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Charlie Adams

What is your official title?

I am a nationally board-certified acupuncturist.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

An average day may start with me going to a fitness club right down the street, then head to our offices where we have showers and a nice little set up. There are three acupuncturists here, and typically I’m in earlier than the others, I think because I’m more of a morning person. I may see three to four people in the morning, and three to four in the afternoon.

People come in for any number of reasons. Right now, we have a higher pollen count for certain trees…Maple, Poplar and Juniper, so I have been busier with treating for allergies. We have a little protocol where we can collect some of those pollens, and use them to help desensitize, so the symptoms can be much less severe. Alleviating pain is also a very common reason that people seek out acupuncture.


What is acupuncture? Who would need to come?

Acupuncture is typically described as the insertion of very small, sterile needles into specific sites along acupuncture meridians. Acupuncture meridians were identified 2,000-3,000 years ago by the Chinese, and there are 12 basic channels that are bilateral on both limbs and all over the body. Acupuncture would be to insert needles into these channels to affect the life force or “chi” in these channels. Within the paradigm of traditional Chinese medicine, illness is identified as imbalance in these channels. So, inserting needles and stimulating these needles to affect the flow of chi can help to establish a balance within the channel.

That is the traditional explanation, but within Western medicine today, we have wonderful diagnostic tools that can measure from one point to another; you can actually measure the amount of resistance to current flow. You can actually see that there is better conductivity between actual acupuncture points than between randomly chosen locations. It’s nice being able to have some tools to back up what the Chinese knew all of those thousands of years ago. With EEG’s, you can see where the insertion of the needles will affect certain regions of the brain. It’s nice from the standpoint that we can now prove that this practice is actually doing something.

The people that we see can be a mix. There are probably more women than men. The majority of people I would say come because they have a painful condition, and typically these people have been elsewhere; as a rule, usually people don’t find acupuncture first. It’s more typical that the folks I meet have been to their medical doctor first and have been prescribed medication or have probably had something like physical therapy as well. Our feelings aren’t hurt when people come to us as a last resort. It can be gratifying, actually.

Some of the typical things that people seek acupuncture for are conditions like tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, frozen shoulder, or sciatic nerve pain. So, a number of different ailments. It’d probably be easier to say what it didn’t treat.


Tell us more about the acupuncture experience. Does it hurt?

In the initial session, we spend most of the session talking; my goal is to build rapport and for me to get the sense of a person. If I pick up that a person is needle phobic, he or she might just come out and say it, but I assure them that we can still treat their ailments without having to use needles. Acupuncture is the use of needles, but within the paradigm of traditional Chinese medicine, there are other techniques that can be used.

But, say we do use needles, I spend time getting the person comfortable, and I don’t really do a whole lot until the person is comfortable physically and mentally. We practice diaphragmatic breathing together, and after gathering all of the information from them and helping them relax, I’ll develop a prescription of where the needles will go. Then I’ll go through and explain to the patient what I am going to do to try to continue to put them at ease.

Are they painful? As a rule, they are not. If a person experiences any discomfort, it’s usually at the outer-most layer of the skin. Once I get through the epidermis, the sensation is more of a heaviness or fullness – never sharp, never burning. If a person is uncomfortable, we can make adjustments.


What is the biggest misconception about acupuncture?

The most common question is does it work? I have to refrain from saying, well it’s been around for 3,000 years – I don’t say that, but I think the biggest misconception would be that it is all in a person’s mind, that it is efficacious if they believe it will be. And that is beneficial, but it’s beneficial in Western medicine too. So, when a person says that acupuncture is all in your head, then I say that’s great; it’s very holistic, so the mind is a major part of the healing process.


Can you tell us about your background?

It’s circuitous for sure. I grew up in the Upper Peninsula just across the Straits of Mackinac. From there, I was in the Navy for four years as an Electrician. And as many people do, I ended up in Kalamazoo to go to Western. I shifted gears there from being in more of a technical field to more human service. My first background at Western was with their Blindness and Low Vision studies program; I’ve done that for decades, and it’s really great.

But then, as many people do, I think I was in my mid 40’s, I had this nagging notion to do something else. I’ve always appreciated different approaches to doing things; I’ve always appreciated nutrition and exercise, and mental and emotional health. When I began to look around, I looked into chiropractic, and was actually ready to go to chiropractic school, but it just didn’t feel right; I’m one of those people who operates from the gut, and it didn’t feel right, so I didn’t pursue it. I also explored osteopathic medicine, but when I began looking into Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes acupuncture, I was sold. In my opinion, it is the original holistic medicine. I picked a small program in Santa Fe, New Mexico called the International Institute of Chinese Medicine; it just felt right. The faculty, most of them were from China, just made me feel welcome; it was a very supportive environment. The program is 36 months, which I think is pretty typical for that type of program.

After graduation, I felt that I could go wherever I wanted. I had been reading about Maine, and thought well, why not? So, I checked out the community of Belfast, Maine, a quaint little throw-back-to-the-1960’s, hippie-ish era kind-of town. Not long after, I packed myself up with my cat, and drove to Maine. I was there for only a year; economically it was a little challenging out there. Then an opportunity came up for me to move back to Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is a great little town, and I really felt the community here; anyone starting a practice needs to find a place with community, and this is where it is for me.


What do you teach at Western?

In the Blindness and Low Vision Studies program, I teach students to be teachers of people who are blind or who experience challenges with low-vision. I just happened to fall into this field 25-years ago after talking to a friend that was familiar with the program. I have been with WMU for over 5 years now, but will be finishing up after this next semester.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

When I first moved here in January of 1984, I had actually attended the community college in Lansing beforehand, and Lansing is flat, flat; you might as well be out on the prairie. In coming to Kalamazoo, right from the get-go, even before meeting any people, I appreciated the hills; I thought it was practically Rome with the rolling hills and valleys.

It’s been really nice having the influences of Western, Kalamazoo College and KVCC. Colleges definitely add flavor to any town. By, their presence, there is an influx of new ideas and new people; I very much appreciate that. I like the size it is, too. From where I live, I can drive to my office in seven minutes. I also be at the University in seven minutes. I can be downtown in seven minutes; just from that standpoint it’s so incredibly easy to go someplace and run errands or do whatever. It doesn’t have to be a big arduous decision to go out anywhere. The little community in which my husband and I live was originally set up by a group of people who hired Frank Lloyd Wright in 1947 to plot out 50 acres that they purchased. The acreage is contiguous with the Asylum Lake preserve, and that in itself is way cool.


What do you think can be improved about Kalamazoo?

I have these notions. I can imagine making a more fluid connection between the campuses and the downtown area. I imagine just like Disneyland, we could have a monorail or light rail that’s on a big loop between the campuses and downtown. You hit some of the micropubs, grab something to eat, take in some theater or a movie and head back safely. Other parts of town can be tied in too, but it is important to have a healthy and vibrant urban core.

I would love to see some major anchor stores moving to the downtown area. The town of Burlington Vermont is a great example of outdoor dining, music, theater, retail and loft spaces. Kalamazoo could do the same.


What have you been jammin’ to recently?

I gravitate more to the old classics really, like Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Washington, Etta James and Sarah Vaughn. I enjoy the classics that people redo and redo in their own way.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

I drink my coffee black, thank you. I appreciate Waterstreet. I say that it’s getting neurotransmitters in a cup.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

Waterstreet is right down the street from where I live, and it can be a place to meet up with people, so I enjoy going there. From a food perspective, I love Food Dance and appreciate that they source locally.


Who would play you in a movie?

Robin Williams – he played Patch Adams, my last name is Adams, and he tries to help people feel better, while striving to maintain a sense of humor, so I think it works well.


What does your perfect Friday night look like?

A Friday night might be to meet some friends to have dinner. Maybe a movie too, but that’s typically a Saturday night activity. In the spring/summer/fall, I do a lot of landscaping and gardening, so I may be doing that in my free time too.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

It’ll all work out.


Charlie, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.