Monday, October 5, 2009

Now, Let Me Tell You About My Appendectomy in Peking...

Many people have heard of the 1971 New York Times article by James Reston about his experience with acupuncture in his recovery from an emergency appendectomy. Reston was in China at the time, which was quite unusual in the first place. In 1971 China was in the grip of the Cultural Revolution, and very few foreigners were allowed into the country. He had an appendectomy the standard biomedical way, but for post-surgical pain was treated with acupuncture and moxibustion:

However, I was in considerable discomfort if not pain during the second night after the operation, and Li Chang-yuan, doctor of acupuncture at the hospital, with my approval, inserted three long thin needles into the outer part of my right elbow and below my knees and manipulated them in order to stimulate the intestine and relieve the pressure and distension of the stomach.

That sent ripples of pain racing through my limbs and, at least, had the effect of diverting my attention from the distress in my stomach. Meanwhile, Doctor Li lit two pieces of an herb called ai, which looked like the burning stumps of a broken cheap cigar, and held them close to my abdomen while occasionally twirling the needles into action.

All this took about 20 minutes, during which I remember thinking that it was a rather complicated way to get rid of gas in the stomach, but there was noticeable relaxation of the pressure and distension within an hour and no recurrence of the problem thereafter.

Reston's article provoked great interest in acupuncture. In 1976 California became the first state to license acupuncture, where just two years earlier pioneering acupuncturist Miriam Lee was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. My martial arts teacher Dr. Alex Feng was one of the first acupuncturists licensed in California (his license number is 297 - mine is 13299).

In 2006 a Chinese publication, the People's Daily, wrote a follow-up which had an interview with some of the original doctors mentioned in Reston's article.

Hope you enjoy this bit of acupuncture history: Now, Let Me Tell You About My Appendectomy in Peking... (full article)

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