Amateur Rehab Acupuncture

It was a fluorescent lit, sterile, grey and taupe boardroom, the usual corporate aesthetic that exists everywhere and anywhere. This rehab facility seemed grim and desolate at first glance, and it had none of the posh country club atmosphere of the place I attended during my last stint on the west coast. It’s my first day here; I’m on the receiving end of a cacophony of institutional sounds as I sit in the reception office – the steady humming of fluorescent lights, a door slamming, distant footsteps down a hallway, laughter issuing from somewhere remote, and finally, a team of people walk into the room to greet me. Firm handshakes are exchanged and polite introductions follow. One man stepped forward and said to me: “Welcome brother. You’re in the right place, dude. Stick with this program and it will change your life. It saved mine.” A pat on my shoulder…

I got in at noon and participated in a somewhat grueling and invasive intake process followed by a hot meal. The word on the first floor is that acupuncture is being offered upstairs by one of the counsellors. Having used acupuncture in the past, I was enthused about this and I made my way up to the boardroom on the next floor. I found myself sitting in an awkward silence with one other client, feeling isolated and sensitized to the alien sounds of a new environment. I sank down into a standard, wooden office chair like a soggy slug, my arms limp and hanging over the wooden arms.

After twenty minutes or so, a young-looking counsellor walked into the room and introduced himself. He was short in stature with a pale complexion, and he sported a goatee that I surmised was a foil to hide his boyish features. He appeared to affect a mature demeanour although I detected a certain lack of confidence from his quick and jerky body movements, and his rapid speech had a somewhat tight tonal quality. He rubbed his hands together and said: “Alright guys. Um – this is my first actual applied session as an acupuncturist, and uh, I just finished training on Tuesday. Well. Uh. Let’s get started then…”.

“Fuck”, I thought. “Am I his guinea pig? Am I supposed to feel reassured?”

The next twenty minutes or so were spent observing the counsellor and would-be acupuncturist struggling to establish an internet connection so that he could set the mood with a “Zen Meditation YouTube mix”. His visibly stressful attempt to diagnose and fix the internet issue contaminated my own experience further with more stress. Finally, after sitting silently for a period of time, I explained to him that I didn’t need a “YouTube mix” for an acupuncture treatment. He finally shrugged his shoulders and gave up. Just as he reached for his kit of needles pulling out some gauze and a pair of rubber gloves, he suddenly remembered that there was a CD of meditation music he could play on the PA system in the boardroom as an alternative. I now wonder if this is more for him than for me. He made it clear at this point that it was not the best mix. “I prefer the sounds of nature”, he said.

Flute sounds issued forth accompanied by gentle guitar music. The sound of a light breeze was added for ambience. The music reminded me of something a wealthy, middle-aged mother would play as she sat at her potter’s wheel, fashioning earth-toned urns for her Rosedale garden. I imagine a scenario in her studio where notes fills the air with tranquility, while her husband sits in the next room, a remote in one hand and a ice-filled glass that clinks with every sip of an 18 year old Chivas Regal, while her two young teenage sons secretly vape marijuana and watch porn on their iphones as they crouch under the Rosedale Bridge. This CD really means a great deal to my imagined mom as a way for her to relax and contemplate her work. For me, however, I was too aware of its functional nature to create simulated inner peace. It wasn’t cynicism – it was circumstance.

The pins were inserted into my ears, and the counsellor explained that this will stimulate my heart, spleen, liver and kidneys. Ow, man, this hurts, I thought. I’ve done a lot of acupuncture before and I never experienced this kind of sharp pain. Was I really so toxic that I would react to a subtle prick of a needle? Or, was the counsellor so much of an amateur that he did not really know how to administer the needles properly.

He then turned off the lights and the music played on. He said in a hushed tone: “Okay, now close your eyes and embrace the moment. Please remain seated at all times. Remain in your body – in this calming moment for the entire duration of this forty minute session”. Then he left the room, closing the door quietly behind him, and I heard him whistling a spritely tune while walking down the hallway. The other client and I were left sitting alone in the dark, listening to my imagined mom’s tranquil meditation music. It took a few disconcerting minutes but eventually I began to relax into the moment. I was feeling more present and optimistic. And just then the CD began to skip with a repeat of a musical note of the flute and a whoosh in a loop. It did not let up for the duration of the session.