The following interview originally appeared in the Autumn 2001 issue of Meridians magazine, published by the Tai Sophia Institute.
Since Lisa Simeone became the host of National Public Radio's "Weekend All Things Considered" in October 2000, radio listeners around the nation are discovering what people in the Baltimore-Washington area have known for a long time: Simeone has one of the most beautiful voices in radio. She began her radio career in 1983, presenting classical music at WBJC in Baltimore and WETA in Washington, D.C. During ten years at Johns Hopkins University's WJHU, she developed a loyal following for programs that mixed jazz, classical, and folk music, as well as for her provocative interviews and public affairs call-in programs. She has been principal guest host of NPR's Performance Today and Weekend Edition Sunday, and has hosted the nationally syndicated public radio documentary series Soundprint.
Simeone is a patient at the Centre for Traditional Acupuncture--the clinic of Tai Sophia Institute--where she has been treated by Haig Ignatius since February 1993. In the following interview, she talks about her experience with acupuncture with Tai Sophia's Publications Director, John Wilson.
How did you find your way to acupuncture and Dr. Ignatius at the Centre for Traditional Acupuncture?
The mother of a friend of mine told me about it. She knew I had migraines, and had them all my life. She had been getting treatment at the Centre--she started treatment after she injured her knee--and she told me it had done great things for her. I knew I wanted to try it because nothing else worked, but I just didn't get around to it. Finally, I had a really bad bout with migraines. I said, "I can't take it any more," and I called up and made an appointment.
When we first talked about doing this interview, you told me the results of your treatment were "nothing short of miraculous."
Yes, that was it. I remember Haig explaining to me, "Look, this takes time, and obviously there are different results for different people." I didn't have any illusions. I just thought, "Let's try it! Acupuncture's been around for 5,000 years. If it works for me--fine. If it doesn't, that's fine, too. We'll try something else."
I started out going once a week. Then Haig said, "As things progress, we can begin doing a treatment every two weeks or every three weeks. Then we'll see how it goes." Honestly, I can't remember now how long it took [to get relief from my migraines]. I remember thinking it was relatively fast, considering what I was looking at. It certainly didn't take as long as a year. The migraines just started abating. The headaches weren't happening.
I always knew that certain things would trigger the headaches, and I knew to avoid those triggers. But there were just as many times when the headaches came with no trigger whatsoever--completely mysterious. Acupuncture took care of those headaches. It really stopped them.
When I do get a headache now, which is rare, I usually can deal with it by having a nice hot cup of tea. I might have to take one ibuprofin, whereas before I was eating them almost like candy. Then, when the ibuprofin wore off, I'd get the rebound effect. That rarely happens now, because I don't have to take so much ibuprofin.
Did acupuncture make you more aware of the triggers, the things that will set off a migraine?
No, because I knew what the triggers were before I started treatment. They were--and still are:
Haig was able to help with this very early on. He would touch me and figure out what's what. And he would say, "Different parts of your body are too cold. They're not supposed to be like this." Well, that struck a chord, because for me, cold can set off a headache.
Were there other results you experienced from acupuncture?
Almost every time I go for a treatment, I end up falling asleep on the table. Haig will put in a couple of needles, leave the room for a while, and almost invariably I fall asleep. That tells me I must be very relaxed--or who knows what's going on? That's nice. It's a nice little thing in the day.
I was surprised that there were so few needles. Treatment has never been as dramatic as I was expecting, needles all over. And the needles are so thin, just these little skinny things. I've certainly never been afraid, and I trust Haig completely.
I didn't. I delayed starting treatment only because I tend to put off check-ups, the physical.
I don't have--I've never had--this attitude that Western medicine has the answer to everything. I thank heavens for Western medicine, and I respect science a great deal. But I've never had the attitude that whatever the West came up with must work, and that anything else--an alternative--doesn't. Actually, I don't even think of acupuncture as "alternative," because it's been around longer than Western medicine.
It was different with my father. He suffered much worse migraines than I did--much worse. And my father did have the attitude that Western medicine had the answer to everything. He would not go to acupuncture, of course--until he heard me talk about my experiences.
His is a long story. He had lived with migraines all his life. Then suddenly they became even more severe. You know, you can get used to living with pain--that's how I started to feel about my migraines: just get used to the pain and just get through it. But when you have a brief period of respite, and then when the pain returns, you realize, "Oh my God, I didn't know I was in this much pain." That's basically what happened to my father. His headaches came back with such severity that--shock of shocks!--he actually called me up and asked me to recommend an acupuncturist. This was an amazing turnaround, believe me. This was one of those guys for whom Western medicine is everything.
So I got a recommendation from Bob Duggan for an acupuncturist in Pittsburgh, where my father lives. "You know," I said to my father, "You're a lot older than I am. We don't know if this is going to work. Just go in with an open mind. It might work, it might not." Well, he worships the ground his acupuncturist walks on. She helped him so much--it was unbelievable. So when I say it was miraculous for me, it was three times as miraculous for him.
That's hard to say, because it's hard to separate it out. The mere fact that I don't have the pain I used to have means that treatment has affected my life in ways that I don't know. Before, because I was in pain, I probably was more short-tempered at home and with people close to me. But who knows? It's hard to say.
I don't think I would have gone to acupuncture in the first place if I hadn't had migraines. It wouldn't have occurred to me to go for general well-being--though now I've suggested it to people, including a girlfriend of mine whose husband died. He just keeled over one day--literally, out of the blue. Here is a woman who was experiencing obvious grief years after his death, and I suggested acupuncture to help her with that. Maybe people shouldn't think of acupuncture just in terms of illness or pathology, but as a way to comfort themselves.
Now that you're in the national spotlight as host for Weekend All Things Considered, I assume that you have additional professional pressures. Is that fair to say?
Yes, but I've got to tell you--I think there's no such thing as a job so great that if you lose it, your life is going to end, or you're never going to get a good job again, or some other terrible thing is going to happen. I just don't buy that. I'm in this job for now, and I'm not going to stay forever. I know that much. It's a job.
So how do you balance time between home and work?
I make sure I do. My job is not my number one priority in life. That's not the way I look at life. The only problem is the schlep between Baltimore and Washington--but that means I have time to myself on the train for reading or sleeping. I do both. So I don't feel it's any great juggling act.
I don't have children, and I don't know how people with children do it. They're heroes. Since I don't have children, I think it's pretty easy to keep the balance.
Yes, I think Americans are too obsessed with work. It sounds trite, yet it's so true: Americans, for the most part, are obsessed with having the next big car, the next gadget for their house, or the next bit of technology, or making enough money to buy this or that. They don't stop to think, "Why am I doing this? What is this for? Who says I have to live this way?" Or, when they're driving two hours to get to their job and back, they don't ask, "Why do I live where I live? Why do I work at this job?"
So Americans need to ask themselves some commonsense questions, set some priorities in their lives.
I've always considered you an expert interviewer.
If you were doing this interview, is there anything you would ask that I haven't?
I think you've asked everything. I just want to emphasize that acupuncture has been a wonderful thing for me. I'm grateful that Tai Sophia is there. I know there are practitioners all over the country, but I feel lucky that I live near this institute that trains people, and that I was able to find it.
The people who read your publication already know about this wonderful work. I guess you're preaching to the choir. So you need to get to those people who have no idea about acupuncture, who are suffering and who don't need to be suffering quite so much.
Any consideration of doing a piece on acupuncture?
National Public Radio has done a lot of pieces on acupuncture and herbal medicine. I'm sure it will come up again. It's not really my bailiwick--it's the beat of the science desk and would be coming from a health reporter. I probably wouldn't have the opportunity to do a one-on-one interview about it. But if I did--in the interest of full disclosure and with no embarrassment at all--I would certainly tell the audience that I'd had acupuncture, and that I'm a completely biased observer. I think acupuncture is fabulous, and I think more people should try it. I'd have no trouble saying that.