Desperate times call for drastic measures. You might think I’m talking about the election. But you’d be wrong. It is the last thing in the world I want to talk about. We’re in a state of national emergency. Everyone is pointing at things and saying what they saw and is historically appalled. But we are all looking at a third thing. Time to face each other. Look each other in the eyes and see if we can say those exact same words, have that same swagger, shimmy those shoulders.
No, my desperation has been quiet and intense. The plantar fasciitis has gotten the best of me, and Nurse Practitioner K noticed, last week when I was there for my checkup. She noticed, even though that isn’t exactly her job. Except it is — it is her job. I mentioned I was tired and she said there was no medical reason, so it had to be that I’ve stopped exercising, that I’ve been extremely limited in my movement, because every other step spells shooting pain every time my heel strikes concrete, which would be I-don’t-even-want-to-know-thousand divided by two, every day. My right knee has even started hurting, in sympathy, and because my entire alignment is off.
Nurse Practitioner K is intuitive. A regular Miss Clavel. So she exhorted me to try acupuncture for my foot. She also knows me well enough that she knows I’m the kind of patient who will follow up on this sort of suggestion. I called up a place that same afternoon. They offer “community acupuncture” at a lower cost, at certain times of the week. I booked a 9 a.m. appointment for today, which by Friday night had been changed to tonight at 8:15. I guess there are perks to having a flexible schedule.
I’d tried acupuncture once before — my regular doctor practices it, this being Brooklyn and all — but hadn’t been all that impressed or convinced by it (one session, with the aim of improving my lung chi after a very bad pneumonia). I haven’t had a chronic condition like this in a while, though, if ever. Nothing as hard to solve as this, although I’ve tried a splint, stretches, frozen water bottles, tennis balls, and more stretches.
I had been planning to drive to the clinic, which is close by but not close enough to walk, with my bad foot. Then it got late. I found myself doing something very uncharacteristic, and calling a car service. I arrived early, and filled out a ream’s worth of forms. This seemed serious.
My acupuncturist, L, came out. He was friendly. He ushered me into a consultation room that looked like a place you’d go for therapy. There was a tissue box in easy reach. But I didn’t cry. I felt at ease. I had watched a video on YouTube of an acupuncture session for plantar fasciitis. There were only two tiny needles. Surely I could handle those!
When I finished talking, L said he was game to try to help me… but that I should understand the needles might hurt. Because there would be a lot of them. All around my heel, and ankle, and on my calf. I felt a little deceived, but I wasn’t going to be scared off. I thought about all the pain I’ve experienced in the past few years: The injection of four radioactive tracers around the site of my melanoma (like being injected with fire); the radiation burn; the slow healing from it; three weeks of colitis. I stacked everything up, added two natural childbirths to that, and said to L, “I think I can take it.”
By the time we finished talking it felt super late. There weren’t many people left at the clinic. I went into a treatment room that was divided by a curtain, the other half darkened with another patient enduring her treatment there. I had to lie face down, put my face in one of those donuts they have on massage tables, which, regardless to which angle they are adjusted, always make my sinuses drain right into my nose so that I have to mouth-breathe. Deep breathing wasn’t a bad option as L prepared to stick me. Was I ready? he asked. Of course I was, thumbs buried inside my tightened fists. I always squeeze so much harder than I need to. An overreaction that makes almost anything more endurable. He tapped around the area where the jabs would be, sneakily. Of course none were all that bad. I inhaled sharply when I felt each sting, but that was it. Then there was just the hanging out, on my face, heat lamp trained on my foot, in a dark room with a needled stranger on the other side of the curtain. She and I were sharing an experience that was anonymous, but somehow moving. I felt cared for, deeply and completely. I had met someone who would try to take my pain away. And at a discounted price to boot! How often can we say a day ends like this? I go back Saturday. I can’t wait.
Acupuncture as a metaphor machine for this election? I don’t know, maybe. Stop fighting with what is hurting you. Accept help from qualified professionals. Leave your comfort zone — which may have turned uncomfortable, even toxic. What feels painful in the moment might be the thing that can heal you.