Health Matters: Even acupuncturists get stressed

Maureen Goss

No, ‘going to a dive bar’ is not my advice for reducing stress, nor a habit for good health. The following is an excerpt from my as-yet unpublished book, “From Modeling to Medicine: A Trail Guide to Peace”.

“Go to the dive bar downstairs when you finish the exam. When you walk out the door, take a left, it will be on your left”.

My lips turned up at the corners and spread to each ear after I read what was scrawled on the blackboard. We were about to dive head-first into our second-year final exam for the three-year Master of Acupuncture program.

The second year of acupuncture school had been much more difficult than the first. We had to learn and recognize the “patterns of disharmony” that cause disease and then come up with treatment plans that were unique for each patient. A month after that final exam, we would be starting our year long work in the high-volume clinic that was open to the public at our school in New York City. We needed to be ready to treat myriad health challenges while at the same time carrying a full course load to prepare for the National Board Exams.

Our final exam was 10 pages of case study after case study. How and where would we place the acupuncture needles in a woman with a heavy menstrual flow? How would our treatment differ for a woman who had no flow at all? What would we do if the former had a pale tongue instead of a red one? And what if her tongue was purplish and she had palpitations as well?

Forty-nine of us had been studying and practicing on each other for two years. We sat for hours, piecing the given information together like some opulent puzzle. We came up with treatment plans and acupuncture "prescriptions" for each case. We went through hypertension, impotence, asthma, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, P.M.S., multiple sclerosis, and many more.

By the end of the exam, even breathing slowly and deeply could not relax the twisted gnarl of a knot in my right neck and shoulder. Instead of a beer and some sure laughter with the group I had come to love, I skipped the bar and walked straight down Eighth Avenue, I took a left on Fourth Street and headed to a small and beautiful church, where I kneeled on a cushioned pew, closed my eyes and let my forehead rest on my clasped hands. With a deep sense of gratitude, I gave thanks for not just getting through the exam, but knowing almost every answer.

I walked out into the spring twilight and headed down 6th Avenue. I took a left on Bleecker, then a right onto Leroy to see my acupuncturist, who was also one of my teachers. She smoothed out the kinks in my neck, shoulder and back muscles with a few adept trigger point releases. Next, she strategically placed needles to put my nervous system into a state of rest and digest. After the hour-long treatment, I headed out onto the crowded sidewalk and stopped at Amy’s on the corner for a chocolate chip cookie to celebrate. Then I walked home, where I slept soundly, eager to begin my month off before starting work in the clinic for the next year at my school.

The next year, my last, I worked in the high volume clinic from June to June. Two partners on my team were the perfect pivots for our triangle of quick thinking and humor when dealing with everything from carpal tunnel (our first patient who was afraid of needles), to anxiety, to the partial blindness in a patient (that improved) along with a plethora of issues in between. We never knew what to expect. It was exhilarating. The year flew by, and I took the National Board exams three months early, passing all four sections on my first try: Point Location, Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Biomedicine, and Case Study. I was bursting to use my newly licensed skills, and New York City was where I wanted to practice.

When I moved to Manhattan after college, if someone had told me that eventually I would be practicing acupuncture there, I would have thought that they had stayed too long at their own neighborhood dive bar. But that is what I did. Helping others with what is most likely the world’s oldest medicine was a dream I did not know I had, which has now come true.

One last note: Don’t make it a habit to go to a bar to relieve stress or unwind. Perhaps, like I did after my grueling exam, you might try acupuncture instead!

Maureen Goss is a National Board Certified acupuncturist. Comments on this article can be sent to

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