Complementary and Alternative Medicine

My first experience with acupuncture was perhaps 15 years ago when I was struggling with insomnia.  I would go to bed at 11 pm, fall asleep easily, and wake each night between 1 and 1:30…and then lie in bed and count the hours until dawn.  I was aware of and used every sleep hygiene practice that I could.  I used melatonin with some relief and was prescribed Ambien but quickly stopped using it since it was only partially effective and the side effects were unacceptable.  I did a sleep study at the University of Washington and when they found no reason for the insomnia they suggested that I was only imagining that I was lying awake all night…every night…

Years of sleepless nights went by before I heard about the use of acupuncture to treat insomnia.  What did I have to lose.  My western mind struggled to understand how lying like a pin cushion might relieve my condition but I decided to give it a try and go into it with an open mind.  I’m lucky to live in Seattle, within driving distance of Bastyr University and its teaching clinic and while the Seattle area has many great natural health providers, many of them graduates of Bastyr, I went straight to the source and sought help at their teaching clinic.

The first session was very interesting.  My care was provided by students, supervised by a professor of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.  A very long, thorough conversation about my medical history was followed by the feeling of THREE pulses on each wrist and observations of my tongue; diagnostic procedures I had never experienced in western medicine.  I then moved to a comfortable table where approximately 20 needles were inserted, most painlessly and the rest with only minor sensation.  When all was in place, I was asked to lie and relax for 20 – 30 minutes.  The needles were then removed and I went home.  The first experience was very new and strange and I only had slight improvement in my sleep, but I went back….

….by the end of my fourth treatment, I was sleeping through the night!!  I had not slept through the night for years and without medication….I was sleeping!!  Acupuncture had a new fan!  I returned to Bastyr when I got my cancer diagnosis to see a naturopath and a nutritionist.  They helped me identify my unique nutritional needs and introduced me to high quality supplements.  I recommend similar guidance to anyone facing gastrectomy or major surgery to the digestive system.

In September 2014, I had surgery to deroof a huge cyst on my liver.  Fluids removed from the cyst would have filled FOUR Starbucks Grande cups!!  The surgery went well, I went home with a Jackson Pratt drain, and began the slow process of healing.  A few days later, my body started to shut down.  I crawled back into the hospital and after doing some tests and x-rays, it was discovered that I had developed two bowel obstructions post-surgery.  We had to go back in and repair the obstructions.  My original outpatient surgery turned into a week in the hospital and six weeks off work….and weeks and weeks of slow recovery after that.  Earlier this year (2016), 18 months later, my digestive system was still not functioning well.  Since my partial gastrectomy in 2008 I’ve learned to listen to my body, I’ve studied nutrition and the digestive system, I’ve learned the tricks that I need to keep my unique digestive system functioning as well as possible.  I couldn’t seem to quite get it right…nothing dire, just not ideal.  I could go to any one of my western medicine doctors but I knew how the visit would go:  10 minutes listening to story and going home with a new prescription.  I don’t want that…

I want my body to function as optimally as possible with as few prescription medications as possible.  Remembering my prior experience with acupuncture, I visited a local acupuncture therapist and asked her to help me with my digestive function and the fatigue that I had also been struggling with.  I felt improvement after the first session and have returned monthly for these and other issues.  It’s been a great help!  I’m particularly excited about the success that we’re having with GERD and the stricture at my LES.  I’ve had to take a proton pump inhibitor since my surgery in 2008 (twice a day for most of those years).  The PPI makes me prone to bacterial and fungal infections in my gut, affects nutrient absorption, and makes me more prone to osteoporosis….which I was diagnosed with in 2014 at the age of 52.  I have desperately wanted to get off PPI’s but have been unable to because the stricture will then prevent me from swallowing.  Acupuncture, plus the use of DGL Licorice, has enabled me to reduce PPI usage to once a day and I have had quite a few days when I have been able to skip the PPI altogether!

After my last acupuncture session, in which I had mentioned tension in my neck and shoulders, my therapist said that she wanted to try cupping and gua sha to give me some relief….would I be willing?  Sure!  I had seen cupping marks on Michael Phelps recently at the Olympics but had never experienced cupping myself.  I was eager for some relief.  Our office had moved to a new building and the adjustment to a new desk and computer was causing tension for me and many of my co-workers.  Both the cupping and the gua sha were very helpful and I’ve actually continued to apply self-gua sha at home since.  See Google or YouTube for more information.


Like many, I work in a cubicle, spending eight hours a day sitting at a computer.  This work can result in some tight muscles and other problems so in additional to regular acupuncture treatments I also get massage therapy once a month.  I also use chinese herbs recommended by my acupuncture therapist for seasonal allergies (they work amazingly well!…and they work for my dog, too!), and I practice yoga, pranayama, and meditation.  I have quite a collection of supplements and essential oils and, of course, a healthy diet is so important.

I have some great doctors and, of course, if I need the help of western medicine, I don’t hesitate to act.  But….there can be a lot of benefit from ancient eastern medicine:  TCM, ayurveda, acupunture, sujok, yoga.  And…there’s a lot to be said for good common sense:  educating and advocating for yourself and listening to your body.

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