Non needle-phobe, Tony Rodio, gets a treatment.

Written and photographed by Liesa Cole

When I describe myself as a “needle-phobe,” I recall the improvisation I performed in second grade of an agonizing bout of appendicitis to avoid school on  the dreaded “Innoculation Day.” This is the same person, namely moi, who bowed to peer pressure in high school on blood drive day only to collapse on the gym floor in a full-on faint before the nurse had a chance to extract a drop. I could go on.

But the point is (needle pun intended, sorry) I did not consider myself a candidate for any type of acupuncture experience. I mean, seriously, think

According to Dr. Walbert, a general rule of thumb is that the longer an imbalance has been within someone, the longer it will take to restore balance and well being.

about it. If you contemplate your very own body along with the word “puncture” in the same sentence, I’ll bet this semantic pairing does not arouse feelings of comfort. Not even in a proud, non-needle phobe, such as yourself. Just imagine my reaction! In fact, whenever I came across an image of someone placidly receiving an acupuncture treatment, sporting a head full of pokey metal things sprouting in all directions, I assumed it was a psychic feat akin to walking on hot coals or shards of glass. Or maybe such a man had sold his soul to the devil so he could revel in freaking the rest of us out. Regardless, it could not possibly be natural to relax with all those sharp objects impaling you. This procedure struck me more as a torturous interrogation technique than a soothing healing practice. Me + Pain =no thank you. And for obvious reasons, I presumed that a multitude of needles piercing my personal flesh would constitute a painful state of being. Enter Margot Walbert, doctor of oriental medicine and her adorable little wire-haired terrier, Boris.

You see, I have found that having a dog or two in the family is a great way to meet all manner of wonderfully interesting people. Margot and I often find ourselves making small talk while our pooches romp about the grassy field in our common neighborhood. On one such occasion, I learned that my new uber cool dog park buddy was an acupuncturist, practicing at the McMinn Clinic in Homewood. I was instantly full of intrigue and questions and, well, shudders. She patiently elaborated on the fascinating theory of the ancient medical procedure, was so enthusiastic about the results she sees in her practice and explained that the acupuncture needle is so thin and painless that I should regard it more like a cat whisker. Well, cat whiskers couldn’t possibly scare me unless I happened to notice them protruding from the clenched teeth of one of my mischievous canines. So, I opened my mind a bit to the concept.

Here is a brief synopsis of what I have learned from her:

Some of the earliest records of acupuncture would place its origins near 200BCE

Some of the earliest records of acupuncture would place its origins near 200BCE

Acupuncture is among the oldest healing arts in the world, dating back thousands of years in China. The practice aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body by insertion and manipulation of needles by the practitioner’s skilled hands or by electrical impulse.

My personal research revealed that acupuncture administered by a qualified professional is highly respected for it’s efficacy in various types of chronic and  episodic pain relief. For example, independent studies support claims of substantial relief from arthritis pain, neck pain, migraines and nausea, just to name a few. Dr. Walbert tells me that she also has had tremendous success in the realms of addiction, and even non-surgical cosmetic enhancements. Evidentally the stimulation of facial muscles over a course of treatment causes them to tighten. I viewed the before and after photos in her office and it truly is amazing.

So, how does one become a qualified in this field? Well, it is a lengthy process involving a five-year program to get a master’s degree in oriental medicine, finishing with a state exam as well as a national board exam. The title “doctor” is given because you are “doctoring” by profession, though you are not an MD. Classes range from internal medicine to gynocology, just as in western medicine, but from a different perspective.

I became convinced enough in the validity of this ancient and modern practice that I volunteered my dutiful associate to undergo a procedure that I could photograph. Tony, being a self-righteous non-needle phobe was the perfect guinea pig. After interviewing him at length to determine the state of his overall health, Dr. Walbert decided that a general stress relieving treatment was in order.  As you can see from the graphic images, he didn’t mind the experience a bit.


I was surprised that he never even winced as the needles were inserted. The treatment took about 45 minutes. When it was over I can tell you that this Type A personality was uncommonly mellow. He reported feelings of well-being and calm.

After some nudging I agreed to give it a go. Upon insertion, the feelings ranged, depending upon the placement of the “cat whisker,” from an almost imperceptible tingle, to a short-burst zing. But I didn’t faint or cry. Yay! And after, I had an energized, euphoric feeling. I don’t know if that is a result of our different body chemistries or mindsets or the specifics of the procedure. But, in both cases, it was positive.

Of course, if we were actually seeking relief from a particular ailment, we would embark on a regular and on-going specific treatment plan. This was merely an introduction to the process and experience. According to Dr. Walbert, a general rule is that the longer an imbalance has been within someone, the longer it will take to restore balance and well–being. Sometimes,it will only take three treatments. For example,  in the case of acute muscle or tendon injuries, relief can be found in a short series of treatments. However, insomnia, chronic fatigue, depression and other more serious conditions may require a commitment to 10 sessions or more. In cases of infertility, women may expect a series of treatments that last over several months.

So, if you are considering acupuncture therapy, there are some things you should know:

First, you will need to find a qualified practitioner. You may want to get a referral from your health care provider. If you prefer, there are national acupuncture organizations which can be found through libraries or web search engines that may provide referrals in your area. As with any professional service, be sure to check out the credentials. Your provider should be licensed. This ensures that your provider meets certain standards regarding the knowledge and use of acupuncture.

Dr. Walbert

During your first office visit, the practitioner will interview you at length to determine your overall health condition, lifestyle and behavioral habits. It is important to assess your specific needs and to understand any behaviors that may contribute to your condition. You should be prepared to inform the acupuncturist about all medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have.

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