As a medical student I had the great fortune to spend a winter in Beijing, China, at an urban children’s hospital that used traditional Chinese medicine as well as modern Western methods. Eager to learn all I could, I asked one of the doctors to give me an acupuncture treatment. Since my arrival in Beijing I had been severely congested with thick yellow mucous, attributed by me to getting used to the heavy coal-dusted atmosphere.

Hearing this, the Chinese doctor proceeded to stick several tiny needles into my face and neck. Each one she twirled and adjusted, saying “tell me when I hit the spot.” My confusion cleared as I felt a sense of sudden pressure and warmth when the needle hit what was clearly “the spot.” The needles were left in place for a while, then removed. The following morning I awoke snot-free and with a mind as open as my sinuses.

More recently, I have consulted a Doctor of Oriental Medicine right here in Albuquerque. She looks at my tongue, feels a total of nine pulses in my wrists, and deftly places thin needles in whatever points she deems necessary to restore my balance. Once the needles are in place, she leaves me alone to lie quietly in a dimly lit room while my meridian channels are opened up and my Chi gets flowing.

Sometimes I sense nothing during this twenty-minute period; other times I experience tingling or warmth. After she removes the needles I go about my day, feeling at once relaxed and refreshed.
Acupuncture has been used for centuries by the Chinese for pain control and treatment of various illnesses. Very generally speaking, the purpose of acupuncture is to balance the flow of Chi. Chi is a complex and subtle concept that can very loosely be described as life energy. If Chi flow is blocked in one place, or too heavy in another, illness results.

Acupuncture is one tool used by Doctors of Oriental Medicine, who are highly trained specialists. These providers take a very holistic approach and may also use nutrition and Chinese herbs to help their patients achieve mind-body balance.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit the People’s Republic of China. Nixon is famous now for his role in opening relations between the two countries. Some months prior to Nixon’s trip, an American reporter named James Reston, part of Nixon’s advance team, developed acute appendicitis while in Peking.

Chinese surgeons removed the infected organ. After the operation, Reston experienced severe post-operative pain and agreed to be treated with acupuncture. It worked, and his article about the experience made it the front page of the New York Times. This was the first time many Americans had even heard of acupuncture, and his article became a key to opening Western minds.

In recent decades, acupuncture has become increasingly accepted in this country. The needles have been shown to stimulate certain hormones and biochemical mediators such as endorphins (natural painkillers), but beyond that, the exact mechanism is so far unexplained in Western terms. Regardless, the record of millions of successful treatments carries a certain weight that many health insurance companies will now take to the bank, covering acupuncture treatments alongside prescription medications and surgery.

Some conditions for which acupuncture is used include pain, insomnia, anxiety, intestinal problems, asthma, hormonal issues, post-traumatic stress, addiction and fatigue.

The really good news about acupuncture is that you don’t have to cross the ocean to try it. You don’t even have to leave campus.

Student Health and Counseling has our very own Doctor of Oriental Medicine on staff, Paul Rossignol. If you would like to consult with him, call SHAC at 277-3136 to make an appointment.

Dr. Peggy Spencer is a physician at Student Health and Counseling. She is also co-author of the book “50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.” Email your questions directly to her at All questions will be considered, and all questioners will remain anonymous.