Sharp stabbing pain in my lower back was all I could think about. As a general surgeon, pain is something that brings patients to my office, but not something I personally experience often. However on this day, pain was ruining my family vacation. Little did I know that Chinese medicine, in the form of acupuncture would save the day!
We were on a ski vacation, and I was holding my 2 year and skiing a few hundred yards down the slope to his “ski school," when I felt a twinge of pain in the center of my lower back. I remember feeling a similar twinge about 10 years ago. This one didn't seem to hurt, so I didn't give it much thought at the time. After ski school drop off, I got on the lift and headed to the top of the mountain with my wife and some of her siblings. By the time we got off the lift, my lower back pain was seized in sharp, stabbing pain. I could no longer stand up straight. It took all of my will power to make my way back down the mountain to get to our condominium room, where I could rest. I was in the most pain I’ve ever had in my life. My lower back muscles were in spasm, and any kind of movement was almost impossible. I was worried that my ski vacation was over.
Lucky for all of us, Eric Karchmer, my brother in law, was also on this family vacation. He is not only trained in Chinese Medicine but also carries acupuncture needles in his travel bag. Eric said knew just what to do. It involved sticking a long, thin needle into the side of my hand. Yes, he would be sticking a needle into the source of my livelihood, in the hand that holds the scalpel for my surgical practice.
I was in so much pain that I consented, and to this day, I am thankful. Within 30 seconds of Eric placing the needle in my hand the spasms resolved and the sharp lower back pain abated. I was left with a dull throbbing ache, but was able to stand, sit, and walk within a few minutes. I was flabbergasted that a needle in the side of my hand could resolve acute lower back pain. From the surgeon's perspective, there is no anatomical or physiological connection between the hand and lower back. Eric explained that according meridian theory in Chinese medicine, the point on the side of my hand has a special relationship with the Governing Vessel, the meridian that travels the length of the spine, and Bladder meridian, which travels along both sides of the spine. Needling that the point opens these meridians and quickly stops the spasms. Instead of many days of total incapacitation, most patients will feel just a little weakness in the spot where the spasms were happening. Within a day or two, most patients can resume all of their normal activities.
I have since seen Eric in action several times and have had quite a few of my own surgical patients report good outcomes with Chinese medicine treatments, both acupuncture and Chinese herbs, for various pain or digestive complaints. When I feel that Western Medicine does not have an answer for one of my patients, I now always refer them for to an acupuncturist or a Chinese medicine herbalist before offering “exploratory” surgery. It’s also the way I treat my family and friends.