Dr. Zeng: fastest slinger in the East


I was going to add this into the comments of my last post about guanxi, but then thought it might be fun to make it a complete post on its own. 

When it's a busy hectic day and I'm seeing 20+ patients in my 4 hour shift, I often think of my friend and mentor, Dr. Zeng, who I had the great pleasure of training with while I was in Taiwan. Dr. Zeng was the chief of the TCM department at the T'zu Chi University Hospital, and is the fastest acu-slinger in the west OR east. I have never seen anyone needle people so fast, all the while chatting conversationally with either me or his patients, without breaking a sweat. 

His clinic would technically open at 8am, but by the time I arrived at 9, he would already have started at 7:30 and seen 20 or 30 people before I had even gotten my lab coat on. He had an amazing system set up that included a support staff of three nurses which allowed him to roll through the 14 treatment beds in his ward. 

The first nurse would do all the initial intake (demographics & payment, which was about $3), before Dr. Zeng would do his own intake, which included interview, pulse, tongue and herbal prescription. He would then send the patient into the treatment room to find an available bed. He would do intake until all the beds were full, and then the fun would start. 

He used the one-needle-per-tube system, with the little blue plastic tabs. One of the nurses' jobs was just to peel the wrapping off each of the needles, and place them into empty pill bottles, ready for refilling. Dr. Zeng wore the typical white 'lab coat', with four pockets. In his right lower pocket he had three pill bottles taped together, which held his 1-, 2-, and 3 cun needles. In his left breast pocket he kept his thinner gauge 1 cun needles. His left lower pocket was reserved for the 'empties'. 

When he was running low on needles he'd call out, and the nurse would come running over with a handful of the needles he had requested. Without interrupting his needling, the nurse would reach in and grab the pill bottles (using a tongue depressor which was also taped vertically to his bottles), refill the empty bottle, and slide it back into the doctor's pocket. A

nother nurse would sweep up the tabs that hit the ground like shells from a machine gun, Dr. Zeng was that fast. Dr. Zeng would have 15 or 20 needles in and be moving to the next patient in the time it would take one of my patients to settle themselves in their chair. The nurse would also be in charge of removing the needles when the timer over the patient's head went off, about 22 minutes after the last needle had gone in. 

Dr. Zeng was also remarkable in the way that he could remember EVERYONE he had seen. He would turn to me and say "Oh, you remember Mr. Zhu! He has a little dog, and his son is in university taking engineering!" It was crazy how much he would remember of each of his patients. 

So on those days when I'm running around, and three walk-ins have just come in and I'm feeling frazzled because two others need their needles out at the same time, I think of Dr. Zeng and how he would have found it all just a bit too slow for him. 


Jean-Paul Thuot R.Ac
Author: Jean-Paul Thuot R.Ac

"I have found the missing link between Ape and Human - it is us."

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  1. Thanks! Your post on guanxi made want to hear more about your experiences in Taiwan. It would be wonderful to hear from Dr. Zeng, maybe one day he could write a blog post for us, please let him know we are thinking of him in North America.

  2. Great story!

    I stumbled upon a similar system the other day when it was cool enough to keep my zip up hoodie on in the treatment room. Left pocket full of needle ten packs, right pocket for the empties and trash. I’d just hit up a box for more packs every so often instead of having to draw for more with each new patient. Really kept a busy (for me, not Dr. Zeng) shift moving along smoothly.

  3. THis is pretty fast- I have shelves (made from nice 1970s real wood cabinet door fronts I got at Habitat Re-Store) between each pair of recliners; on each are plastic desk tray organizers with mini-bins you get at office store; needles are easy to grab and use in size order and open packs of Spring-10s have their own section and shafts and tips arguably sterile till use even in open pack. WI law mandates needles kept sterile till used. I know several CA’rs in different states who pull needles and preload for easy grab into something like a butter dish holding a roll of cotton, but that wouldn’t be technically sterile, nor would loading up jars in pockets etc. I also saw plenty free needling in China ( with little hand washing in some cases) and no one the worse for it.