"I consider it one step up from drinking my own pee as a medical treatment, to be honest."


I’m chatting to the taxi driver, a burly old school Glasgow lad, about being on the way to my first acupuncture session.

"Nothing, sorry…I’m just…I’m giving it a go but I can’t see how it can possibly work."

He nods knowingly. "Well, it changed my life. I had awful sciatica and a few sessions sorted it right out."

These are not the words I expected to hear. In fact, I’d hoped I might find a kindred spirit who didn’t understand how getting a stranger to stick needles into you – in my mind I worried I’d look the spit of Pinhead from Hellraiser while handing over my hard-earned cash.

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But... I am desperate. My autoimmune condition has ‘flared’ once again and I can’t get out of bed. My body feels like it’s a balloon swollen up with toxic fluid.

My limbs are boiling hot, everything hurts and no amount of sleep, my 15 pills a day or my weekly injection of Methotrexate are touching the sides.

The truth is, I would drink my own pee if I thought it might help. And for the first time I can see why the chronically ill could be vulnerable to the modern equivalent of snake oil salesmen. I’d give any amount of money and do almost anything to be released from the prison of a body that won’t work.

So under those circumstances, a few needles doesn’t seem so bad. My husband Googles and books someone local – I am too fatigued to speak on the phone – I hobble into a taxi and slump myself in the waiting area of Laurie Heaps’ Queens Park Acupuncture in the south side of Glasgow.

It is pure dumb, internet algorithm luck that of all the offices in Glasgow, I walked into this one. But as soon as I meet Laurie, who radiates not just warmth, care and professionalism but an integrity and intelligence that lets me know, whether I think it works or not, this is a practice with the principles of science behind it and that she believes deeply in its efficacy.

Our first session is 90 minutes and she explains to me that needles are inserted into the skin for the purpose of stimulating nerves and connective tissue to both affect and regulate the nervous system. That this can facilitate my body to produce its own natural chemicals for pain relief, reduce inflammation, and release neurotransmitters that create feelings of relaxation and well-being.

She tells me she trained for a three-year degree course and qualified acupuncturists then join a self-regulating body such as The British Acupuncture Council which holds its members to professional standards. She is now a teacher of acupuncture herself.

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Next, she asks me questions about my lifestyle, my health, my physical, mental and emotional symptoms. In the last year and a half I have had intense medical intervention with some excellent specialists and GPs but this is the first time I feel able to mention the full gamut of strange symptoms without being thought of as a crackpot. Occasionally, Laurie asks me a follow up question, "Do you sweat much?"

"Oh yes, if I walk to the shop I look like I’ve been caught in a storm. I need to carry those giant tablecloth handkerchiefs like Barry White had."

"Do you feel like your limbs are heavy?"

"Like lead."

It feels so good just to have someone properly listen to me with no judgement. She suggests a few things that clients with similar symptoms have found beneficial like not smashing a bucket of coffee into my face on an empty stomach upon waking and reducing gluten and then she lays me down on the bed for dreaded needles.

Except, it isn’t dreadful at all. The heated bed is comfortable, there’s beautiful music on (I’ll later discover it was composed by a musician who found acupuncture so life changing that they composed this for free use) when she shows me the needles she’s using they’re thinner than a strand of human hair and I barely notice when they are inserted beyond a slight ‘spark’ on the skin.

I lie and relax for around 30 minutes and when I leave I feel just….lighter, calmer. I have enough energy, huge for me, who hasn’t left my bed for a week, to sit outside in the courtyard and have a cup of tea before taking my taxi home.

After my second session I have a look around the south side shops. I manage to have around 10 sessions before we take to the Thames in our houseboat, though Laurie usually says four to six can be enough, and I am almost my old self again.

The pain in my wrists and hands is gone, I am noticeably less swollen, indeed, it seems I have cheekbones after all. I wake with energy and, as long as I am mindful of what I eat and how I use my reserves, that energy stays consistent. When we sail away to our future life, I am well enough to co-pilot a 50ft steel narrowboat down the tidal Thames, pulling the whole thing into the shore by a centre rope and I start looking for yoga lessons nearby.

On my last session I asked Laurie what the best part of her job is and she didn’t skip a beat. "The clients. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of my client’s journey to living life well. It’s great to see people become empowered to make changes to their lives and feel better."

To say that acupuncture has been transformative for me is a huge understatement. I am almost exactly as I was two years ago before I got sick with my airway condition and my health spiralled downwards. And after all the medications, tests, surgeries, weaning on and off from life-altering medications I am as amazed as anyone that this is the thing that worked.

Indeed, I’d think it was mental trickery or, at best, a placebo effect if I didn’t know I was so sceptical before entering that office. Now I use the phrase, "I’d rather have needles stuck in me," and I mean it very literally indeed.