The anti-Semitic acupuncturist

When half my face stopped working suddenly, the morning after the worst headache I had ever had, my first stop was to my periodontist, who had recently extracted a tooth on that side, and with whom I had an appointment with anyway that day, as a hurricane headed for our town. He said I should see a neurologist, and got me a name but when I called, the neurologist’s receptionist, unmoved when I told her that half my face was sagging like a tragedy mask, said if I wasn’t already a patient, tough luck. I told her out the side of my mouth, talking like a gangster by then, that they should be ashamed, and called my regular doctor.

They were boarding up their windows against the oncoming storm by then, but said I could come — one of the major moments of my life, along with finding out I got jobs and fellowships I wanted. My doctor took one look at me, which is all he ever takes, whisked out his prescription pad, wrote me a prescription for the antiviral drug acyclovir, told me I had Bell’s Palsy, that it would be all better in a couple of months, and sent me off. If there wasn’t a hurricane coming, he added I could go get a brain scan, “just to play it safe” — but there was a hurricane coming and the brain scan place was closed.

So the next day I went to work, which people in my business were then required to do when there was a hurricane, and everyone winced when they saw me, and when I told them what I had they inevitably told me who else had it — the Crazy (with a capital C) boss’s noncrazy wife, the cross-eyed, high-strung photographer who, if he were an inch shorter would be a midget, the really nice, calm, pretty woman who got it when her father was dying. The common denominator amongst all my fellow victims seemed to be stress. The last was the one who told me she got acupuncture for it, and she thought it helped.

So two months later when I still couldn’t open and close my right eye without using my hand, I looked up an acupuncturist. He offered an introductory set of four sessions as a package that was cheaper than two, or something like that, which made it hard to do any other way.

He was a stocky little guy with black hair swept back with a little height, had a broad purple satin tie, a white shirt and creased black trousers that looked like they were part of a suit, all of which stood in contrast to the faux Asian — rattan screens, bamboo — windchime-driven decor. He took a medical autobiography, that had a police interrogation feel to it. I told him about my succession of petty ailments: tonsilititis, headaches, menstrual cramps, one succeeding the other, and now this. “Good, you get it then,” he said at one point, in one of the last remarks indicating approval of my mental status that I heard from him.

I hastened to assure him that sometimes I do very well — walked on the beach daily, am limber at yoga, and that when the job made extra demands — 12-hour days, travel with multiple 12-hour days, spending months staring at a screen for a database project — that I met those demands. He looked at me with pitying disgust.

“You give it away,” he said.

Well no, I like succeeding at the  . . . I tried to tell him.

This didn’t translate well. In fact, later it was returned to me in the course of discovering that my outer thighs were sensitive to having needles stuck in them to a connection to an over-active adrenal gland common amongst the original hunter-gatherer types, whose mission was to “go out, kill it, bring it back . . .” Something like that.

“What’s your favorite color?” he asked early in our initial interview. I told him I didn’t have one — I like all of them. He didn’t believe me, it became clear, in our two remaining appointments, when he would ask suddenly, while sticking needles in my back, ” What’s your favorite color?” like if he caught me off guard I would confess that it was  — God Knows .. . the color of sandpaper? sharp metal? Perhaps something to do with one of my chakras, in retrospect.

At the same time, he taught me a few things, that perhaps equally connected to new age psychobabble as the rest of his leanings, were things I latched onto, and that helped.

He told me about the Eat Right For Your Blood Type book, which has some potentially silly things in it, but also coincided with my dietary leanings, and when I followed it, I became stronger and lost some weight I had been wanting to lose for a while. He mentioned that it did me no good to stare at a computer screen all day long, and I should take breaks frequently when working on a project that required that. He told me to pay attention to how I felt, and instead of trying to over-ride exhaustion and pain, stop and rest. He taught me, in those few sessions, things that you probably shouldn’t have to teach anyone, but I’ll guess I’m not entirely alone in ignoring in pursuit of some greater attainment than health and peace of mind. For all of those reasons, in spite of the new-age psychobabble, adversarial, and, to some extent just plain old snake-oil salesman bullshit quality of some of our time together, I remain the better for having seen him.

During our last session — our third of the paid-for four — he suggested I get one of those bead-filled microwavable shawls to warm the neck and shoulder area in the event I overdid. I asked, as I left, where to get one.

“You can get them online,” he said. “or at the mall.”

“Thanks,” I waved, as I walked toward my car.

“If you get one at the mall,” he called out, across the parking lot, “you can Jew them down on the price . . .”

I never returned for the fourth session. When I called to cancel it, the receptionist asked me why. I said if he couldn’t figure it out, he could call himself and ask. He didn’t, so he never got to learn that, in my family, when we talked about negotiating for a lower price we called it “gentiling down.”

I got one of the shawls, and for the fun of it, since I am equal parts gentile and non, asked if the price was negotiable. It was not. I got the thing anyway, and use it whenever I feel a twinge. I think it helps, and I think of the acupuncturist, and all I learned from him, every time I use it.

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