DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — Patti McCormick sometimes wonders about her middle name. Well, not really. But after more than 20 years of helping people with acupuncture and Chinese medicine, she has come to the conclusion she should change it to a more fitting moniker.
“I joke that my middle name should be ‘last resort,’ McCormick said. “That’s because I have so many people come in here and say they’ve tried everything and ‘You’re my last resort.’”
McCormick, owner of Sana Vida in Marble Falls, practices acupuncture along with three other licensed practitioners. Acupuncture often conjures up images of someone poking little needles into another person’s skin. And while this is part of the practice, McCormick and the other acupuncturists point out there’s much more to it.
In fact, McCormick and the other acupuncturists — Sita Chokkalingham, Tricia Mercer and Elise Lange — said acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicinal practice, which includes diet, herbs, massage and cupping.
“Acupuncture is one of many tools in our tool box,” Mercer said.
Though some people have reservations about acupuncture, it brings with it 5,000 years of study and practice. Over those years, practitioners have located more than 400 points in the body in which to place the needles for a variety of ailments and purposes. These points allow a acupuncturist to treat numerous problems — typically chronic ones.
“Over the 5,000 years this has been practiced, they’ve come up with, basically, a recipe book of ways to treat different things,” McCormick said. “But even then, through your experience and practice, you treat each person individually. As they come in and start telling you what’s wrong, I’m usually going through and coming up with a way to treat them.”
Two of the biggest focuses on the practice are pain and stress management.
“Through stress and pain management you control a lot of problems,” McCormick said.
The reason, she explained, is that stress and pain can impact much of the rest of the body. Practitioners of acupuncture and Chinese medicine look at the entire picture, not just a specific body part, even though that might be where a client feels pain.
“The body is an ecosystem,” Chokkalingham said. “I usually say acupuncture helps somebody’s body self correct.”
“It’s really about balance,” Mercer added. “You may be treating them for a specific problem, but you’re looking at everything that’s going on in their body and even in their life. That’s what’s so wonderful about this is we usually build a relationship with our patients so we know what else is going on in their lives.”
And the four of them know acupuncture works because before studying it, they found relief from pain or other problems through it.
“I was suffering from migraine headaches, and nothing seemed to work,” Lange said. “After three treatments (of acupuncture), they were gone. I just fell in love with it.”
She joked that acupuncture was her last resort.
But each of the four can share stories about how acupuncture helped them. However, they understand many misconceptions remain about the practice of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. They point out this isn’t voodoo, but backed by centuries of practice and research.
“I think people also believe we take some six-month course and then we’re an acupuncturist,” McCormick said. “We go to school for about four years.”
The schools aren’t in China, either. Several of the Chinese medicine masters come to the United States to teach. In addition to the classroom studies, a student goes through clinical practices. In the end, a student most pass his or her board certifications to become a licensed acupuncturist. It’s not an easy process, but one that takes years of study and dedication. Even after earning a license, an acupuncturist continues to study the art and science of Chinese medicine.
For McCormick, acupuncture isn’t something she just jumped into with little thought. Before pursuing her Chinese medicine studies, McCormick was a petroleum engineer who traveled quite a bit helping companies solve problems. As she began to look into acupuncture, both for herself and eventually as a career move, McCormick applied the same logical mindset she used in engineering.
As she did, she came to the realization that the human body and petroleum engineering shared a common trait.
“It’s all about moving energy through a body,” she said.
When it comes to treating a person for an issue (and the list of things acupuncture is effective for is long), an acupuncturist takes into account the problem and the individual. Acupuncture treatments are very individualized, Lange said.
“You could have two people come in with a similar problem, but you’d have two very different treatments,” Lange said.
“That’s where the art of it comes in,” Chokkalingham added.
Mercer pointed out that if a person has suffered from an ailment for 10 to 20 years, they shouldn’t expect it to clear up after a few visits to an acupuncturist.
“The longer you’ve had a problem, the more time it will take to treat,” she said.
But acupuncture doesn’t require endless treatments. McCormick said she re-evaluates a patient after four treatments. If the patient feels he or she can make more progress and wants to continue, he or she can. But sometimes, a patient reaches a point where he or she has recovered 80 percent of his or her previous mobility or level of comfort and that’s good enough for the individual.
While acupuncture offers relief for a list of ailments, it’s not a cure-all. The acupuncturists will refer patients to Western medicine doctors for some conditions (especially acute injuries and problems.) And they don’t see Chinese and Western medicines as antagonists but collaborators in many situations. In fact, both Lange’s and Chokkalingham’s husbands are Western medicine physicians. McCormick noted that several local physicians often refer patients to her and the other acupuncturists.
“It usually is (the patient’s) last resort,” Mercer said. “They finally, finally try it, and it works.”
McCormick isn’t bothered being the “last resort” because, in the end, it doesn’t matter when a person walks through the doors of Sana Vida.
“We have a common goal here: We want to help people,” she said. “We give them hope.”
Sana Vida offers private acupuncture sessions, but recently McCormick added group sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Go to www.sanavida.info for more information.