Eastern Voodoo in a Small Town

Candice lives in an isolated farming community; she and I have worked together for the last 2+ weeks to improve her safety and to transition her from a walker to quad cane after she had been hospitalized for 3 weeks following abdominal surgery and a subsequent incisional infection. She is now ready for outpatient care and I was preparing to walk out the door.

.   .   .   .

Are there any additional questions or concerns that I can address for you, ma’am?

Yes. What do you think about acupuncture?

What do I think, or what do I understand?

What’s the difference?

Without pulling punches, I think that those who practice acupuncture are either uninformed, willfully ignorant or charlatans. I understand that acupuncture works no differently than a sugar pill.

Why do you say that it is a water pill?

Well, ma’am, after decades of research, where people receive real or pretend acupuncture, everyone gets better, but equally. It is no different than if we took 100 people in town with headaches and gave half Tylenol and the other half water pills. Both groups of people would get better to some extent, but the Tylenol group (on average) will improve more, because Tylenol has a meaningful effect. With acupuncture studies, they have discovered that acupuncture has no meaningful effect when compared to fake acupuncture.

So people get better, because they expect to get better?

Exactly. Someone dressed professionally, who is considered an expert, with a kind disposition and who speaks eloquently is going to increase your expectations of (and confidence in) success more than an unkept, unshaven, novice, who calls you ‘dude’. For instance, you are far more likely to feel better if you have me as a therapist than you would if you were to receive care from the guy in torn blue jeans.

I do really appreciate how you present yourself – you are very professional.

Thank you – but I also try my best to provide you with quality care, encouraging you to move in a way that is therapeutic, because movement has been proven, over and over again, to be more effective than a sugar pill and far exceeds the benefits of expectations alone. The same can not be said for acupuncture.

I see, I think I see what you are saying, but don’t you think they can find the right nerves to make you feel better?

First, I would question if sticking a nerve with a needle would be helpful – after all, people have back surgery, because the nerves in their back are being ‘poked’ by something, right? But to your point, nerves can be very small and they vary from person to person; your nerves have variations that are different than mine, that are different from your sister’s…Imagine for instance, taking a potted plant, pulling it out of the pot and shaking the soil from the roots. Then take the thin branches of the roots, set them on a flat surface, put a burlap over the top of the them (so you can no longer see them) and then find the exact same spot in the roots with a small needle three times in a row without peeking underneath. That is what acupuncturists claim to do – it is improbable, if not impossible.

I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t see how that can be true – I had acupuncture for my arm and it helped me.

I am glad that your symptoms have reduced, we just can’t be certain it was the needles themselves that helped you feel better.

Yes, he was wonderful. But I can’t see him anymore; he went to NJ to care for his aging parents. But he really knew what he was doing…and did I mention that he was Chinese? He was great – it’s a shame you never met, you would have liked him.

.   .   .   .

I just smiled – there was no way that I can compete with that.

She and her son still have 5 visits with the wellness office that they will never redeem; they had to prepay. She won’t go back because the ‘new guy isn’t as good as the old one.’

Like me, the new guy isn’t Chinese, which is only one of many variables that neither he, nor I, have control of.


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