (driving was beyond me) and walked in, feeling the world spin. I was faint, dizzy, disorientated and as always, incredibly nauseous. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, which is a rare complication of pregnancy that causes intractable nausea, vomiting and dehydration, and can be life-threatening if not effectively treated. I was exceptionally lucky, in that my condition responded very well to the first line of medication offered – it stopped the vomiting and dulled the nausea to the point where I could bear to eat and drink a little. I didn't like the idea of medication during pregnancy but at that point, I was willing to try anything and I am so, so grateful for modern medicine. Some women do not respond so well and have to go through various medication combinations, and if they still can't keep food or fluids down, they end up in hospital on an IV drip. For some extremely unfortunate women, the horrific condition lasts for the entire length of the pregnancy. My heart goes out to them. I count myself incredibly lucky.
Nonetheless, the past 9 weeks have not been easy or pleasant - quite the opposite. The vomiting stopped with the medication but the relentless nausea has never left my side and I needed to spend most of my time lying down or reclining. I was constantly feeling dizzy and weak, and too much movement or activity (including talking or reading) would flare the nausea up to unbearable levels, so I really had to try to just rest. This was very difficult with an energetic toddler in tow, but somehow with the amazing help and support of my husband, parents and parents-in-law we managed to get through. Now I am 14 weeks and have started seeing another acupuncturist for regular treatments. I am happy to say that now, acupuncture is helping (hooray!), and I am starting to be able to function more normally again. The nausea is still there but its much more manageable and the repressive 'darkness' that I feel had enveloped me has lifted.
I wonder why acupuncture didn't help me at the beginning of my pregnancy – acupuncture has been shown to be clinically effective for many forms of nausea, I have seen it help my own patients and I really, really wanted it to work for me! It was exceptionally disappointing and disheartening when it didn't help me at all in the beginning – I felt my medicine had let me down. But now I think it was a good learning experience. Acupuncture can't always help everyone, and there is a Chinese saying that goes: “Medicine can only cure curable diseases – and then not always”. This is humbling for me as an acupuncturist. Another explanation is possibly that at the beginning of my pregnancy, the acupuncture simply couldn't match that intensity of my symptoms, my body was just too far out of balance. Or perhaps it was the wrong patient/practitioner relationship? It is impossible to know. Once my body had calmed down somewhat with the medication, and I found a new practitioner, it seemed to start working for me really well, and I really feel a lot better after my treatments. So perhaps my take-home lesson from this is that acupuncture can help most of the people, most of the time – but not to get disheartened if it doesn't work in a particular instance. It might very well just do the trick next time.
So that is my story. I will be coming back to the clinic next week, just starting out with a few hours each day to begin with. I'm very much looking forward to being up and about, and seeing your lovely faces. I hope that this has been an interesting insight into what pregnancy can look like, and next time you hear of a friend or relative having a hard time with 'morning sickness', you can have empathy for what they are going through. It can literally turn their world upside down. Luckily there is a happy ending for most who go through this and that is what makes it all worth it.
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