Corinne Shea was attacked and disabled three years ago. The 38-year-old woman first came to the Berkeley Acupuncture Project because it was inexpensive, but was surprised to discover a beneficial side effect of the group therapy.
“I’ve been able to take naps here and I can hardly sleep in my own home,” Shea said. She still winces when describing the attack that dislocated her hip, tearing ligaments and muscles.
A co-worker angry at Shea tackled her during an office party. The woman struck Shea from behind, knocking her into and over a counter. Her hip was severely injured, but so was her sense of self-confidence and safety. Sitting in a recliner chair at the clinic, Shea had difficulty describing not just her attack but also her emotional turmoil.
“I’ve been afraid of everything, jumpy at the slightest noise,” she said. It was intimidating coming to this clinic because simply being around other people makes her nervous, tense. Shea said, initially, the only reason she continued to come is because it was the only acupuncture treatment she can afford. But over the last few months, Shea said she has noticed her fear of being around other people has diminished.
The Berkeley clinic has become a haven of sorts, she said, where she can both heal from her injuries and also begin to re-enter the community with a sense of wellbeing and calmness.
“My story speaks pretty loudly to their ability here to create a safe and quiet environment, in the middle of noisy Berkeley, as well as to the healing power of the treatments,” said Shea, looking up as Carpenter entered the room to administer the treatment. Carpenter sort of floats from patient to patient in the darkened room, its Asian music turned up to compete with the street noises.
“How’re you doing?” Carpenter said to Shea. Carpenter checked her pulse, tongue and then asked a few questions before swiftly, but gently, inserting needles in her arms, legs and head – including one in the neck. The acupuncturist explained that despite the limitation of working only with the “distal” areas of the body – arms, legs, head, shoulders – they can accomplish a lot.
“We can work from about 300 different points on the body,” Carpenter said. But the general goal is usually the same, increasing a healthy and balanced flow in the body of a kind of human energy acupuncturists – and practitioners of other traditional forms of Chinese medicine – call qi (pronounced “chee.”).
In Shea’s case, Carpenter said, the goal is to get a more balanced flow of qi so she can walk pain-free and without a cane. “The treatment has already increased my range of motion significantly,” Shea said. She also sees many mainstream health care providers, including a host of doctors and regular visits with a physical therapist.
Shea said she’s not quite sure how acupuncture works, but she’s certainly no skeptic. And beyond the physical benefits, Shea said, the Berkeley clinic has clearly helped heal many of her emotional wounds.
“There’s just something about this place,” she said.