We are going to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hospital to seek acupuncture treatment for Karen’s broken shoulder bone. We look online and get the name of a nearby traditional medicine hospital. We go to an expensive international hotel, where a reception desk lady speaks English. She says the traditional hospital has moved and she gives us the name of another hospital, writing it out in Chinese. Another lady, a guest at the hotel, says that going there is a good idea.
We take a taxi to the Shaanxi Province Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Emergency Room entrance).
They send us next door to the out-patient clinic.
The nurse directs us to “orthopedics” — we have not registered or “checked in” in any way — but this may be because of our poor Chinese language skills.
Instead of waiting outside, we stand in the office with two doctors while they talk with other patients. The doctors seem to be involved with more than one patient at a time — patients come in and ask questions while other patients are providing information and the two doctors also take cell phone calls while this is going on.
When our turn comes, I show the doctor the page I have prepared.
I give him the x-Rays and point to my text to tell when the accident occurred, when the x-Rays were taken, and her present symptoms: pain and discomfort.
The Orthopedics doctor looks at the page, inspects the X-ray, looks at Karen’s shoulder.
They bring in a “translator” who uses her cell phone for translation. Karen and the doctor provide each other information. Does Karen want acupuncture? Yes. The doctor spends much time filling out forms and writing in a kind of blue note-book which has been labeled with Karen’s name.
We are taken to the acupuncture doctor who looks at the x-Rays, asks about “checking” [this is puzzling but I think he is pondering having another x-ray), and then decides to do the acupuncture. With the assistance of the nurse, he inserts needles from the back of Karen’s neck down her arm to her hand.
He places a heat lamp in position at her shoulder.
He attaches a device that generates voltage through the needles at the site of the break. He adjusts the voltage. He watches the needles closely, adjusting the device so that the needles are vibrating slightly.
The needles are vibrating.
Four people are receiving acupuncture simultaneously. The doctor is talking with a new patient.
Karen says that she feels cold. Before she felt hot. She says that she feels like she might faint. She braces herself by placing her arm on the bed.
The acupuncture treatment lasts 15 minutes.
The nurse removes the needles and begins a cupping treatment. She ignites a cup coated with alcohol and places the cup on Karen’s shoulder. This sucks the skin surface, creating a welt.
The cups are applied around Karen’s shoulder.
The cups are all in place. The doctor then covered Karen’s shoulder with a cloth and adjusted the heat lamp over the cloth. The treatment lasted about five minutes.
The cups were removed and I photograph the effect on her skin.
We were given paperwork which included a prescription, description of the procedures and cost of the acupuncture for three treatments. We were sent downstairs to pay.
We indicated to the clerk that we were going to pay for only one acupuncture treatment. The clerk calculated the bill.
We went to the pharmacy in the hospital to pick up the prescription.
We were given Tongshu Pian. We looked this up on the Internet. It it thought to be useful for pain, recovery of broken bones, and various other ailments — but it’s efficacy has not been proven. One study indicated that it reduced the growth of breast cancer cells (caution: a single study is not particularly meaningful).
The final bill involves many pages of paperwork: the acupuncture cost 120 yuan (less than $20.00); the total medical bill, including the medicine, was 234 yuan — $37.36.
The taxi fares involved difficult negotiations — the drivers jack up the price for foreigners — the two taxi rides came to the equivalent of $7.50 (I paid more than I should have paid — Karen wanted to get home and the driver was merciless).
Karen was feeling strange while we returned home, slightly unstable. She said that the pain went away during the afternoon but it came back during the night.
We read about acupuncture on the Internet — I had thought that it has been proven effective for pain but the evidence is unclear on this point due to uncertainty about placebo effects. Evidence for the relationship between dose of treatment and healing is also unclear.
Karen’s acupuncture treatment that I witnessed in this hospital was exactly the same procedure that I witnessed in a Xi’an hospital in 1986, during my previous visit to China. The Internet text regarding acupuncture makes only brief mention to the use of electricity and seems to dismiss this method as being merely equivalent to TENS — transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Although the article I read on the Internet said that TENS “has not been proven to work” I know that many people benefit from it — as with acupuncture.