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Health Talk 

Acupuncturist Suzannah Eross (324-1977) practices a form of medicine that is more than 3,000 years old, but she considers herself a pioneer, at least in Louisiana. Statewide, there are only 18 licensed acupuncturists and 19 acupuncturist assistants. Eross is licensed as an assistant even though she holds a master's degree in Oriental medicine. Considering how difficult it is to get any acupuncture license in the state, Eross considers herself lucky to be practicing the ancient healing system and making people more aware of its benefits.

Q: For many people thinking about acupuncture, it's hard to get past the thought of so many needles being inserted into them. What are the needles for?

A: The needles are used to stimulate regions of the body and kind of wake up nerve endings. On a basic physical level, they are an implement that goes into the body, stimulates nerve endings and nerve beds—capillary beds—in the regions that are called accu-points. Those are areas of the body that have higher electro-conductivity than other areas of the body.

Q: What's a good definition of acupuncture?

A: Balancing and energizing the nervous system. The nervous system controls every other system in the body, so if the nervous system acts erratically or is unbalanced, then you get imbalance in other systems of the body. For example, the endocrine system (when the nervous system is unbalanced) over time begins to move toward imbalance, so your hormone levels aren't balanced, and that can have a whole vast array of effects in the body—physical and mental. So it's important to get the nervous system in line, because without that, nothing else in the body can actually follow suit.

Q: How did you become trained in the practice of acupuncture?

A: I attended a graduate program, a 36-month program, which was a Master of Science Degree. So there's a lot of Western biomedicine — that part was your basic anatomy and physiology, much like a health sciences degree — and then you also take many courses in traditional Chinese medicine, which has a whole fundamental theory and philosophy behind it that involves the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Acupuncture and Chinese herb formulas are usually used together in most Asian medicine.

Q: Is there a licensing body for acupuncturists?

A: Yes, depending on the state you live in, it's usually the department of health. In Louisiana, it's the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. They are the governing agency that provides licensing and awards licensing to physicians. (In Louisiana, only medical doctors with acupuncture training can become licensed acupuncturists.)

Q: How do you qualify to become an acupuncturist's assistant?

A: You have to have 36 months of training in a graduate program for acupuncture. Louisiana doesn't require the herb aspect of it. Also, what Louisiana requires, and this is really unlike any other state, is that you have a sponsoring physician. A medical doctor must sponsor your practice. Initially, you must find a willing sponsor and that physician agrees to look at your treatment notes on every treatment you perform.

Q: You were part of Acupuncturists Without Borders, a group of volunteer acupuncturists that treated people in New Orleans following Katrina. How did this work?

A: First and foremost, it helped people deal with and process the stress that they were undergoing. We worked with first responders: medics, firemen and the police. Most people who received the treatment, [acupuncturists] put the needles in and the patient rested for 20-45 minutes. There wasn't one person that I saw that did not absolutely appreciate it.

Q: What about people who are suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder because of the storm?

A: The NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol is very beneficial. Even to get that once a week or a couple times a week for a few weeks can really help to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, which with stress and post-trauma can get really out of balance. These people can't sleep; they have very bad thoughts and feelings about things and this helps lift the spirit.

Q: Have you seen a lot of these patients since the storm?

A: Oh yeah. In my personal practice and in my volunteering.

Q: How many acupuncture treatments are usually needed?

A: It will vary. It depends on the reason. I see a lot of pain-management patients and usually I start to see really good results after the third treatment. If someone's trying to get pregnant, they're going to want more than three treatments. They're going to want some ongoing treatment, maybe once a week for six weeks.

Q: What are some common uses of acupuncture?

A: Pain syndromes of all kinds: chronic pain, acute pain and trauma. Anything that involves pain. That's probably our most successful kind of case. I'm a general practitioner and I see everything: endocrine imbalances (such as) hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and diabetes. I have a certification in facial acupuncture rejuvenation, non-surgical facelifts. I see women for female disorders. I see emotional and mental health types of patients: bipolar, depression and anxiety. It's good to use in conjunction with some Western medications. You have to know when to refer out. If I get someone who is severely depressed and they've been through several treatments and are taking Chinese herbs and it's not working, then as a caring practitioner, I'd say "You know, you might need to go talk to somebody." My job isn't to counsel people.

Q: Does insurance pay for any of this?

A: It will if the practitioner is working with an insurance company. I personally don't, but I keep my prices pretty low and manageable, and I work on a sliding scale as well. It's a goal of mine to eventually get that kind of capability. What I do now is generate receipts for people, so some people's insurance companies will pay. But I allow them to take it up with their insurance companies.

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