Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Qi Effect

I got cupped today.
At this moment, 14 circles decorate my back, larger ones following my spine, smaller ones filling in the gaps everywhere else. I’m working on a story about traditional Chinese medicine, and decided that I need to experience cupping if I was going to write about it.

Actually, that’s not true. Joanna and Bob decided that I needed to experience cupping. I was perfectly happy to be an observer. But they convinced me that I needed to go and do it myself. Not that they were around to hold my hand through the process.

In any event, my TCM “fixer” took me to a place with a name as long as the procedure itself: the Beijing Traditional Chinese Medicine Health Preservation Research Center: the BJTCMHPRC. Really, that’s what it says on the card of the director. There’s something to be said for trying to get a job at a place where your card reads, in part, BJTCM.

But I digress. When we showed up for an appointment at 2 today, I knew it was going to be a long afternoon, because nothing the Chinese do is quick and easy. We sat down with the director for tea. We took a detailed, painstaking tour of the entire facility. Every room, including the loo. And then I was diagnosed by two TCM doctors, who held my wrist to check my pulse and asked me to show them my tongue.

You’re tired, the first guy said to me (in Chinese, translated by another person). Yes, I’m tired, I answered. (I’m thinking: I’m middle-aged, I’ve just moved halfway around the world, I’ve been living out of a suitcase since August. YES. I AM TIRED. But I just nodded. This politeness I feel cajoled into makes me even more tired.)

Do you have digestive problems? he asked.

Do you get warm easily? Not especially, I answered.
What about getting cold easily? Okay, I said. Yes, I get cold. (Let’s remember, though, that a Beijing December is bone-chilling cold.)

The next doctor did the same with my pulse and my tongue.
Are you tired? He asked.
My husband snores, I answered.

Do you have digestive problems?
NO. My digestive system is fine.

Maybe you have digestive problems but you don’t realize it yet, suggested my TCM fixer. Hard to know how to answer that without getting incredibly scatalogical.

In any event, the solution to all this was a tuina massage followed by cupping. I had come for the cupping but agreed to the massage.

This was a different sort of massage, more of a pressing and a pressure-point poking than an oily, clothes-off massage. And yet it ended up feeling pretty good, since it lasted an hour, and I nearly fell asleep. I guess I am tired. In fact, it was so relaxing that I think if the doctor had next set me on fire, I don’t think I would have cared.

Instead, he had me lift up my shirt in the back, unhook my bra, and wait. Before I had a chance to get nervous, I felt a gentle pressure along my back, one after the other. I lost count of how many. Then the nurse put a warm blanket over the cups, and I half-dozed on the couch. Even though my skin was being pulled up into the cups, it didn’t hurt.

After about ten minutes, she pulled the cups off. A nearby photographer showed me the results: pink and red circles all over my back. Quite the effect.

I had another cup of tea, chatted more, paid for the treatment (400 quai, which is about $75), and walked home, getting lost in the windy dark.

By the time I walked into the apartment, I felt dizzy and weak and really really tired. If my qi had been blocked before and that had caused fatigue, I don’t know what’s happened to it now. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow.


  1. i don't believe cupping cures snoring.

  2. Debby, this is a WONDERFUL STORY!! First, I love how you weave humor into your communiques. You have a way of capturing the absurd in the circumstances you face. I loved this story because it gave me some insight into how Americans feel about Chinese medicine. If you think about all the bizarre things they do in American medicine, cupping seems quite mild and non-invasive. Nobody put their hand in any orifices (sorry, not scatological but I'm just sayin'), nobody put a large needle in your skin and removed the juice of life - blood, and nobody too a knife to your skin, stabbed you, and either removed vital organs or placed metal or mesh into your body (all of which are my frequent experiences at the hand of American medicine). I have been doing acupuncture for nearly 30 years and it is a marvel. Chinese medicine grew out of Indian folk medicine called Ayurveda which I have practiced for 25 years. It has helped me immensely to recover from what the American doctors have done. I am anxious to hear from you how you felt later - days after the cupping. I am sorry we will miss you at Christmas - I am assuming you are going to NY to your family? Have a great time and say hello to Bob and Joanna. Keep writing. You deserve a column in a major newspaper.
    :D Best, Susan

  3. Bob, have you been tested for sleep apnea? Snoring is the primary symptom. Are you ever fatigued? You should look at a list of the symptoms and see if any resonate. If you have sleep apnea, cupping won't help you! Happy holidays, Susan Tobin