By Janelle Eckardt
March 1, 2009 (El Cajon) — Hello friends! Are you tired, run-down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? The answer to all your problems is in this little needle. Really! Acupuncture just might be your ticket to feeling better and living better. I've discovered a respectable acupuncture facility right here in the East County that actually serves the community without milking it dry. Just for reading this article you get a brief history of acupuncture, my personal account of a session, and a one-on-one interview with the owner of Healthy Community Acupuncture, in El Cajon.
Get the point?
I was finally inspired to learn more about acupuncture around two months ago --after finally coming to the realization that something wasn't quite right, my annoyance with not feeling my best coupled with my budding intrigue over "alternative" medicine. After researching its origins, application, and varied treatment possibilities, I was ready to try it for myself--until I learned that in order to afford one treatment I'd probably be forced to sell a kidney. Well, acupuncture can't do much good if you're lacking vital organs, so all seemed lost. But just when I had given up on the idea of trying this more-than-five-thousand-year-old medicine, an ad in this very magazine introduced me to the Healthy Community Acupuncture (HCA) clinic. The rest is very recent history: after undergoing four treatment sessions with HCA's owner, Michelle Marcotte L.Ac., and Ida Candelaria L.Ac., Michelle's mother, I'm proud to have taken the acupuncture plunge--and sorry I didn't do it sooner.
It is impossible to condense thousands of years' worth of history into a couple paragraphs, so please humor this crude introduction to acupuncture. Originating in China, it is commonly associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), though its exact date of conception is still a mystery. A five-thousand-year-old mummy bearing over fifty tattoos on areas of his body associated with acupuncture points was uncovered in the Alps, and suggests other regions of Eurasia practiced some form of the treatment, as well. In the Sixteenth Century, Portuguese missionaries were among the first to bring tales of acupuncture back with them to Europe from China.
The medicinal properties of acupuncture are far more elusive than its place on the timeline, and can be quite difficult for many Westerners to understand. TCM addresses medicine from an abstract perspective that does not rely on biological or scientific bearings. The human body's balance, or yin and yang, dictates its level of health. Vital energy (Qi) flows through the body and serves as the yang; Blood (similar in concept, but not synonymous with physiological blood) is the tangible counterpart to the Qi, and serves as the yin. Acupuncture, therefore, regulates the flow of the Qi and Blood, and ensures there are no blockages, deficiencies, or pooling effects.
The flow of Qi and Blood is channeled through twelve primary meridians that act like great rivers running through the body. These rivers have offshoots that branch out in various directions, and each meridian flows through a specific territory, or organ, of the body. When one point of the river is manipulated, the entire flow is affected. That is why, for example, inserting the needle in a specific region of the hand or foot is intended to treat various issues relating to the head and neck. It seems that while Western medicine dissects ailments and symptoms to uncover one specific underlying cause, TCM and acupuncture recognize and treat the link that binds elements to the whole.
However fascinating all this may be in theory and speculation, actually experiencing acupuncture provides more insight into the practice, and one's own body, than any history lesson ever could. That's why I'm so glad I discovered HCA. HCA operates by a seemingly simple, yet strikingly rare, set of ethics.
Michelle explains: "This is a people's medicine. It's simple, easy to administer, and should be affordable because it treats so many things. In this economy especially, a community acupuncture clinic like mine is perfect for filling that incredibly deep void of affordable, quality, healthcare and health maintenance that all Americans need."
Even more impressive than her good intentions is Michelle's success at putting them into action. The HCA runs on a fee scale that recommends how much patients should pay for each treatment according to their income leve; the minimum fee is fifteen dollars. Proof of income is not required, and patients may adjust their payment rate at any time. When compared to other facilities that may charge between fifty and two hundred dollars, HCA's plan sounds way too good to be true. Luckily, though, it's not. How can she afford to stay open under such a system, you may ask? Instead of committing substantial blocks of time to individual appointments, Michelle can treat numerous clients at once in one main treatment room. Again, these brilliantly simple details allow Michelle to run the business she loves, and open doors to a potential multitude of customers who might otherwise go without--like me.
When I first entered HCA I was struck by the immediate shift in tone; when the front door closes, it shuts out the world and allows visitors to leave their baggage outside. The first session begins with a conversation between the patient and either Michelle or Ida. They will review the checklist of information each individual is required to complete; the questionnaire includes sections relating to preexisting conditions, current complaints, lifestyle habits, etc. --and then give the patient the opportunity to ask any questions they may have. I personally was impressed by the lack of questions Ida posed to me. She was concerned about relevant issues relating to my circumstances, and how they pertained to the acupuncture treatment, but she did not become preoccupied with personal details about my condition (for anyone who shows outward signs of a disability, this lack of attention may be quite refreshing).
I'll spare details about the soothing mood music and the reassuring feeling of being surrounded by other folk peacefully drifting off to sleep in reclined leather chairs, and get on with the good stuff: the needles. I should note that I, Janelle Eckardt, am slightly petrified of needles. This is not something I shared with Ida, but my inability to look at the needles might have betrayed my cover. No matter, because she was so quick and efficient in placing them, I hardly had time to react. She briskly tapped one needle into each of my hands (into the soft skin between thumb and pointer finger), and one into my right wrist. Ranging in diameter from 0.18-0.51mm, acupuncture needles are so thin that the initial poke may not even be felt. With needles in place, and eyes closed, my body began to surge with a feeling I can only describe as that rush of electricity that comes with enjoying a great stretch. A tingling sensation radiated from my hands all the way down to my toes. It was almost impossible to relax with such sensations taking hold, but the experience was wildly invigorating. Since then, it has become easier to accept these feelings without giving them my full attention. Each session introduces me to fresh realizations, and intriguing glimpses into my own body.
Michelle was kind enough to introduce me to her profession, and personal mission, by answering these questions:
How were you introduced to "alternative" medicine? Acupuncture, specifically?
I found acupuncture at the age of 18, when I had my worst outbreak of psoriasis --my body was completely covered. I've had psoriasis since I was five-years-old, and I tried everything, and spent many years with lesions all over my body. I saw the acupuncturist for three months of treatments, and at the end of it I was lesion-free. This was in 1980.
What inspired you to open Healthy Community Acupuncture? Were there any unique challenges or opportunities you faced in the process of getting it off the ground?
The Community Acupuncture Network (CAN) movement was the inspiration. I knew I didn't want a typical clinic. I knew I wanted something most people could access, but I didn't have the complete vision. This type of acupuncture clinic as a form of medical treatment is largely invisible or outright dismissed as a viable healthcare option. Yes, we don't do emergencies or surgery, and we can't cure things that modern medicine can't, but there's not much else acupuncture can't address. It takes time and a commitment from patients, which is often difficult to get in a fast-food, pill-popping, instant-fix culture like ours... So, we're still struggling a little financially as people discover the value of what we offer, but we know from the CAN models that have come before us that it is only temporary. As word spreads and the value of our clinic and medicine is discovered, we will grow and our community will be the better for it.
Please explain how does your business differ from other acupuncture facilities, and why?
We are part of a movement that wants to take our medicine and make it available to everyone--not just those who have insurance that covers it, or who can afford going rates that can start at $45, and go as high as $200 per treatment. I will never believe that any medicine, ours or modern Western medicine, should be so expensive that it prohibits the majority of Americans from accessing it. I believe very much in being a part of a healthy, happy, and prosperous, community. Should I charge as much as I can, because I can? Don't I have a larger responsibility, than simply to myself and my immediate family? I think I do...
How has the public responded to your business? Are immediate responses of curiosity, interest, doubt, skepticism?
Acupuncture in the West is still largely invisible to most people. Only one percent of Americans have had it, and most seek it out of desperation after they've tried everything else they know to no avail, or they know someone who it helped. The biggest hurdle for most patients to get over are the needles; I've found there's nothing you can say to assuage that fear because most people don't understand how different the needles we use are from those you encounter at the doctor's office.
What are your most common treatments?
By far, the most common thing we treat people for is pain: trauma, emotional pain, chronic disease, etc. But we've treated many other things like ADD, asthma, allergies, and even help some women with chronic diseases (like Lupus) get pregnant. The thing I want to stress is that we don't "cure" people. What we do is help their bodies get back in balance so their symptoms lessen or go away, or they're able to do the things they love again...
You've mentioned before that it is better to ask what can't acupuncture treat. Are there ailments and/or conditions that cannot be treated with acupuncture? Why?
Acupuncture is a medical system. Does it always help? No, but does any form of medicine always help? The efficacy of TCM, of which acupuncture is only one part, I believe, is limited only by our skill, imagination, and regulation... There's so much we don't know about how the body works and how to heal it, but by accessing our nervous system--which is what acupuncture is accessing during a treatment, although largely undiscovered as to how it is an incredibly powerful healing tool.
For more information, contact:
Healthy Community Acupuncture
277 E. Lexington Ave Ste B
El Cajon, CA 92020
Janelle graduated last year from UCSD with a BA in English literature. She is currently feeling out her place in "the real world," while simultaneously devising a formula for Guinness-flavored lip gloss. Janelle is a native of this most beautiful of counties, and is absolutely bent on showing it off to the world: bumpy sidewalks and all. And if she knows anything, it is this: bucket lists are for procrastinators--live as though you are--living.