Some of my friends have had acupuncture done before, so I knew basically what to expect; I just wanted to know if it really worked, and how it felt. I also love Dr. Kim, the traditional Korean doctor down the street from my house. Lisa and I went to dinner with him and his wife earlier this week. They are extremely generous, loving people - their family spent four years in Uzbekistan while Dr. Kim gave free treatment to local villagers, and he has also spent time in Sri Lanka doing the same. He has a very calming demeanor, and I can't help but smile when I'm around him. He speaks English rather well, but he speaks it in such a way that he seems to be mulling over each individual word for maximum meaning and impact before speaking it, so he has a very slow, melodic manner of communicating that is entrancing and endearing.
Anyway, I visited his office at 9am Friday before school. My neck had been killing me all through the night; I slept terribly, and could barely lift my head from the pillow in the morning. I wasn't sure I'd be able to go to school that day. I only had two classes scheduled, so I wouldn't have felt terrible about it, but I wanted to see how I felt after Dr. Kim's treatment.
His office is very pleasant, with lots of natural light and a heavy (but not overpowering) smell of herbs. I waited for about 5 minutes and was called back to see him. I told him my story and that my neck was extremely sore. He held my wrist and felt my pulse for about a minute (though he didn't time it), after which he declared that my condition wasn't serious. He recommended that I do several acupuncture sessions, which I agreed to.
His desk is within the same room as the patients' quarters; small, well-apportioned cubicles with modest beds and a heat lamp. I took off my shirt and socks as instructed, and sat in a legless chair on the bed with my knees propped up over a pillow. He came in and, using a small metal tube that seemed to work much like a ball-point pen, inserted several small metal needles in my skin - three near my shoulder blades, one in the outside of my left food, and one in the outer flesh of my left hand, which I had balled into a fist. He left me in that position for about ten minutes, with a heat lamp directed toward my back.
After he removed the needles, I lay down on my stomach and he placed two large heating pads over my shoulders and neck, for another ten minutes.
The third treatment was fire cupping, in which Dr. Kim sprayed alcohol into four clay cups, lit them on fire, and placed them down onto my back. The fire went out immediately and created a suction effect, drawing skin into the cup and blood into the skin. Again he directed the heat lamp to my back and I lay there for another ten minutes. He applied a large herb patch over one of the cup marks, and gave me some herbal medicines to take three times a day. The cost? 6,400 won (6 USD). I made an appointment to come back and see him the following day.
Although my neck didn't feel 100% better, the pain had decreased significantly. Where before my neck was suffering from sharp, shooting pains whenever I moved my head, now the pain had dulled substantially and I had regained some of the range of motion in my neck. I felt elated, as if I had been dosed with anti-anxiety medication, and practically skipped my way to work.
Throughout the entire day, including the night, the pain in my neck never increased. I had expected the effects of the treatment to wear off, particularly overnight. But I slept soundly and when I woke up this morning for my second treatment, my neck felt quite spry.
I think I may have to start listing Dr. Kim as my "family doctor" from now on.
Acupuncture is extremely common in Korea - most of my co-teachers regularly visit their local traditional Korean doctor when they have aches, pains, or illness. It's almost always their first line of treatment.
For more on health care in Korea, see below: