Here, fair reader is a cautionary yet inspiring tale of what can happen when mission focus overcomes common sense, and that sometimes, very rarely, you really can have a deal that really is too good to be true.

Allow me to set the scene. Once in a while I have a blitz on my list of thousand things. I go through the time out books, see what still costs £10 or less or has gone out of business since they were published, and arrange to do what I can. I learned pretty quickly that doing a thousand things doesn’t happen quickly or by itself. An accountant friend of mine pointed out that at a rate of three things per week it would take 6.4 years to complete my task. A further complicating factor is that the time out books do have a habit of listing lots of different sorts of the same activity and so it was with Chinese medicine. The book listed about five. I googled what sounded like the biggest first and discovered that every once in a while they offer free acupuncture sessions. Free. The most magical of all the price points. I rang them, and with some surprise found they had a free session remaining. I booked it.  It was official. I was going to the Institute of Chinese Medicine for free accupuncture.  They even texted me in advance to remind me the appointment was coming.

The day drew nearer. Spouse, being a man of science, asked me a couple of challenging questions.

“Why are these people giving away free private medical practice?” “Well, perhaps they’ll try to sell me something. They will be unsuccessful. If it costs more than £10 I’m not having it.”

A pause, as Spouse digested this answer, before asking another, “They are certified and stuff aren’t they? You aren’t going to come away with some sort of hepatitis?”

“Yes, of COURSE they are completely certified, this is a pukka establishment. (I had not the faintest idea if they were certified or not – I had near childlike faith in the Time Out book). His two questions gave me a pause for reflection and self-doubt. As the Sunday morning of the appointment, I was laggardy and more than usually reluctant to move from my bed. I set off late, arrived catastrophically late because the tube had an attack of the vapours and so I went mainly to apologise for wasting their time. The lovely staff said that I was extraordinarily lucky because their 12 o’clock had cancelled, and set about filling in the paperwork before showing me upstairs to meet the doctor.

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Now Chinese and western medicine are different in many ways, but there is one thing in which they are resolutely the same. Doctors do expect patients to have something wrong with them as opposed to going sightseeing in their surgeries. The doctor wrote something down and asked me very pleasantly what the problem was, and I was momentarily struck silent as I was to all intents and purposes in perfect health. Racking my brains I said I had a skin complaint and I did get quite stressed at work. The doctor nodded sagely before taking my pulse (weak and tight), checked my tongue (furred and dark), and proceeded to ask me a range of unforgivable questions about my every bodily function, which frankly I would never discuss with…well, anyone. He took notes in actual Chinese symbols. He paused before pronouncing that my tight and weak pulse indicated that I was indeed stressed, and more than that, I was tired. He asked about my back and shoulder pain (I hadn’t mentioned back and shoulder pain, but was delighted he’d identified more duff body parts). I explained I’d taken up belly dancing which he was delighted by, as it is excellent exercise and would help improve my posture. The furred tongue indicated all was not well with my digestive system. I explained I’d lost two stone on Dukan, which is a high protein diet: he was keen I introduce far more vegetables into my diet. Honestly I was delighted there was enough wrong with me to make it worth his while.

And then, acupuncture time. I was asked to lie down and expose my tummy and shins. He took the sterilised needles one at a time from their individual wraps and popped them into my face, arms and tummy: there weren’t many and while I certainly noticed them going in, I did not get into the level of girly squealing I normally get into if I have an injection. And then he pointed some kind of heat lamp at my middle, and left me to relax for 30 minutes.

Relaxation. Peace, tranquility and time to be at one with oneself. This is hades on a stick to me, but I tried jolly hard to remember all the lovely Buddhists had taught me at the meditation class (link refers: http://wp.me/p1I6Mp-2U0). I breathed in and out, focusing on the breath alone (and ended up focusing on the Christmas shopping, what I had planned for the blog, what I was going to do with the rest of the afternoon, what I should put in my paper at work… You get the gist). I repeated this process time and again, always with the same result of thinking about other things.

As I lay there, impaled by a liberal number of acupuncture needles, trying to relax, the sheer damn fortuitousness of my afternoon made me come to a conclusion. Despite my every attempt not to have free acupuncture, I HAD had free acupuncture. The fates had combined to tell me to relax a bit more, meditate and eat more vegetables. And curiously enough, the fates had got a point. I wanted my pulse to be strong and true, my tongue unfurred and my back pain-free. And for a day or two after my session, they were. So I’m a bit of a convert to Chinese medicine, and may well be back, even if it involves paying more than a tenner.

Full details of the Institute of Chinese Medicine, including location and contact details, can be found here: http://www.instituteofchinesemedicine.org/welcome.htm

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