Acupuncture: a very personal journey
Why did I become an acupuncturist? It’s a question I get asked a lot by my patients, probably because acupuncture isn’t exactly top of many kids’ shortlists when it comes to career choices at school.
And in fact, as if to prove the point, my start in professional life was just as unremarkably conventional as most other people’s.
I studied medical laboratory sciences at university, with a specialism in haematology and, perhaps predictably, entered the real world of work in the Haematology Department at St Thomas’ Hospital.
The answer to why I decided to move into acupuncture, though, can be found a few years later, after the birth of my son.
When he was 5 months old, he was diagnosed with asthma. Now, infant asthma isn’t all that uncommon, it can be very mild, and it often disappears completely later in life as a child’s lungs develop and function more efficiently.
Unfortunately, my son’s asthma was neither mild nor temporary. But it was manageable – at least at first.
All we could do was follow the medical advice, give him the Ventolin and steroid-based inhalers and resolve to try to strike a balance between him living as normal a life as possible without exerting himself to the point where his asthma became too debilitating.
But his immune system was so weak it was impossible to keep him free from attacks. Some were so severe that he had to be nebulised and given oral steroids in hospital. He was prone to coughs and colds that would trigger more attacks.
Over time the asthma became progressively worse and my healthy, chubby baby boy became increasingly emaciated and introverted. At the same time, he became less and less interested in going out with his friends and playing football.
Even too much laughter could trigger a serious attack.
This cycle continued until he was almost 8 years old. That year had been a particularly bad one that had seen him being given a course of antibiotics a month just to help him fight off an infection.
One day – a day I remember as though it were only yesterday – the situation became critical.
A mother’s instincts are pretty accurate when it comes to raising a healthy child, but your parental instincts become even more highly attuned after years of looking after a small asthmatic child. You get to recognise the signs of an oncoming attack and you get a feel for how serious – or not – it’s going to be.
On this occasion I knew deep in my heart that a severe attack was on its way and so I took my son to our local GP as a preventative step.
I wasn’t able to see his regular doctor and instead we saw a locum who told me that my worrying was making him worse and that I should just take him home, give him his medication and stop fretting.
Inevitably, in situations like that, you don’t question the expert opinion, do you? Instead, you begin to question your maternal instincts and your parenting skills. Was I just fussing over nothing? Was my worrying obsessive? Was I the one who was making him so sick?
When we got home, I put my son on the sofa, gave him his medication as the doctor had told me and switched on the TV to give him something other than his asthma to focus on.
When I went back to check on him 15 minutes later, I found him limp on the sofa and completely unable to lift his head to look at me.
Unless you’ve been in that situation, I’m not sure it’s possible to imagine the complete sense of terror you experience as a parent when you’re suddenly faced with the very real possibility that the child you have raised and loved so unconditionally is about to die.
I knew, instinctively I suppose, that there was no time to wait for an ambulance and that I had to get him to hospital as fast as I could. Distraught as I was, I scooped him up and rushed him to A&E.
The A&E doctor told me that had I bought my son in 5 minutes later it would have been too late to save him.
I will always be forever grateful to the medical doctors who saved his life, but what the experience also taught me was that clinical medicine couldn’t make him better.
Now that I recognised every future attack could kill him, I began a desperate search for another solution.
Friends had previously recommended a range of alternative and complementary treatments, all of which I had dismissed as being nonsense or just a little too woo-woo.
But that trip to A&E had stripped away any prejudice I might have had. Now I was willing to try absolutely anything within reason.
I took my son to see an acupuncturist.
The rest, of course, is history. The fact I’m here, writing this as an acupuncturist, means you already know how the story ends.
My son is still here. He’s healthy. He enjoys life. And he’s the rock in my life.
Acupuncture made an immediate difference to my son’s life – one that was tangible, that I could see. It wasn’t an overnight cure – his treatment continued for a good deal of time – but the improvement in his asthma and general health was steady and obvious.
It started with small things – he smiled a lot more, he was happier, more talkative, less introverted. His eyes were brighter and his complexion improved.
After that we began to notice that his asthmatic episodes had lessened in frequency and intensity. He no longer needed antibiotics and he was less dependent on his inhalers.
Today, many years on from the night I almost lost him, he no longer uses inhalers, he has not had an asthma attack and has only needed antibiotics twice – both times for issues unrelated to his asthma.
The impact of acupuncture on his life soon had me asking questions – the biggest one being how sticking a few needles in my son could have such an impact on his health.
It didn’t take long or very much research to convince me to study acupuncture, even though at first it was purely academic: I wanted to understand how this ancient form of medicine worked and how it achieved results that western medical treatments couldn’t.
What I learned about this holistic and totally encompassing form of medicine, together with the amazing impact it has had on my son’s life, meant I soon felt I had to use this new knowledge to help others.
I trained at the prestigious College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, graduating in 2001, and I have been in private practice ever since, enjoying the pleasure and privilege of running my own very successful practice to give to others what this incredible treatment gave to me.
I’m always hungry to learn more about what I do, so I’ve always regularly used continuing professional development (CPD) to enhance and extend my learning and skills with courses that include paediatric acupuncture, women’s health, female and male fertility and cosmetic acupuncture.
I’m a member of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) where I am also a sitting committee member, the Acupuncture Fertility Network (AFN), the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) and the British Fertility Society (BFS).
And my clinic has won several awards, including London’s Best Boutique Acupuncture Clinic in 2019, Best Acupuncture Clinic 2020, and Best London Complementary Health and Wellbeing Practice 2020.
I’m delighted to be joining the HealthMed faculty team so that I can continue to repay my personal debt to acupuncture and help others with an interest in healing to follow and meet their own ambition.
I have a particular passion for helping patients with women’s health conditions, but I wholeheartedly believe that to be effective in practice it’s essential to have in-depth knowledge of women’s endocrine system from both a biomedical and traditional acupuncture aspect.
The more specialised knowledge we have the more better able we are to treat effectively.
I’m also am a huge advocate of integrative medicine, which I believe has to be the future of truly effective medical care. As healthcare practitioners we need to communicate and collaborate with our biomedical counterparts to understand how each of us works to help our patients.
I’m very excited and hopeful that the Endocrinology & Female Health Acupuncture course I will be heading will offer healthcare practitioners specialising in female health the opportunity to offer exceptional care to their patients.