FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- Jim Fitzpatrick’s introduction to acupuncture occurred 25 years ago, when he made an appointment to get treatment for a virus while studying in Japan. “At the last minute, I ran away,’’ the Fairfield resident said. “I was too afraid to get stuck with the needles.”
Fitzpatrick is no longer afraid of the needles though. In May, he left his position as an acupuncture clinic director to start a private acupuncture practice. Patients can receive treatment from Fitzpatrick adjacent to the Center for Integrative Health in Wilton, or facilities in Newtown and Wallingford.
Fitzpatrick has come a long way since fearing his own treatment in Japan. An undergraduate at Georgetown University at the time, he said he drank "10 gallons of orange juice and ended up sleeping it off."
It took another 10 years before Fitzpatrick considered acupuncture, then to control asthma. This time he followed through though. “The acupuncturist stuck a needle in the fleshy part of my hand, right below the pinky,’’ he said. “My chest instantly opened up. I don’t know what changed for me, maybe it was maturity or just being fed up with being unable to breathe, but I had enough faith in him to let him try it. I didn’t have anything to lose.”
Fitzpatrick was taking prerequisite Physical Therapy courses in Arizona when he received that treatment. At the time, he and his wife, Jodie, wanted to return to Connecticut to be near family. So he decided to change his career path and started to study acupuncture at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Fitzpatrick worked at a private practice in Ridgefield after graduation for a few years before joining UB. “Teaching kind of comes naturally to me,’’ he said. “It was an easy fit. I was able to absorb and learn 10 times as much when I was teaching.”
Fitzpatrick had a good run at UB, where he helped organize and supervise the Acupuncture Institute’s clinic and administered the Chinese Herbal Clinic Dispensary. He helped more than 100 students of the Acupuncture Institute at UB graduate and go on to private practice.
“As much as I enjoyed teaching, I missed giving the actual treatments,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “I wanted to get back into the meat and potatoes of medicine. The satisfaction you get from helping somebody get well is pretty amazing.”
Fitzpatrick said there is still skepticism that acupuncture works. “There is still a lot of fear. A lot of people feel like it’s a placebo effect,’’ he said. “But its acceptance is growing steadily.”
He said unlike hypodermic needles used in medical labs, needles used for acupuncture are very small and solid, and the sensation is different. Acupuncture needles do not tear into tissue, Fitzpatrick said, but get between tissue to connect with the body’s internal energy. Patients don't feel the intensity of sharpness like they would from medical lab needles.
“[After], it’s a heavy, achy feeling,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “It’s kind of like the feeling you get in your legs when you haven’t worked out for a long time.”
The intensity of the treatment can vary, depending on the condition that’s being treated. Most patients require 5-10 weekly treatments before they begin to feel complete relief. It's rare, but Fitzpatrick said some patients do feel instantaneous relief. Injuries that are unresponsive to traditional treatment, such as lower back pain and plantar fasciitis, are most times relieved quickly through acupuncture.
Fitzpatrick is glad to be back working with patients. “It’s a great way to wake up in the morning,’’ he said. “I had a patient who I worked with 12 years ago contact me and he was having trouble again with sciatica. I helped him then, and this time we had the same results. Helping people get better is a tremendous feeling. That’s when I know I made the right decision to come back to it.”
For more information, click here to visit Fitzpatrick’s website.