Charles Jones was stretched out on his stomach and feeling so relaxed. Across his buttocks, down his left leg, and protruding porcupine fashion from his left foot and toes were 35 small, thread-thin, stainless steel needles.
For more than 10 years, Jones had been plagued by back pain. “It began radiating down my left leg,” he said. ‘I had been to a chiropractor, an orthopedic surgeon, a regular doctor. You name it, I tried it. The orthopedic surgeon gave me a brace and some pain pills.
There was nothing else he could do.”Jones, an athletically built, 28-year-old Fort Lauderdale man, took pain killers and tranquilizers during the day.
And when he couldn’t sleep at night, he’d pop sleeping pills. “The pain was always there,” he said.
Then last month, a southern branch of the Washington Acupuncture Center opened in Fort Lauderdale just south of Commercial Boulevard. on Federal Highway. “I was at a point where I’d try anything,” he said. Jones walked in, described his problem to the director Yao Wu (Sam) Lee.
A few minutes later, after being examined by a general practitioner, he was ushered into a small cubicle.
He partially disrobed, lay down on the bed, and the treatment began. At each spot where a needle would be inserted, the skin was swabbed with alcohol. “Do you feel that,” asked the acupuncturist as the needle was pushed in and twirled.
“You feel it,” Jones said “but it’ not real by pain.
For about 20 minutes, Jones lay under a heat lamp looking like a human pincushion. The first day, he had 17 needles inserted, the second day, 20 and the third, 35.
The results were amazing. “After the first day, the pain was gone,” he said. “My back was stiff but there was no pain. I was waiting all day bong for something to happen, for the pain to come back, but it didn’t. I played racquetball and everything, and it still didn’t comeback.”
In the five years since the Washington Acupuncture Center opened (it was the first in the nation), Lee and his staff have treated more than 20,000 persons, among them politicians, dignitaries from around the world, 600 MDs, and just plain folks at the end of their ropes.
“Mayo Clinic refers some patients to us,” Lee said. “And we were working with George Washington University on a research project with arthritic patients.”
How or why acupuncture works, nobody knows. But the testimonials of the patients leave little doubt that for some people a little artful needling is a great panacea “It is not 100 percent.” said Lee, who was born 49 years ago in Shantung and studied
Chinese medicine there. “Nothing works for everybody. But 85 percent of the people get total relief for from two to five years.”
Because of the large number of patients traveling from Florida to Washington for treatments, Lee decided last year to open a clinic in St. Petersburg. He followed this month with the opening of the East Coast clinic in Fort Lauderdale.
‘It’s difficult for patients, senior citizens particularly, to travel,” Lee said “And the trav~ and the hotel were costing more than the treatments.”
Lee, who has licensed physicians at all his centers. says there is no conflict between western medicine and the oriental art of acu puncture. “Acupuncture as a medical healing art should be integrated into American medicine to supplement it, he said.
Western medicine generally has been ineffective, he says, in combating chronic pain, nerological disorders, cerebral palsy and a long list of other ailments. “Acupuncture can treat a lot of different illnesses,” he said, “but we treat them only as a last resort.”
These are conditions that over a period of time have proven to be unresponsive to more traditional methods. “Most of our patients come with complaints of pain. For 90 percent, acupuncture is a last resort.”
There are limitations, though. Lee said acupuncture should never be used as treatment for cancer, infections, severed nerves, nutritional deficiencies, varicose veins, tumors, blood dyscrasias, (a general term for blood diseases) or heart disease.
Each patient is given a complete physical by one of the two general practitioners at the center before he even gets close to a needle. If his condition seems more amenable to western medicine, he is told to go to a specialist or his own private physician. If it’s felt acupuncture will help, he proceeds to the treatment room.
“In the beginning I was very skeptical,” said Dr. Antonio Ortiz, the general practitioner at the Fort Lauderdale center. “But I have seen things I can’t explain, especially in the field of pain relief. In some cases, it really works impressively.”
In other cases, he admits, patients have told him they have not gotten relief.
The patient is charged for the physical Each acupuncture treatment runs $25. Lee re commends a series of 6 to 10 sessions for must conditions.
A 25-year-old woman who had come complaining of fatigue was serenely resting under a heat lamp. She seemed oblivious to the needles dotting her face, her arm, her feet. “I feel really good, very relaxed.” she said. This was her second treatment.
After her first visit, she explained, she went home and slept deeply for hours. When she awoke, she was surging with energy. “I ran on the beach and I felt I could just keep going -forever. Unfortunately, I had to go to work.”
Relaxation. Everyone talks about the feeling of total relaxation. “You’re not tired. You’re just completely relaxed,” one patient said.
Mrs. Dennis Cronin, who is in real estate sales in West Palm Beach, was “out of mind with pain fur three days.” The problem – stiff neck and spasms. The pain shut up her neck and across her scalp. “I couldn’t even get my mouth open to eat because of the spasms.”
She went to her husband’s doctor. “He wanted to put me in traction.” the 51 year-old-woman said. When she balked, he gave her tranquilizers and said she’d have to live with it at least temporarily.
By that night, the pain was so severe she couldn’t lift or turn her head. She couldn’t sit up or lie down. “It was unbelievable,”
She remembered seeing the sign for the Washington Acupuncture Center a few days before while driving through Fort Lauderdale and picked up the phone. It was 9 p.m.. but Lee was there. “I’ll give you an appointment for tomorrow morning.” he said.
“I didn’t really expect it to work,” she admits. “But had to do something.”
After the initial treatment, the pain was still there. Lee told her to sit in a chair. He began working the needles again. He expressed concern that Mrs. Cronin had not ‘eaten. Acupuncture on an empty stomach can cause nausea, he told her, but suddenly the pain began subsiding. Mrs. Cronin began moving her head again – up, down, to the left and the right. And once again, she was abbe to swallow.
By the third treatment, “Ninety-nine and three-quarters of the pain was gone. I was floored. I had been in such a frantic frenzy and now it was gone without drugs.”
Bette Daniel’s problem, if not as painful, was perhaps more serious. In 1972 she was told she had multiple sclerosis, a neurological disorder that can affect the brain and the spinal cord. “My whole body was numb,” she said. “I staggered around as though I was drunk and all you had to do was look at me cross-eyed and I’d start crying.
“Mrs. Daniel read a magazine piece by a man who shared her problem. He found relief, he wrote, in Taiwan with a miraculous thing called acupuncture. ‘After reading that I was ready to take a tramp steamer anywhere,” she said. She heard about the Washington Center and in April 1973 underwent the needle.
After the first treatment, she was able to sign her name legibly. After the ninth treatment, she regained feeling throughout her body, with the exception of the cushions of her hands.
For the first time in months, she wasn’t staggering. When she sat down to take a typing test, she batted out 90 words a minute. A few weeks before, she had to brace her hands on the typewriter and even then she couldn’t make the fingers perform. Emotionally too, “I was 1,000 percent better.”
Mrs. Daniel is feeling fine now “without any drugs. without acupuncture I would be a vegetable today,” she says.
Mrs. Daniel has suggested acupuncture to others with multiple sclerosis (MS). For some, she notes, it hasn’t worked. “It has to be a mental thing, too,” she figures. “You have to believe it’s going to work to get the full benefit.”
Mrs. Daniel’s physician says she has not been in for a visit since her acupuncture experience. He has seen her, though, and says, “She looks very good.”
But there is a danger in passing off any treatment as the answer to MS. “It is a disease with an unpredictable course, the doctor explains. “A person can have MS and it will leave and the person will be perfectly well and normal for the rest of his life without any recurring symptoms.”
Lee, who says he’s willing to participate in any double blind MS experiment, contends, “Our rate of success in relieving symptoms is much higher than could be expected from spontaneous remissions.”
With most patients, he says, 10 treatments are enough to bring about a remission that lasts for years. With others, a booster treatment every four to eight months is required.
Among the many conditions Lee claims to have treated successfully with acupuncture are nerve deaf-ness, obesity, migraine headaches, arthritis, tennis elbow, cerebral palsy, insomnia, paralysis, and a long list of others.
For more than 3000 years, Chinese who felt pained, sick, dragged out or depressed would travel to the acupuncturist. In a painless ritual, he would prick away their pain.
The art of acupuncture is based upon the ancient Chinese theory of Yin and Yang, which states that in the body, as in the universe, there is a flow of energy which must be kept in balance and harmony. In the body, this energy travels along meridians. If these meridians become blocked, energy cannot circulate and pain or loss of function occurs.
Along the meridians, more than 1,-000 hoku, or acupuncture, points have been identified. By stimulating these points with a needle placed just under the skin, and worked up and down and twisted around, the blockage is removed and the energy flow reactivated.
Beware though: Not every oriental with a set of needles is an acupuncturist. False credentials can be obtained easily in Hong Kong and Tai-wan, Lee warns. In the hands of the unskilled, acupuncture can be dangerous.
Lee requires six years of training plus 10 years of experience for every one of the acupuncturists working at his centers. “And they work under the close supervision of a licensed western physician,” he said.
Lee himself was educated in Shantung, China. He moved to Taiwan and later to Israel where he received his Master, and Ph .D. in medical electronics from Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. In 1972, he came to this country.
Lee feels it’s only a matter of time before acupuncture is accepted more widely in western medical practice. “Since no drugs are used and no tissues are destroyed, it is safer than many other methods of treatment.” It is also less expensive.
As an anesthesia, he said, there is less bleeding and a quicker recovery after surgery than with more traditional methods. Again, he says, it is safer and more economical than with the anesthetics usually used for surgery. “Out of every 4,000 operations in this country, one patient dies not from the surgery, but from the anesthesia.
Lee would like to see more research done on acupuncture. And he’d like to see acupuncture covered by Medicare and private health in surance programs. A few companies, he says like Aetna, Travelers and Mutual of Omaha, already cover acupuncture.