This Fall marks the 10th anniversary of the first time I got an acupuncture treatment.
I was volunteering in Managua, Nicaragua and I was experiencing bouts of vertigo. None of the doctors could figure out what was wrong with me (in retrospect, it was probably my New England constitution responding to the incredible heat and humidity of Central America—I recovered once I was back in the U.S.).
Eventually, a friend– the ex-pat who had helped arrange my travel– suggested that I try acupuncture. The acupuncturist, a Nicaraguan woman, diagnosed me via my pupils and muscle testing. She had me lay on a massage table, with a curtain for privacy (there were one or two other patient behind their own curtains in the room). I remember thinking that the needles felt like mosquito bites (the same thing I tell my own patients now). The needles weren’t disposable, by the way, but we each had zipper bags with our names on them for our individual needles. Ok, not the most sanitary situation, but I wasn’t versed in universal precautions at the time.
I went back a few times. It was a pleasant experience, but not an Ah-Ha moment for me—I didn’t even contemplate acupuncture school until years later. Thinking back now, though, it is interesting to consider the business model, which was essentially private-room acupuncture.
An acupuncture treatment with this woman cost $30 córdobas, which equated to less than $3 U.S. That may seem insanely cheap by our perspective, but in one of the poorest country in Latin America that was a significant amount of money. Tortillas cost the U.S. equivalent of ½ cent a piece, bus rides about 5 cents, a taxi ride less than $2. Clearly, the average Nicaraguan could not afford to get acupuncture.
The irony is, the Nicaraguan culture is so community based in almost every other way. You could even find an MD and diagnostic lab in most neighborhoods, but I had to travel by bus to the acupuncturist.
Now, I know that there are fixed costs associated with needles, sharps containers, etc. But I bet, especially if the space were donated (just the thought of the large community room in the neighborhood church makes me itch to go back down with some zero-gravity chairs), an acupuncturist there could make a living charging a much lower sliding scale. I would love to see that happen.