Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a very old system of medicine. As early as 1600 B.C., before there were microscopes and ultrasound machines, Chinese doctors were diagnosing and curing scores of common illnesses with acupuncture, herbal therapy, food therapy, and qigong.
Personally, TCM helped me to heal from an especially ugly ankle break as well as with several Lyme-related issues that Western medicine was unable to address.
I’m lucky to live on the north side of Chicago, where a TCM college provides (almost) free acupuncture treatments to the public. In 2007, before chronic fatigue was one of my symptoms, I worked as Volleyball Coordinator for a local health club. One night, playing front-line defense, I rolled and broke my right ankle when a hitter crossed way under the net. It wasn’t a clean break. The bone was mashed, there was severe soft-tissue damage, and for months the ankle wouldn’t heal properly. Even after the bruising had faded and the bone had set, the entire lower half of my right leg had an ashy, almost greenish appearance and just didn’t feel right.
I had just finished grad school and was living off savings, so I went to the free TCM clinic. The students—closely supervised by attending TCM physicians—diagnosed me with “blood stagnation” and did a combined, six-session treatment that included acupuncture, moxibustion, and daily herbs. They provided this care for only $6—the weekly cost of the herbs. The color returned to my leg the very first evening! And healing progressed rapidly from that point forward.
There are Eastern-medicine schools in nearly every major city, and many of them offer free or reduced-price treatment programs to the public. But because schools are typically not good with web sites, sometimes these programs are hard to find!
If you do not live in Chicago, I encourage you to do a little investigating using the Internet and telephone to uncover free or almost-free acupuncture programs near you.
For fellow Chicagoans: I’ve heard tell that my north-side clinic—run by the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine—is the largest free-treatment center in the country. Here are the details:
Midwest College of Oriental Medicine
Chicago Campus Clinic
4334 N. Hazel, #201
Chicago, IL 60613
WALK-IN ONLY; $10 per treatment
**Curing Chronic Notes: Park in the Jewel and use the revolving-door entrance on Montrose Ave. The clinic is at the top of the stairs! Also, bring money for the appointment and to cover the cost of any herbal prescription you might wish to fill (cash or credit).
Monday 1:00–5:30 p.m.
and Tuesday 1:00–7:00 p.m.
Return visit hours
Tuesday & Thursday: 1:00–7:30 p.m.
Wednesday & Friday: 1:00–3:00 p.m.
You’ll notice by reading the above details that treatments are now $10 per visit.* This change has had the (possibly intentional) effect of discouraging homeless regulars, who—a student told me—had been using the clinic as a place to get warm in winter, keeping it packed to the gills every day of the week.
Now, the clinic is practically empty! I have mixed feelings about this change, as it makes the service more accessible for some while excluding others. It seems a shame that a potentially life-changing public service should be withdrawn from the people who probably need it most. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved. When I attended the clinic in 2007, there was often a several-hour wait and the waiting-room air would be thick with the body heat and breath of too many people. When I went yesterday, a Monday, they took me in five minutes! And Mondays were typically the worst.
So for those of you who are doing well enough in life to have a regular job and wish to get treated on your lunch hour, good news! Life has smiled on you again.
In addition to receiving conventional acupuncture treatments, the clinic also offers auricular acupuncture on Mondays. Auricular acupuncture is acupuncture that uses tiny needles on the outer ear. It is said to be especially effective for stress reduction, smoking cessation, and for providing patients with a sense of general well-being. I can vouch for the latter claim—I always felt very calm and relaxed after receiving auricular acupuncture. If you’re interested in receiving auricular therapy, just ask! They’ll add it to your treatment that day at no extra cost.
Another insider tip: Park at the Jewel. Parking is often difficult at Montrose and Hazel, but one of the clinic’s interns told me last week that the Jewel parking lot a half-block West on Montrose is actually public and free. This could always change but is, as of January/2014, apparently true!
For transit riders, the clinic is a four-block walk from the CTA Red Line’s Wilson stop, or catch the #136 bus.
Acupuncture and herbal therapy excel in treating chronic illnesses but can also be very expensive—and they’re rarely covered by health insurance. Getting free or nearly free treatment at a local school is the perfect solution.
Do you know of a free acupuncture clinic in your area? Have you tried the Chicago clinic at Montrose and N. Hazel? Do tell!
*The fee does not apply to military veterans, who can still receive free treatments by attending the clinic during new-patient hours.