Do's and Don'ts in the Treatment Room, Part 1

By Alexis Rotella, LAc, MAc, CNC

Cell phones do not belong in the treatment room unless they are turned off. While I was having lunch the other day with several acupuncture friends of mine, the horror stories about cell phone use in the treatment room monopolized the conversation. Read on to see just the sorts of things not to do when you have a client on the table.

Shelly: There I was, lying on Judy's treatment table. Just as I was spilling out my heart to her about the grief I was going through after my mother died, I heard the flamenco beat from Judy's cell phone. Immediately she jumped for the phone. I thought she was going to turn it off and apologize for the interruption but she answered the call. It was one of her children asking where the cereal was kept. Then her husband got on the line, and Judy had a conversation with her spouse for a good five minutes about a health problem he was having.

"Sorry about that," she said. "Now where were we?"

At that point, I was so numb from shock, I just told her I lost my train of thought. She needled the source points on Lung and while the needles were in, her cell rang again. She once again pounced on it. This time it was a patient with a question that took at least another five minutes to answer. No "sorry about that" followed, just talk about how her mother was nearing the end of her life and how hard it was on her to watch her go downhill. There I was, playing the role of listener/therapist. After that session, I felt like I needed to go to another acupuncturist to get balanced but instead I went home and cried.

Betty Lou: I traveled to New Jersey to consult with a nutritionist who charged $250 an hour using a special type of kinesiology that I heard was helpful for many people. She was the nearest practitioner to where I lived, even though it was a four-hour drive. After waiting 45 minutes for her to finish with a patient, she finally welcomed me. However, instead of asking me first about myself, she began raving about the great results she gets, that her practice is booming and I was lucky to get in so quickly.

It wasn't long after she began muscle testing that her cell phone started to buzz. "I have to get that," she said, "I'm expecting a call from my son." The call from her son took about 10 minutes as they tried to resolve what time she should pick him up from where he was. She didn't realize he was at Stan's house; she thought he was at Joe's place.

We had just started, and already the waters were troubled. She didn't apologize for the phone interruption and when I asked her if she expected more calls, she said, "I answer my cell phone. There will be other interruptions. My family and patients need to have access to me." And just as she predicted, there was buzz on her cell phone at least seven more times in the space of the hour and half we were together. I was so angry driving home and so nervous I had to pull off and do some relaxation techniques to get my head back on straight.

Mary Ann: Benta had just returned from the beach smelling of suntan lotion and wearing a sarong. When I say just returned, I mean five minutes ago from a four-hour ride on the interstate. She said she hated to come back and that she felt like staying another few days at the beach, but she needed the money.

So there I was on her treatment table, feeling like a cash cow. I had a migraine for three days and really needed some understanding. However, even before I could open my mouth to tell Benta what my complaint was, a quirky tune started to play from inside her pocketbook. She had to dig deep to get to it, and I thought she would turn it off and get back later to whoever was calling. But no dice. There was her partner on the other end of the line, firming up plans for the evening they planned to spend together. She cooed and ahhed and oohed for what seemed a long time. When she finally hung up, the girl was floating on a cloud, while I was fit to be tied.

"Look," I snapped, "I have a headache. Can you turn that thing off so we're not interrupted again?"

"Oh, certainly," she said apologetically, as if common sense finally struck like a bell that went off inside her head.

That was my last visit to Benta. I'm looking for another practitioner and I am asking around. The first question I'm asking is: "Does her cell phone go off in the treatment room?"

Julie: An acupuncturist agreed to make a house call, since I was unable to drive to see her. She was more than an hour late but did not apologize. I asked, "Was the traffic bad?" She said that it wasn't.

No sooner did she take my pulses when her cell phone rang. It was her next patient, wondering where she was. Obviously the woman was backed up. During the treatment, she asked if she could use my land line as her cell phone battery seemed to be dead. When she hung up my phone, she slammed it down so hard the phone broke.

The acupuncturist did not even finish doing all the points that she had in mind at the outset but said she had to get going. When my husband came home from work and saw the phone, he said, "Don't you just wish if people didn't want to come, they would just say so?" It took a week to find a replacement for the phone. Needless to say, I will never use her or refer her to anyone. Of course, our lunchtime conversation would not have been complete had we not also talked about the patients who come into the clinic and treatment room wired up to cell phones, iPods and Blackberries. But that's a discussion for the second part of my do's and don'ts.

Alexis Rotella is director of The Jade Spring Health Center in Arnold, Md. She practices Classical Five-Element acupuncture and also maintains an art and haiku blog at

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