When Barbara Clark suffered an injury to her hip in a fall at work in 1991 and the development of arthritis shortly thereafter, she described the pain as “unbearable.” She goes on to say that there were days when she could barely walk and she was filled with fear that her condition might never improve. Finding lasting relief for her pain and joint stiffness became a continual quest.
Like many with a debilitating and chronic condition, she often missed out on activities and events and found that depression hovered ever near – perhaps the most devastating symptom of combating an illness for which medical science does not yet hold a cure. She tried traditional treatments – pain medication and the use of traction – and while she gained some relief, Barbara felt driven to pursue a more holistic approach to healing and one that would perhaps stave off, for as long as possible, the inevitable surgery to replace the joint in her hip that had begun to deteriorate.
For Barbara, this meant exploring the world of acupuncture.
Acupuncture, originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. However, it was not until 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery, that acupuncture found recognition and acceptance in the United States.
The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
Barbara, facing a life-long fear of needles surpassed only by her unspeakable pain, in 1994 scheduled her first visit for acupuncture at NRH Regional Rehab at Bethesda. She states, “I was deathly afraid of those needles, but Dr. Wang was so skilled that I didn’t even feel them go in. I only felt what I can describe as a mild electrical current that Dr. Wang could ‘turn up or down’ depending on my level of comfort.”
And then something truly miraculous happened, according to Barbara. “Because of the pain, I hadn’t slept in six months, but I slept like a baby the night of that first treatment,” she says. And the effect was lasting. Over the course of twelve years, Barbara has returned to NRH Regional Rehab at Bethesda, and Dr. Wang, for regular acupuncture treatments every three or four weeks. But it’s more than that, says Barbara.
“Dr. Wang treated me with acupuncture, but she also taught me the importance of a balanced approach to wellness. She discussed with me breathing techniques, meditation and a good program of general exercise. She treated all of me.”
For Barbara, a retired 27-year veteran of the General Services Administration, the effects of her acupuncture treatment were so profound that she found herself in a new role: advocating for reimbursement of the service under the insurance policy for retired federal employees. She says, “Originally, the service wasn’t covered under my insurance, but it worked so well for me, the cost was worth it! Then, over the course of time, they started to cover it, but cut the number of visits a person can have each year. I wrote letters to Congress and even visited the Hill, explaining to them that, at one time, I couldn’t have walked up the steps to meet with them but that, thanks to acupuncture, my health and mobility were restored. There were many of us who advocated in this manner, and our insurance benefits for acupuncture were increased.”
Barbara recently underwent the hip replacement surgery that was first recommended to her over ten years ago. Not surprisingly, she credits acupuncture even with helping her move through the post-surgery pain. She says, “This treatment was a Godsend for me; I just can’t say enough. I don’t know what I would have done without it. I’m not knocking traditional medicine; it certainly has its place. But alternative medicine has its place too. It’s a combination of things they did for me at NRH that made the difference. I just truly believe that God gave us everything we need [to be healthy]; we just have to learn how to use it.”
Learn more about Acupuncture services at NRH Regional Rehab