by Jim Chalmers
My first visit to the Number One Hospital outpatient acupuncture clinic in China presented me with an unfamiliar scene. In a small room were 16 people, lying on straw mats covering hard wooden beds or seated at small tables, all receiving acupuncture treatments. Doctors and students busied themselves attending to the patients. In one corner Professor Wei smiled a greeting to me across the room. She beckoned to me to come and treat her patient. I deferred to her greater experience and she gently demonstrated her consummate skill by painlessly treating an anxious sciatic sufferer. That was the beginning of my postgraduate education.

One thing I gained from that experience in a Chinese hospital over 15 years ago was the confidence to treat almost any condition that was brought to me. In Australia at that time acupuncture was not well understood or accepted by the medical community and only a few doctors would admit it might have some effect on painful disorders. Since then there has been a wealth of scientific research that has validated the effects of acupuncture. Now the World Health Organization has a long list of conditions that it suggests may respond well to acupuncture treatment.

In China acupuncture is used as a first-line protocol for all manner of ills. I remember treating a boy of ten years old who had been deaf since he was two after an adverse reaction to a western pharmaceutical drug. Daily I treated him, daily he cried. Professor Wei encouraged me to continue. After two months his hearing began to return – I’m not sure which of us was more emotionally affected.

Not every treatment produces such miracles but in the 18 years since I began my acupuncture practice, I have often seen wonderful results that defy common-sense linear logic. The sceptics’ answer is that this is the power of placebo. It is more than that. I like to remember a quote from one the classics of Chinese medicine, The Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion 230 CE. ‘Disease is like a knot that has been tied for a long time, like a stain that has been fast for a long time. A knot can be untied, a stain can be removed, and those that say that a longstanding disease cannot be cured by acupuncture have not attained sufficient mastery of the art.’

Acupuncture works on various levels, physical, emotional and spiritual. The Chinese insist that to heal the patient it is also necessary to treat the spirit, as a peaceful spirit will encourage the restoration of physical and mental health. While patients continue with their treatment, a shift often appears in their outlook on life. This pleasantly surprises them. Sometimes patients make major lifestyle changes and move on to happier and more self-fulfilling projects or careers. Is it the acupuncture? I believe that acupuncture is a significant factor in providing the internal environment for the facilitation of personal change. For me, seeing patients move towards good health and personal fulfilment is one of the great rewards of my career.