When I moved to Taiwan, I had no intention of trying Chinese medicine. The thought of getting elbowed and jumped on or being stabbed with needles in the name of pain relief seemed counterproductive.
I have to say that now I actually visit weekly and consider going more often.
For those that do not know much about the topic, here is a small summary: One of the greatest perks about being a residency card holder in Taiwan is the national healthcare benefits. Taiwan has a national healthcare program that for the large part, works efficiently. Every resident and citizen receives a personalized health card that stores your medical history in its memory chip. Further, the costs of medical expenses are well within reason versus the cost of living in other countries. It also covers Chinese medicine.
So each week, I go to the Chinese doctor and actually pay to get beat up.
As soon as the sliding doors open and I walk into the clinic, I am immediately hit by the strong smell of bitter celery. That’s the best that I can do to describe the smell. It can be very overwhelming, even for those that regularly visit.
I then proceed to the counter and hand in my health card. What follows is a mix of charades, smiling, and nodding to communicate my needs. Although I am happy to say that the front desk is beginning to recognize the one foreign girl and know what I want (or don’t want for better words). Of which, I am now fairly famous in the office. (More on that in a minute)
After I pay about NT $100, the equivalent to USD $3, I sit in my seat and try to distract myself from my anxiety of what comes next. Now, as I’ve gotten older, my fear of needles has grown more intense. It is with that fear that I always only get 1 needle of acupuncture, selectively in my shoulder because it seems safe. Most of my pain is located in my shoulders and back anyway, so I got lucky there. The different doctors at the clinic all know me well because I am the only patient to ask for only 1 needle every single visit.
It also never fails that the elderly ladies and men in the chairs around me stare as I nervously shake my leg while the doctor stabs me with my 1 needle. The other patients put me to shame, with needles sticking out of their hands, knees, ankles, neck, and head. Brave old ladies willing to look like pin cushions!
This last week I got my doctor to cheer aloud and the office staff to all stop and laugh just by allowing her to stab me with two needles, one in each shoulders. I just want to take this moment to note that I am not a huge wimp; the pain of the needles in the knots of my shoulder muscles causes me to feel rather lightheaded with sharp, shooting pains. It took some time for me to get more comfortable with that kind of pressure and sensation.
After I get stabbed for 20 minutes, I get to go to the back where some skilled guy gets to elbow and knee me in the name of relief. I sometimes think they hide their extra elbows and knees until you are face down on the massage table. For 20 minutes, I am twisted, poked, popped, crunched, and crackled. Think “Rice Crispy Cereal” for the human body. I have a much better pain tolerance at this stage, which often surprises the clinic personnel. They often ask if I am okay as I say almost nothing while the person beside me moans, groans, and grunts.
After I am finished pretzelling my way to stress relief, I am handed two sticky patches that smell like the bitter celery. I am supposed to stick these on at home for six hours. (I try not to leave my house when I put these on, for the sake of those around me. I smell like a walking garden on a summer day!) Anything I put close to these little sticky pads immediately goes into the hamper and I can count on removing a good portion of hair when I take them off. The heating and cooling sensation is wonderful though!
So despite the complicated and sometimes scary process, I would pay for Chinese medicine any day. It might not be the luxurious relaxation of a spa, but Chinese medicine works 10 times better at a tenth of the price of Western spa retreats. This is why each Tuesday I enjoy my weekly beat up.