Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Getting the point

In a move that may well cost me my Skeptic's Card, I've made an appointment to see an acupuncturist.

No, wait, let me 'splain!

For about two years, I have shown many of the symptoms of early rheumatoid arthritis.  I have joint pain (particularly my neck, knees, hips, and occasionally fingers and shoulders), and prior to a bad episode I get a tingly, sensitive feeling in the skin over the joint that's about to get hit.  Often during those pre-pain periods, I'm unusually tired.  Plus, I have a family history of it - my mother and a great aunt both had rheumatoid arthritis, and I recall my mom describing exactly those symptoms, and at about the same age as I am now.

Despite this, my doctor doesn't believe that I'm developing RA, because a blood test came up negative for the antibodies.  (Never mind that I found out that many RA cases are negative for the antibodies in the first five years.)  Despite my symptoms and my family history, she wouldn't give me a referral to the only rheumatologist in the area, and my last two checkups have come with questions about how my joints are doing, followed with a patronizing, "Yeah, it sucks getting old, doesn't it?" when I tell her they hurt like hell sometimes.

Anyhow, given that my doctor has been less than sympathetic, I'm fishing around for other options.  Up till now, mainly what I did is limp around, act irritable, and swear a lot, which caused more than one of my students to compare me with Dr. House.  But I figured that this isn't a long-term solution, so I've begun to think of alternate approaches.

I've had five different people recommend acupuncture to me.  Now, allow me to point out that we're not talking about credulous woo-woos here -- they include three teachers (two of them science teachers) and a friend of mine who is one of the smartest people I know.  All of them prefaced their recommendations with, "I know this sounds crazy, but..." and went on to describe their own experiences with acupuncture, which were overwhelmingly positive.

I know, I know.  I don't believe in qi, energy meridians, chakras, or all the rest.  No, I have no idea how it could possibly work.  In researching the topic, both for this post and for more personal reasons, I found that most of the peer-reviewed studies on acupuncture have generated results that are described as "equivocal" -- which at least is better than nonsense like homeopathy, which has never generated anything but negative results, every time it's been researched.  I was actively looking for confirmation bias in the papers I read -- and it seemed like the researchers did everything right.  Even "equivocal" results for something as weird as acupuncture is pretty amazing.

So, anyhow, I decided to try it.  There's a well-recommended acupuncturist in Ithaca, and I thought, "what do I have to lose?"  Other than some money, that is, and possibly the respect of my readers.  But then, I thought, "Hey, I'm a skeptic, and that means an open mind.  Let's approach this in an experimental fashion.  Go in with no expectations one way or the other, and see what happens.  I could even report the results in Skeptophilia.  It could be interesting."

After all, what's the worst that could happen?  Besides the fact that my skin will be full of holes, that is.  I doubt that it could make my arthritis any worse, and there's a chance I may have a less-equivocal positive result -- and wouldn't that be nice?  I would sure like not to hobble around any more, and to do something about my neck, which often sounds like Rice Krispies when I turn my head.  I'd have to reconsider my Halloween costume -- I was simply going to stop shaving for a few days, mess my hair up, wear my lab coat with a pill bottle in the front pocket, and hang a stethoscope around my neck.  Then I was going to be obnoxiously sarcastic to everyone.  It won't be quite as awesome if I don't have the game leg, but I might still be able to make it work.

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