Everyday Ethics

Acupuncture Needle1.jpg

Today I took the coward’s way out. 

Two days ago, I had an appointment with an acupuncturist–someone I hadn’t been to before. I’d been suffering from migraines, and was told the treatment might be a good holistic alternative to some heavy-duty drugs I was afraid to take. (For some other ideas, see Beliefnet’s Holistic Living area, or learn more about acupuncture here.)

It didn’t go well. 

I arrived at the address and found the practice only after wandering the halls of a dingy office building for several minutes. There was no sign to announce I’d arrived in the correct place (or rather, there were two signs, but the first advertised an Ecuadorian consulate branch and the second a revolutionary weight loss scheme–both seemingly defunct). The waiting area was disheveled and barely resembled a medical practice at all. The two practitioners greeted me as best they could, but the language barrier was nearly insurmountable. The only clear communication was their anxiety over being paid, which I did my best to allay.

Long story short, the treatment itself was, while probably not grounds for malpractice, highly disconcerting and certainly less pleasant than the acupuncture I’d had before. The practitioner was extremely rough and even left bruises on my neck and arms from her acupressure massage. The treatment area was much like an emergency room, with tiny curtained-off slots for patients, one right next to the other. Beside me on either side I could hear men–one grunting softly as he was massaged, the other snoring fitfully while the needles did their work. As I was only dressed in a flimsy gown at the time and the curtains were never fully closed, their close proximity felt, shall we say, less than relaxing.

The practitioner did try to explain her actions as she went along, alternately thumping, jabbing and poking me, but we had great difficulty understanding one another. Haltingly, she at last gave up and advised me to Google the name of one of the points she was needling as she didn’t have the words to describe them. I smiled and agreed. Then she told me I’d need to come back, preferably in two days’ time.

And, perhaps suffering some sort of Stockholm Syndrome, I actually did make an appointment to come back for more. 

“Maybe this is how it’s supposed to feel,” I told myself. “Maybe I’m being a snob to want a more comfortable environment–something more like what I’m used to. I mean, she does seem to know the techniques, or at least I think she does if what little I understood is correct. And, er, maybe my headache does feel a little bit better?” (Honestly, I suspect she just scared the migraine into remission, as it returned the next morning, along with a tremendous neck spasm from the rough massage.)

By the time I’d gotten home and talked the event over with some friends, I’d already decided I wouldn’t go back for that second appointment. Surely I could find an acupuncturist with whom I’d feel more at ease. So far, no dilemma, right? 

But here’s where I went wrong. I chickened out of calling to cancel the appointment. 

I think it was because I didn’t want to tell the lady directly that I didn’t like what happened, and I didn’t want to invent some lie about why I had to cancel. I feared the awkward explanation, the language barrier, and perhaps even being talked into comin
g back one more time. So I just let the appointment go by, rationalizing that they didn’t seem busy enough that they’d use the time to schedule another patient. Three hours later, my cell phone rang. I saw the number and guessed it was them. I let it go to voicemail. As soon as the beep told me I had a message, I retrieved it. Sure enough, it was the woman, asking why I had missed the appointment. She also asked how I felt and if I was better.

Guilt has been eating me over this one. I know the old adage “Two wrongs don’t make a right” as well as anyone, and I also know this lady did her best–no harm was meant. I didn’t have to go back, but I should have put on my big-girl pants and at least had the decency to tell them I wasn’t coming. It made me think about what it means to be an adult–basically, in this case, not to weasel out of uncomfortable situations. Maybe next time I’ll do the right thing. Or maybe I’ll even get the gumption to call the lady back tomorrow and explain. But somehow I doubt it. 

In my place, what would you have done? I’d really like to hear some thoughts.

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