How Acupuncture Went from ‘Alternative’ to Accepted

I get a Google daily automated alert for several topics and last night I received one for my “Chinese Medicine” alert. One of the article titles caught my eye. The title was “How Acupuncture Went from ‘Alternative’ to Accepted.” It was a small article about acupuncture in Houston. What it did do is spark my own personal reflections about where we are.

When I started learning acupuncture and Chinese medicine formally in 1994, it was quite fringe. My family was not happy about it. I was supposed to be a medical doctor and not directly pursuing that was a major life mistake. In 1996 or 97, when I told my Grandfather I was pursuing an MBA after just graduating with my masters in traditional Oriental medicine, his response was “good, you should be doing that rather than that acupuncture crap you do.”

My grandfather was a very “old school” medical doctor who received his medical degree in the 1930s. He thought all alternative medicine was, in his words, “bull shit.” Suffice it to say that he did not approve of my pursuing acupuncture as a career choice.

I bring up my grandfather for a specific reason. Because just a few years later, the heavens opened up, pigs flew, hell froze over, or some other tectonic shift in the universe occurred: he asked me to do acupuncture on him. He was in a lot of pain and the night before I left for medical school, the request came to me through my grandmother to my mom to me. I ended up getting my tools, going to his medical office, and performing a nice acupuncture treatment.

And nothing was improved.

He did tell me I had a very nice bedside manner though I am not sure how much stock to put in that given he had one of the gruffest bedside manners in existence. What none of us knew at that point was he had metastasized bone cancer. One of the most excruciating ways to go. He died 7 months later: he went to work on Friday, the hospital on Sunday, and passed on Wednesday. I think that was the way he wanted it: working to the end, no burden to his family. We only figured out how much pain he was in when we were cleaning out his desk and found some empty morphine bottles.

So why am I bringing up this story? Because in the end, this ultra opinionated, unbending, very critical man tried acupuncture. I am not sure he did it as a last ditch effort to deal with excruciating pain, because he had changed his mind about acupuncture, or as one last connection with his grandson, knowing he probably was not going to see him again. What I do know is that was how acupuncture went from “alternative” to accepted for my grandpa.

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