Headmaster’s Thoughts – April 2014

I want to begin by saying that I am not a masochist; neither, to my knowledge, is Jayme. And yet every week for many, many years we have allowed ourselves to be stuck all over our bodies by pins. And we also allow a small lady with extremely strong hands and particularly vicious knuckles to pummel the heck out of us.

Yes, we get “acupunctured” and “acupressured” every week.

We are a strange species, we human beings. Naturally suspicious, we allow ourselves to have interesting things done to us which go against our intuition. It is certainly against my normal instincts to have someone insert needles into my face, and yet for nearly twenty years that has happened on a weekly basis.

It all began for me with a favorite horse, Counterpoint. He came with the name and I never called him anything else. He was a great horse: affectionate, brave, and proud. He could jump anything. Every so often, and always at night when no one was watching, he would jump over the five-foot fence around his paddock, and in the morning he would be on the outside of the fence eating the best grass which the other horses could not get to. He never ran away, never went to the local mall or the movies; he just jumped out and ate the uneaten and longest grass.

One day, Counterpoint started to limp on his front left leg. Anxiously, I called the vet (an excellent one in my opinion) who came and examined him and could find nothing wrong but recommended a horse acupuncturist. To say that I was skeptical would be an understatement. I thought acupuncture was somewhat of a placebo and that its healing power was all in the mind. Intelligent as Counterpoint was, I should stress that he was still a horse, and I doubt that horses think too much about the placebo effect. Anyway, the acupuncturist arrived, put needles into Counterpoint’s left leg, and his limp immediately went away. A lame horse walked into the stall with the acupuncturist and a sound horse walked out.

At the time, my left knee was sore. In my rugby-playing days, doctors had completely removed my left outer knee cartilage. Bone on bone can hurt. So I figured that if acupuncture worked for Counterpoint, what the hay, I might as well give it a try. Twenty years later it is still working for me and, notwithstanding an orthopedist’s gloomy prediction at that time that I would need a knee replacement, my knee gives me no trouble. I just get needles stuck into it.

I have no idea why it works. I have read up about it and I still have no idea. I have learned that historically, Chinese soldiers would get an arrow prick in their arm and their hip would feel better, or maybe it was an arrow prick in their hip and their arm felt better. Who knows? I have never understood what Chi or Qi is, and I could not explain a meridian if I were looking at the Wikipedia article on it. But for me, at any rate, acupuncture works.

The lady who sticks the needles in my body is famous. She works in the pain management clinic of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, established her own natural healthcare center, and teaches acupuncture as an honored guest all over the world. We talk a great deal while she inserts needles in my head, in my face, in my hands, in my legs and, sometimes, between my toes. We talk because I am extremely nervous that she is going to hurt me. We talk about her family, what happened when she was sent to a farm during the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, and about her daughter. When I am scared, clearly, I talk. But, and this is a very big BUT, it does not hurt.Amazingly, she can push a needle into the top of my nose between my eyes and I do not feel it. She can stick needles into my cheeks, my ears, my back, between my toes, and I feel no pain. And afterwards, I feel no pain. This is some smart lady, and her name is Dr. Ming Jin.

The acupressure lady is a totally different deal. We don’t talk because she does not speak English. She comes from the Chinese School of Acupressure and Torture. She starts by digging her ferocious knuckles into my head and finishes by doing the same to my feet. I lie there—stoically, I might add—while thinking: “Ow!” “Oh, no!” “Ow!” “Ow!” “Please God, get me out of here!” “Ow!” I think these thoughts for the entire time. I remain silent because once, when I actually screamed in pain, she started to laugh. And there is nothing worse than having someone beat you up and find it funny. “Tee hee!” she giggled. I have been silent ever since.

The peculiar thing is that the pain is fleeting because it keeps getting replaced by other pain. When she attacks my neck, I forget the pain she just inflicted on my head. When she squeezes the muscles in my back (total agony), I forget the pain I just felt in my neck. By the time she is pulling my toes, I have forgotten all the other pain, since I am now focused on the fact that my feet are killing me. And when she stops, and this is where it gets bizarre, I say: “Thank you, Dr. Judy!” She smiles and all the pain is gone and I feel great!

So, am I gullible or sensible? I have no idea. But I think back to Counterpoint, and I know that after both treatments (and “treatment” is a generous word for the torture doctor), I feel better. Much better!

We are strange creatures, we human beings. And I am not a masochist!

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org 

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