I don’t care much for needles.” This is an understatement. I actually wonder if I might pass out. Strange then that I have agreed to try acupuncture, a treatment that involves injecting needles in specific points on the body.
“We associate needles with pain, like injections,” says Wei Huang, director of Arogya, a holistic healing center in Westport. Her voice is calm, her movements gentle—exactly what I am not feeling as I walk with her to the treatment room. But then I see the room. Softly lit. Scented like a luxury spa. The table draped with soft blankets. This is good.
“I was treated for Lyme,” I say, now laying on my back, arms and feet bare. “I had a PICC line the size of a garden hose.” The PICC (or peripherally inserted central catheter) entered in the back of my upper arm and lead to my heart. It was not your average injection needle.
Gregor Bertram, the licensed acupuncturist, says, reassuringly, “You could fit about ten acupuncture needles into a hypodermic needle.” (Please don’t say “hypodermic” again.) “There is nothing going through them—they’re not hollow. There’s less sensation.” (OK, I’m listening.) “Actually, they’re thinner than hair.” (Still, I don’t want to see one.)
Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center is hoping to introduce acupuncture to more people by offering it in Fairfield as part of a wellness program. It also offers yoga, pilates and more.
“People relax in antigravity chairs,” Bertram says of the group sessions he oversees. Clients are scheduled at regular intervals, allowing him to check on one patient, while another rests. He works only on elbows to fingers, knees to toes. The fee for each session is about $35; nearly half of a private treatment like the one I’m having here at Arogya in Westport. The Fairfield program is a good option for those who are comfortable in a communal setting and want more regular treatments.
“OK, inhale, Amy; and exhale,” he says. I don’t even notice that he has wiped prep pads over different parts of my arms, hands and feet. His instruction to breath makes me body aware, and I notice a tingling in my right arm. I share my experience with Lyme disease, how it affected my vision and caused a numbness in my arm, among other things.
While I talk, Bertram walks from point to point around me. As an acupuncturist, he is evaluating the quality, quantity and balance of Qi (“chee”), or vital energy. He says acupuncture works by opening rivers (or meridians) of Qi throughout the body that have become stuck or are deficient. The needles are inserted into points along these pathways and “correspond with the proper function of the organs, musculoskeletal structure, and internal physiological systems,” notes the pamphlet I picked up in the front room. Of course, none of this is coming to me at this point. I hope the treatment will simply promote health, reduce my stress, and relieve some everyday pain. He chooses to work on energizing and immune-boosting points today. He inserts the first needle.
“How are you?”
“Fine,” I say, and smile. It doesn’t hurt.
“Most people feel very relaxed,” he says. “Sometimes they fall asleep. Chinese medicine seeks to create balance.”
He inserts needles in the top of my feet and my hands and moves from needle to needle to give each one a little twist or slight tug. It feels like less than a mosquito—almost nothing.
“I’m looking for that ‘grab,’ or heavy sensation,” he explains. “I’m going to wake up this point. You might sense it in another part of your body. Qi is moving, going where it’s needed.”
The sensations are small and localized until he touches a needle on my foot. “That went right up my leg, like a rush. My right fingers are tingling. My left arm is heavy,” I say. Ten needles in my body.
A NEW JOURNEY
Gregor started his journey to acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine with a health crisis in college. “I felt upside down,” says the Fairfield native. “I had all these tests, even for mercury. That lead to a holistic search. I saw a nutritionist and an acupuncturist; I started practicing yoga. I went to India to learn meditation.” He was looking for answers when mainstream medicine no longer had any to offer him. “Acupuncture, tea, lifestyle changes—we see improvements. I’ve seen it myself.”
He eventually attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York City and now is a licensed acupuncturist at Arogya.
He removes the needles and tells me to expect soreness in the hands. “They’re taut,” he says. “Some people feel energized, some sleepy, some hungry.”
“I feel ‘connected’ to my hands,” I tell him. “I usually have to shake them to get feeling.”
My Qi is low, he says. It needs to be pumped up. He decided to focus on vitality during this first visit.
Shortly after leaving Arogya, I find myself extremely tired. I end up sleeping quite a bit. I follow up with Bertram to ask about this response. He says my system is “resetting itself” and that acupuncture has “stirred the pot” with me.
–Acupuncturist Gregor Bertram
What does that mean? It means I was tired and that acupuncture has affected me.
Bertram tells me that my “body had undergone quite a bit of stress and illness and was going through a heavy transformation after the treatment. The Lyme virus, antibiotics and other drugs inundated my system” and that “treatment focused on dredging out toxins from the tissues.” The fatigue I experienced is “a signal that the body needs more rest and that it is healing and moving in a positive direction.”
In other words, my body is responding well to the treatment.
Wei shows me a simple Qigong routine to help boost my energy level. I also pick up two types of organic tea—one for countering Lyme, the other, calming.
If a friend asks me about trying acupuncture, I will say to ask questions. This treatment is no joke. Luckily, Gregor Bertram is very responsive and understanding. He’s communicative. He’s open. He does not dismiss any of my concerns, and he is both peaceful and knowledgeable. I feel free to ask him lots of questions, and I do.
I tried this even though I’m well-versed in conventional medicine—a paradigm that leads me to believe that there’s a pill for every ill. This experience, though, opens my eyes to an alternative. Qigong, acupuncture—I can see these healing methods giving hope to people who are at the end of their rope with conventional medicine. With my lifestyle changes—which includes eating organic foods and exercising regularly—a new way of seeing my body and my health is available to me.