Over the past few months, we have been interviewing the acupuncturists at M & R Acupuncture to learn more about them and what brought them to where they are now.
For our third and final interview, Danielle will interview Dr. Drew Pollack.
Journey to Acupuncture and what brought you there?
I was interested in eastern culture from a very young age, I remember back in middle school reading haikus and stuff. My mom was a librarian, so she would always bring many random books home. I would ask her to bring home something and she would bring books on that topic. At a young age I was interested in Chinese art and philosophy and ancient Chinese culture. Aside from my fervor for reading, I studied diets - like macrobiotic. I then studied Buddhism and Zen. From there my likes evolved into yoga and meditation. At one point I thought of becoming a monk, and for a while I pursued that.
I grew up in Jersey and moved to California to live in a monastery known as the Self Realization Fellowship. While I was there I worked as a cook in the kitchen for 7 years while practicing meditation and yoga. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t want to become a monk, so I left the monastery, along with that job. I was then looking around for a career, at which time I was dating an acupuncturist who suggested that acupuncture might be a good fit for me. One month later I was enrolled and thus, my career started.
I had thought about it in high school, my mom went to acupuncture and I had seen it. I dropped out of high school after freshman year. I got my GED and at sixteen I was going to college. Looking back, I’m glad I left high school when I did. I saw most of my friends getting involved in drugs. The teen years are difficult, to say the least. I was sixteen and restless and had this desire to be a monk, but it was hard to compromise. I wanted something that was going to make me change. That’s why I got into yoga and meditation, as a way to work on myself. Chinese medicine is also a way of helping other people. Obviously it becomes a practice, but I had to find my path first and then I could learn something to help other people.
What do you appreciate most about Chinese medicine Theory?
The thing I appreciate the most about Chinese medicine theory is the holistic approach. It’s well balanced. That’s one of the major themes of Chinese medicine - balance. Bringing things back to harmony, bringing things back to balance, a place of homeostasis; whereas in western medicine, it’s mostly about strengthening, increasing or killing the diseases. There isn’t this focus on, “ok, what is happening in this whole system that we need to balance, bring it back into balance so that it runs properly rather than, just take this pill to reduce inflammation”. Well, why is there inflammation? Why is there an imbalance? What’s causing the problem? What can we do to prevent this from happening over and over again so you don’t have to depend on these pharmaceuticals? Don’t misinterpret, pharmaceuticals, surgery and emergency medicine absolutely have their place. But you know, everyday people who are stressed can’t just be given a pill. They need to learn skills to be able to help themselves. So, I think that a focus on a balanced approach of bringing things back into harmony and treating the whole person is most important. The whole person approach.
Why did you choose to specialize in more Orthopedics/Pain?
I think I chose pain because I like things to be concrete, to see things, to touch things and to see the change. I want things to be real. I don’t like to just think something is going to work - I want to see results. I want to know that this is working. I want the patient to see it and feel it and I want it to work. I like knowing what muscles are where, how to affect certain muscles, and how to release the tension in those muscles. I want to see the muscle fiber change and feel the muscle fiber release. If the shoulder is unbalanced, I want it to feel balanced again. I want patients to say “my shoulder is back to normal, my knee is back to normal, it feels like I have more mobility”. That’s what I like, and it’s one of the most effective forms of acupuncture that I’ve come across out of all the different forms. I think it resonated with me because I like to be very active and I get hurt a lot and that’s what worked for me. I love orthopedic acupuncture because it’s intense. I like everything about it. I like the aggressiveness of it, but balancing it with the gentleness as well. And I’ve learned that with orthopedics, you can always back off, you can always go lighter. It’s always individual based, and it changes from the first treatment to the last treatment. The first treatment is just getting a baseline to know where you’re at. Every patient is different, every treatment is different, every day is different.
What makes you stand out as a practitioner?
I really enjoy the acupuncture. I like treating patients and I like seeing patients get better. Helping people and being of service to people, that’s what matters to me the most. I want people to feel like they are getting someone who is going to help them with whatever they have going on whether it’s stress, shoulder pain, or learning how to meditate. Just spending a lot of time teaching people how to meditate, simple little breathing techniques, can be a big help. I try to bring what I know and what I’ve learned that has helped me into the treatment, but also just listening to the patient is important. And I think of myself as a coach a lot of the time. I am just here to help you help yourself - what do you want to accomplish? What are your goals? What are you working on as an individual? I bring that into the treatments and use a lot of different techniques. I just try to help as much as possible, whatever that may look like.
What do you enjoy most about your job as an acupuncturist?
I love that people appreciate it. That people feel better, more relaxed. How amazing, people feeling better about themselves. It makes me very happy to help people become better versions of themselves or to feel better, to reduce their pain and to get to know people. I love people and with every new patient I think, “wow, where is this person coming from, what are we going to work on together, and what do they want to do”. So it’s really fun getting to know people and sharing whatever I can to help them. Connection is so important.
How does Acupuncture work?
There are so many different ways acupuncture works. There’s so many different approaches, we don’t know why it works but we know it works. It’s really hard to take acupuncture and apply it to western medicine expectations because there are so many variables, so many things happening, and so many facets to acupuncture. It’s not just needles. It’s the meditation during the treatment or before the treatment, or just the connection. Where are we at, what are we working on, how was your week. When someone feels so much tension in their neck and shoulders and then they get up and say, “wow, I have so much more mobility”, that’s why I like orthopedic acupuncture, because I feel like it’s the closest thing where you actually see it working. They come in with lack of range of motion and then they come out with increased range of motion. You can see that they definitely had a change happen.
Orthopedic acupuncture works by releasing the muscle tension. Your brain has proprioception, which means your brain says, all right, my head is in this position and my torso, like this, is normal and in the proper place. Whatever you’re doing, your brain is coordinating your body in space and that’s your proprioception. So for someone that’s sitting at a desk all day, to them that’s normal posture. They feel comfortable in that position. What we can do with the acupuncture is to change the tension and the proprioception of the muscles and the perception of the body in space, so actual correct posture becomes more normal to them. You can see it happening and people can feel it. You can have pretty profound changes in the muscles.
There’s so many different ways to look at it and why it works. We want to see how one little aspect of acupuncture works, but it’s not just one aspect. It’s a part of a big picture, a very complex system that is deeper than just one effective result of acupuncture. What works for some people doesn’t work for other people. Every practitioner makes it something different.
What are some of the experiences you have had as you grew into the acupuncturist you are today?
When I was still a student in school in San Diego, I was broke and needed to make some money. I went to Mexico and got a job doing acupuncture because there is no licensing requirement for acupuncturists in Mexico. I was also volunteering at a HIV and tuberculosis hospice clinic and a drug rehab there. That was interesting because I was brand new, I wasn’t even finished with school, and I didn’t speak Spanish very well. Then, they gave me the patients and I had 30 minute treatments. I couldn’t even do an intake because I couldn’t really understand them. They had these terrible needles so I eventually started bringing my own needles. The doctor in charge of the clinic would tell me I was too slow, and that I needed to hurry up because they wanted them out within 30 minutes. Meanwhile, I wanted to take my time and really needed an hour and a half to do an intake, but they were paying me. I was working and being paid by these people in pesos. So, this was a very interesting experience.
I did that for a little while and then I volunteered at a hospice, where I saw the craziest things you could have ever seen. AIDS does crazy stuff to people and these are untreated patients, either alcoholics or drug addicts and mostly homeless individuals. People would get herpes sores because their immune systems would get so low and their bodies just couldn’t fight it off. Sometimes when I would go down I would bring a friend from school who spoke Spanish but aside from that, it was just me, and I had to explain acupuncture to these patients and convince them that I was there to help them. I would advocate for a lot of patients who were getting treatments because a lot of people in that clinic used to live in the US. They were born in Mexico and immigrated to the US illegally. They never got papers and because these guys are generally 50 or older, they didn’t have good records in Mexico of their birth. If they got deported from the US they would go back to Mexico and they would have no Mexican papers. It’s just as bad, if not worse, being in Mexico without papers. They’re native Mexicans but they have no birth certificate, no identification, and there is socialized medicine down there. You need your identification to get medicine, so they were living on the streets and had nothing. They couldn’t even work. Without the means to help themselves, they would either prostitute or they would sell drugs unless they were begging and constantly being harassed by the police. It was very sad. So, they would go to these homes to try and get some medicine and some help. It’s a very difficult situation. It was devastating but at the same time it was extremely interesting and really showed me what I could and couldn’t do and what was or wasn’t effective. That experience taught me so much.