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He Gets The Point

A treatment room at Queen City Acupuncture.

In which our intrepid reporter tries acupuncture for the first time, and declares it good

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Queen City Acupuncture on Delaware Avenue for my first ever acupuncture experience. I couldn’t help but picture Pinhead from Hellraiser with dozens of nails protruding from his skull, smiling sinisterly as he tortured his victims. Needless to say, it wasn’t a comforting thought, but at the same time I was ready to try something new. In fact, this experience would not be like a sadomasochistic torture scene pulled from that 1980s horror movie; far from it, actually.

Acupunturist Toni Haugen uses both needles and cups to treat her clients.

Queen City Accupuncture

Toni Haugen, Lac Mstom

1109 Delaware Ave, Buffalo, NY 14209


On the short car ride to the acupuncture studio, I clicked shuffle on my ipod. “All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away. Getting strong today, a giant step each day,” were the first words that spilled out of the speakers as Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen, We’re Floating in Space” filled my car. A more appropriate song could not have come on. Very few people are eased by idea of needles poking into their flesh, and I am not one of those people, so I focused instead on my desired results rather than the process itself.

I pulled up to 1109 Delaware Avenue and walked in, nervous and excited to find out what was in store for me. I climbed the stairs and entered the small office on Delaware near West Ferry. There to greet me was my acupuncturist, Toni Haugen, a young woman with a comforting disposition and an open attitude, characteristics I expected to find in a practitioner of alternative medicine. Haugen has a master’s of science degree in traditional oriental medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago, as well as several years of mentorships in herbs and acupuncture. After moving to Buffalo to go to college at age 17, Haugen left to get her master’s degree, only to return to practice in Buffalo last June at the age of 30.

“I think there is some misconception of Buffalo, that people are set in their ways,” she said. “That may or may not be true, but just because people don’t know about something, doesn’t mean they’re not willing to do it. If I can get someone to come in and make them feel better, then that’s all that matters.”

I was that Buffalonian, trying something new that I knew nothing about. A typical acupuncture session at Queen City Acupuncture runs around an hour and a half. The initial treatment, which includes a 30-minute evaluation, is $120 and consecutive visits are $75. Haugen is working on accepting insurance, but in the meantime she can give people a superbill, which means that they can pay her and then send a bill to their insurance company for reimbursement, if they qualify.

Haugen brought me into a warm white room with a single bed against the far wall. There were paintings of flowers on the walls, a candle or two, and a few overstuffed chairs; I sat in one and filled out some general and some specific questions about the state of my body and mind. Haugen considered me a “robust and healthy young man” but I was still experiencing some issues I couldn’t ignore.

She prepared some tea as I finished the questionnaire, then she sat down next to me to go over my answers. I recently had been experiencing some body pains; a gurgling in my stomach, lots of back and chest tension, and above-normal levels of anxiety. I considered the distress residual effects from the holidays and too much alcohol, and hoped that the acupuncture would help to partially clear up those feelings, whether physically or psychologically. I wouldn’t typically have contacted my primary care physician for this sort of general malaise, so I was happy that this discomfort was receiving some attention.

As we talked, she uncovered even more issues and was confident that she knew the remedy for each.

Haugen pulled out the stainless steel needles that would soon be poking out of my skin. The needles were sterile and came in individually wrapped packages.

“Some people call them filaments because they are a little weary of needles,” she said.

I had read that the needles could be as thin as a human hair but they were slightly thicker than I had anticipated, and she had different gauges for different purposes.

“When I need to move things I use a larger gauge needle. When I just need to tonify or remind the body of an area, I’ll use something smaller.”

She began to swab the areas on the front of my body where she would be applying the needles. This was the most nerve-wracking moment of the day. Feeling the moist alcohol naturally reminded me of receiving vaccinations at a doctor’s office. “I’m going to go ahead and get started,” she said as she held up the first needle and stuck the thin piece of steel directly into the center of my torso. I felt the point pinch into my skin and then felt the needle waggling, standing straight up, as she left it there to rest. “That’s it, now it hangs out.”

I expected pain but there was none. The only sensation I felt was the waggling of the needle sticking out of my skin and an awareness of that section of my body. One after another, she stuck the filaments into my skin and each different entrance point had a sensation all its own. I felt the de-qi sensation, as they call it in the world of acupuncture, a feeling of numbness, and an almost electric tingling at certain entrance points. As she poked a needle into my knee, I felt the muscle pop and seem to turn inside out. My leg didn’t move but even she could feel my muscle jerk from the other end of the needle. “A twitch is fine, it’s just the muscle resetting itself,” she said.

Tension was released and I felt the effects of the needle from the top of my hip to my ankle; it even helped release some of my chest tension.

“I am not someone who puts in 30 needles,” she explained. “I really try to be specific. I don’t want to get kitchen-sinky.”

Haugen slowly and carefully applied about eight or nine needles in strategically chosen areas of my body—my legs, torso, shoulders, and even my ear. “The ear sounds bad, but it is not,” she said as she poked a filament into the cartilage of the upper area of my ear.

Once all of the needles were in, she left the room to let me meditate for 10 or 15 minutes in silence. Left alone, I felt vulnerable. I was pasted to that table; if I wanted to jump up and walk out of the room, I couldn’t. It’s not every day that one feels that particular emotion, and I interpreted it as part of the psychological experience of acupuncture.

I quickly forgot about the feeling of vulnerability, though, and turned my attention to the rush of dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline that were no doubt coursing through my body at that moment. The acupuncture needles were like keys opening the locks to the natural medicine cabinet in my brain, and that was all right with me. I did not transcend my body, penetrate the astral plane, or undergo any spiritual responses: The experience was very biological, and I felt calmness as my body and mind reacted to the procedure.

Haugen returned 10 minutes later and took my pulse. “Has my pulse changed?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “When I first felt your pulse they were all coming up and hitting my fingers all at once, which indicates something is a little stuck. You want your blood to be flowing smoothly and not pounding. Now there is more of a roll to them—they’re not as wiry.”

She proceeded to remove the needles slowly, and I felt relief as each one was pulled out. All of my blood stayed inside of me.

The final phase of my acupuncture experience was a treatment called cupping therapy. Cupping, also an ancient Chinese form of medicine, is a method of relieving tension by suctioning small glass cups in clusters to various areas of the back.

“Some people do it with fire to create a vacuum. I use this because it’s just more efficient,” she said, pointing to a valve at the end of one of her glass cups connected to a removable pump. “This will relieve a little bit of muscle tension in your back, break up any adhesions that are in your muscles, and promote circulation. It feels lovely in my opinion.”

She applied the first cup. The feeling of the cups was much more apparent than the feeling of the needles. She suctioned six cups to the upper left corner of my back and let them sit for a minute before removing them one by one and suctioning them onto a new area. The feeling was intense, especially when all six cups were on at once. As she released the pressure my back loosed up and by the end of the cupping session I felt like I had had a deep tissue massage. The cupping session left large circular welts on my back that would last for about a week, evidence of the intensity of the treatment.

Walking out of the office I felt a sense of relaxation that I hadn’t felt since before I began to work on a deadline. The air outside was cold and the ground was icy but my body exuded warmth. I opened the door to my car and noticed my hand vibrating and then felt the sensation throughout my entire body. I drove home in a condition of giddiness bordering on excitement. I was definitely in a different state of being than I had been when I walked into the office two hours earlier.

Looking back, this was the peak moment of my acupuncture experience. The feeling of warmth and relaxation lasted the rest of the day, and when I woke up the next morning I still felt great and I had forgotten about the discomfort I was feeling before the acupuncture. My good mood lasted for the next couple of days. My tension and anxiety had dissipated and the body pains that I had been feeling were still unnoticeable.

“What if this feeling is addictive?” I thought to myself. This could become an expensive habit. But unlike an addiction to say, painkillers or Xanax, acupuncture promises to improve the function of your body after each use, rather than deteriorate it. In other words, there are worse things to be addicted to that won’t make you feel half as good.

As I was leaving her office, Haugen shared a little story about the history of acupuncture and her perspective on it.

“This type of medicine is at its best when it is being used both to address a problem, but also preventatively,” Haugen said. “If you look into the history of Chinese medicine, you’ll find that there were people called the ‘barefoot doctors,’ and they would go through the rural areas of China and they would treat whole families at once. Every week the doctor would treat your whole family, and every week you paid the doctor, but if the doctor showed up and someone was sick, he didn’t get paid.

“So this medicine, although it’s being used to treat problems, is really meant to prevent problems,” she said. “It is an investment in your health when you come in here.”

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