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Reston was not anaesthetized by acupuncture 

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Reston was not anaesthetized by acupuncture. It’s a myth: he got a freakin’ epidural! Much of the popularity of alternative medicine and acupuncture in particular can be traced to 1972, when journalist James Reston wrote about his emergency appendectomy during American President Nixon’s trip to China. Legend has it that he was “anaesthetized” with acupuncture needles. Dramatic! Inspiring! And false.

By his own account, Reston was chemically anaesthetized in a thoroughly medical manner, an epidural — “a normal injection of Xylocain and Benzocain, which anesthetized the middle of my body … and then pumped the area anesthetic by needle into my back.” And, by his own account, Reston received no acupuncture of any kind until 24 hours later, and even that was for “considerable discomfort” — not the severe pain assumed by virtually all re-tellings of the story.

For detailed sourcing, and a bunch of other surprising (and unflattering) stuff about the history of acupuncture, see Dr. Kimball Atwood’s excellent, scholarly, fascinating acupuncture series on