Every single patient I see in my acupuncture clinic is unique. They have their personal lifestyle, specific struggles, and each has very different needs. The one thing that never changes from patient to patient is that I learn something from each and every one. Most of the time I learn little bits and pieces about being a better acupuncturist, but every once in a while, I am dealt a major life lesson.
Mostly what I learn is about the practice of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, as well as how to better care for my patients. Here are a few nuggets that stand out to me:
1) Most patients want a cheerleader in getting well, not a nag. I used to try to hold my patients accountable for their poor health habits, but it just made them feel guilty. Now, I explain how their lifestyle is affecting their health; explain the importance of change and how hard it can be; and applaud their efforts, no matter how small, at getting well.
2) They also want a partner to help them when they do choose to make a change. Many want to know about Chinese food therapy, help in curbing their cravings, at-home care for dealing with their stress and ideas for moving their body without aggravating their pain or injury. All this can be done without nagging.
3) Listening is therapeutic. I have had a number of patients who have told me that just my listening to them was enough to help them feel better–the acupuncture was a bonus! This is something that acupuncturists do really well; listening is a natural part of the intake, but it’s also very healing.
4) Stress creates heat. As practitioners, we know this, but sometimes that constrained heat can be masked by other symptoms, such as high blood pressure, inflammation, or menopause. I’ve had a male patient tell me he felt like he was having hot flashes, which was actually stress-related heat. However, when busy women in their forties or fifties tell me they’re having hot flashes or night sweats, it can be a little trickier. Sometimes it’s stress; sometimes it’s menopause; sometimes it’s both.
5) I have learned that very depleted patients need fewer needles than those who are hearty or have excess patterns. Signs of over needling include feeling wiped out or fatigued after the treatment and muscle weakness.
6) Often patients will tell you exactly what’s going on–if you listen. I’ve had a patient who was suffering from damp heat tell me she felt like she was always fighting her way out of a wet paper bag. More than one patient has told me that they just need some kind of movement; clearly describing their stagnation. When you ask them what they need, frequently your patients will do the diagnosing for you.
7) Patients don’t want to feel like they’re “cheating” on their Western doctors. Don’t make them feel guilty if they’re taking medications; they don’t want to take them either. Help them see an alternative, and help them to get better so they can taper off, if possible–with your support and the help of their doc.
8) Also, I don’t hesitate to refer your patients to a Western doctor if I’m in doubt about the seriousness of their condition. Things like shortness of breath; a very slow, very fast, or very irregular heart rate; abdominal pain, infections, and the like may actually be a medical emergency. Play it safe.
9) I have found that it’s possible to drink too much water. Over the years, I’ve had a few patients with dampness issues like chronic diarrhea and bladder symptoms who were drinking several liters of water each day. When they cut their water intake (and had acupuncture treatments), their symptoms resolved completely.
10) Never, ever talk about politics with your patients. Ever. You don’t know if they’re going to be on your side of the fence or not, and it’s not really a place you want to go.
11) Finally, realize that your patients are listening to you. They view you as the expert, and any casual remarks or offhand comments you make will be taken to heart. So speak wisely, Grasshopper!