Stuck on Detroit: Midtown's New Acupuncture Clinic

On the edge of Detroit's Medical Center, Nora Madden has her needles.

The proprietor of the first acupuncture clinic in Midtown believes those needles can make you feel better, she believes they can help change your life and she believes everyone should get stuck by her once before they knock it.

Madden, a Lansing native, is the sole owner of Detroit Community Acupuncture, at 87 E. Canfield, Suite 1300. In Madden's hands, a garden-level suite in the Mid-Med Lofts building has been transformed into a sweet smelling, dimly lit home of healing. After 15 years living in sunny California, she returned to Detroit in 2008 when her partner, Scout Calvert, received an offer to teach at Wayne State University's School of Library Science.

"I love this city already," says Madden, who lives in the Hubbard Farms neighborhood in Southwest Detroit. "It has such a great energy. It's the perfect place to start my own business."

Pokes for the people

If you want to get Madden excited, ask her about her mission: bringing the ancient Chinese practice "to the people." The idea for a community acupuncture clinic is, in fact, an idea on loan from a Portland collective. Enchanted with the idea of providing a service outside of a health-spa setting, Madden took it and helped set up one of the country's first collective acupuncture clinics in Santa Cruz.

"In this country, acupuncture -- and really, much of our healing medicine -- is only available for people who have health insurance, or wealth," she says. She's out to change that.

One of Madden's new ideas is a sliding price scale for her patients, based on income and administered on the honor system. This allows her to be of service to patients without health insurance. She says they have an even greater need for alternative medicine practices. The prices range from $15 to $35 a session. There's also a $10 fee for the first visit to cover the time spent gathering medical information and filling out paperwork.

If opening an acupuncture studio in the shadow of the Detroit Medical Center seems like a curious idea, perhaps it's time to awaken your Eastern sensibilities. For thousands of years, the Chinese practiced the art of sticking dainty needles into hundreds of meridian points across the body, in order to utilize the qi, or vital energy, flowing within. In 2003, the World Health Organization released an analysis of clinical trials of acupuncture, claiming the ancient practice is an effective treatment for dozens of medical problems, ranging from depression to hypertension to rheumatoid arthritis. "In China, acupuncture is thought of as another acceptable treatment by the medical community. It's prescribed right along with medication," Madden says.

So she has no ambitions to put the DMC out of business, or argue that acupuncture could replace, say, penicillin. "It's not like, if you had cancer, that acupuncture is going to cure you. But I have worked with people who are, say, undergoing chemo, and, believe me, it can really help some patients deal with the side effects."

The treatment

All that's required to begin, from a medical standpoint, is filling out a brief health questionnaire. It's far less imposing than the standard form at a physician's office; one question asks, "Do you have a circle of family, friends and community to support you?"

Unlike a spa, everyone is treated in the same room at Detroit Community Acupuncture. The practice hearkens back to acupuncture's Chinese roots. Madden says there are three good reasons for this. First, obviously, it allows her to price the acupuncture at more affordable rates. She also says the community-oriented healing can lessen what she calls "the isolation of disease." Plus, Madden says, there is better energy in the room, what with everyone's qi flowing.

The room is full of La-Z-Boy-ish recliners set in a circle. Each patient is covered in a blanket. Madden takes the patient's pulse.

Her needles are less scary than you might think. They are silver, impossibly thin and bendy, like cat whiskers. She finds a spot, then taps the needle into her patient's skin, in the same way one hammers a nail. It's definitely not painful, though there is a slight, sharp feeling, then nothing. When she's done, the patient is covered in a blanket and told to rest while the needles work.

For my treatment – eight needles total – I figured there's no way I'd doze off. Then I woke up almost two hours later, feeling vaguely euphoric, and rested beyond belief. There were three other women reclining in the room: How did I not notice them come in? I still can't believe I fell asleep, though judging by Madden's grin, she wasn't surprised.

"The idea of sticking people with needles is something that seems to get lost in translation in our culture," Madden says. "But once you experience acupuncture, the meaning suddenly becomes more clear."

Ashley Woods is Model D's intern and a Midtown resident. Send feedback here.

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Nora Madden sole owner of Detroit Community Acupuncture

Detroit Community Acupuncture Interior

Filiform needles

Unless noted, All photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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