Acupuncture - alternative medicine

Hanoi, Vietnam

By Pauline Tweedie

About three weeks ago, I went away for the weekend to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a collection of 3,000 islands that rise straight out of the water. It is about 100 kilometres from Hanoi, off the northeast coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. The name, Ha Long, means "Where the Dragon Descends into the Sea." The legend says that a dragon who lived in the mountains created the islands. As it ran towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. As it plunged into the sea, the areas dug up by the tail became filled with water, leaving only bits of high land visible. I actually stayed on Cat Ba Island, which is the largest island in the Halong Bay region. Two-thirds of the island is a national park and it has 20,000 inhabitants. It is possible to hike for several days through the National Park but I only did a one-day hike and then took a boat back to the main harbour.

Unfortunately, while I was on Cat Ba Island, I got very ill but I had no idea what was wrong. I was eventually diagnosed with gallstones. Gallstones are small collections of protein and cholesterol that are not used by the body. The doctors at the International Hospital told me that the only way to get rid of gallstones was surgery. I did not want to have surgery so I decided to try an alternative medicine, acupuncture. The acupuncture will not eliminate my gallstones but it will reduce my chances of having another attack.

Acupuncture has been around as a form of medicine for over 5,000 years. Originally discovered by the Chinese, the Vietnamese have been practising acupuncture for almost as long. There are various clinics around Vietnam that specialize in acupuncture. The National Institute of Acupuncture, located in Hanoi, is world-renowned for its technique of using acupuncture anaesthetic instead of general or local anaesthetic for surgery.

The number of needles used for anaesthetic depends on the type of surgery being performed. I witnessed a throat operation where the patient had only eight needles inserted in her hands and throat. Then they connected electrodes to each needle and slowly increased the intensity of the pulse. After 30 minutes the patient was still awake but could not feel anything and they were ready to operate. The benefits of having acupuncture anaesthetic are much less blood loss, fewer adverse side effects and the patient recovers quicker. It is important for the patient to be awake throughout the surgery because then the doctor can make sure he does not sever her vocal cords.

I go to acupuncture once a week and they put four needles in my stomach. Everyone always asks, “Does it hurt?” To tell you the truth, it hurts about as much as a mosquito bite. I feel a little pressure as the needle goes in, but nothing else. The needle is very small. If you've ever had an injection, about 10-12 acupuncture needles can fit into a regular hypodermic needle.

I'm sure you are all wondering, so does it work? Acupuncture has successfully treated a number of medical problems ranging from insomnia and cataracts to arthritis and drug addiction. Personally, all I can say is that it worked for me and I have not had any more attacks. I guess you could say that I'm a believer in alternative medicine now.

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