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Sa'am kidney treatment proves miraculous

Perhaps it is a bit premature to use the term “miraculous.” But as a new Sa’am practitioner, I wanted to share the success I had today supplementing kidney for a very complex and difficult case. I am humbled by this system and have so much to learn. Just as background, I have completed Toby’s beginner and “advanced” classes, but am a relatively new acupuncturist and have only been using the system for about 6 months.

My patient is a 61-year-old woman who came to me about 2 months ago with excruciating pain from a “failed” back surgery (screws inserted in several lumbar vertebrae) performed about 2 years ago. My patient has told me that the surgery was “the biggest mistake of her life.” Believe me, that says a lot. Her life, as I have come to learn, has been filled with extreme physical and emotional trauma. Abusive husbands and boyfriends, a daughter in prison for distributing meth, and two now motherless grandsons.

The back pain was only one of her chief complaints during her first appointment. She was actually more bothered by the recent development in her right arm. A few months prior, her arm had become numb, she felt radiating pain, and she lost use of her hand and fingers. For context, she also has incredibly high blood pressure that can surge up above 200/100 at times (she takes a daily BP medication). She is also on pain meds, including gabapentin, is diabetic, and has hypothyroid.

For her first treatment, I chose to supplement stomach on the left given that my patient was most concerned about regaining use of her right hand and having some pain relief in her arm. She is quite overweight and puffy, and I figured that clearing damp would be a great place to start. She responded quickly and dramatically. Within a few days, she had almost complete use of her fingers and resolution of the numbness, with the exception of some loss of feeling in her middle finger. I was certainly wowed, as was she. We were both full of gratitude.

Fast forward about a half dozen (or more) weekly treatments, during which I tried in vain to relieve her excruciating lower back pain that at times extended up the bladder channel up to about Bl 13. I tried so many different approaches. Because she often felt incredibly hot (subjective), I tried treating bladder to no avail; in fact, the bladder treatment seemed to aggravate the pain even more. So, using my Sa’am reasoning, I decided to treat heart next despite the heat (which had in fact been relieved by the bladder treatment). Again, she felt no improvement and even felt worse after the treatment. During some point I also treated SI for the pain, which exhausted her and caused her to “feel a dark cloud of doom” that brought her to tears and a full-blown panic attack.

Over the last few weeks, my patient has come in with a new symptom of extreme shortness of breath. I successfully treated it with pericardium, but within a few days the SOB returned. I also tried to tonify the lung, which definitely gave her more energy and helped her breathing while on the table, but didn’t stick.

To be honest with all of you, I started questioning whether I was capable of treating this patient. Last week, I tried to refer her to a more experienced acupuncturist in town. She was completely unreceptive to this idea and began to cry, asking me whether I was losing hope. She said she was committed to seeing me and knew I would eventually help her heal. I was so humbled and promised her that I wouldn’t give up.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I reminded myself to look for the elephant in the room as I took pulses and talked to her about her pain level and inability to catch her breath. Today she had developed a new symptom: sharp pain under her right ribcage when taking a deep breath. I urged her to visit her primary care provider given her overall poor health and the fact that her live-in boyfriend smokes like a chimney (indoors). Immediately I thought of treating the lung, but I had done that in the past and hadn’t made much progress. I dismissed the idea but decided to use it as a backup if needed.

All of a sudden, two big elephants showed themselves. First, I was overcome by her eyes. They were always quite bright (yes, I had also tried liver treatments without much success), but this time I saw them as startled and wild, as if she were watching an extreme horror movie that no one else could see. I saw fear that she has never expressed. Second, I heard a roughness in her voice that I must have been ignoring during previous visits but was blown over by today. My mind immediately went to supplementing kidney. But as a new practitioner, I remembered Toby saying not to use kidney to treat pain, as it “consolidates.” The last thing I wanted to do is bring this poor broken woman more pain! But I couldn’t ignore my instinct.

I got her on the table and told her that I would insert the needles and sit with her. I told her that I would take the needles out if she experienced any discomfort at all. About 5 minutes into the treatment, she began to report a “burning” sensation that was running down her foot (bladder channel); it moved to the other foot and then to both hands. She also reported that her breathing became easy. I watched her eyes, which completely transformed as the terror behind them vanished. I left her to relax on her own for about 15 minutes, giving her time to assimilate the treatment.

When my patient got off the table, she smiled from ear to ear. She took a deep breath and told me that the sharp pain under her ribs had vanished. She had more feeling in the finger that had remained numb. Her arm pain had lessened, as well as her back pain. Although she had never mentioned it before, she noted that her usually dry eyes felt moist, her throat and mouth felt wet, and the hoarseness in her voice had lifted. She was so happy she tried to “twerk” her way out the door.

For those of you with more experience with Sa’am (and acupuncture, for that matter), perhaps you would have recognized the need to supplement the kidney for this patient much earlier. I think I let fear of worsening existing unrelenting pain prevent me from choosing the correct treatment, which was indeed consolidating with the kidney. I have much to learn from this experience. Who knows what tomorrow will bring for my patient and what lies ahead. I’m still not sure when a kidney supplementation is appropriate when treating pain. Maybe someone reading this post can provide me with words of wisdom. I hope this post can help others who may be trying to help someone with similar health problems.


Wow - that’s a great story - thanks for sharing - it captures the nature of many of my experiences with challenging cases - even her persistent faith in you!
Interesting because as I understand it - fear like that is a Bladder Excess sign!! (rather than a Kidney sign - more of a ‘TCM’ notion).
But certainly given her whole life picture as you paint it, I can really see how deep inside, she would feel like she had become the opposite of ‘consolidation’ - scattered and blown apart?

I hear your Sa’am exuberance Rachel. Cool that you are a newly minted practitioner and learning this system as you’ll have results many other new practitioners will not obtain.
I echo what Daniel said that she had a lot of trust in you - boy does that take some pressure off! And yes for the fear we think of perhaps supplementing HT+, but anything can be anything.

I do not use Kidney much - my SI:KI ratio is probably 90:10 - but I do use it for scattered folks or when people are temporarily scattered and have seen good results. I’ve also used it for people that are really down on themselves or low self esteem. I can think of a few cases where a person responds really well to SI+ supplementation, but that one day they really needed Kidney+ supplementation and it was the correct medicine.

All the abusive trauma in your patient’s history plus failed back surgery perhaps makes her feel not so good about herself. That Kidney energy is what she needed to lift herself up.
Keep us updated on the progression as there is a lot to this case.

This also may be a clue as to why kid+ was so good for her. She doesnt seem to put herself in situations that nourish herself and her life properly. She doesnt seem to love herself enough to chose partners that will lead to her self-preservation rather than her demise.

Thanks for all of your input. I heard from my patient today. She told me that she felt absolutely wonderful for about 5 hours after the treatment, but then woke up this morning with the same back pain and shortness of breath. The sharp pain in her lung disappeared. I am so discouraged, but won’t give up on her. She is coming in to see me tomorrow morning. Have any of you combined heart and kidney with any success? I have treated heart alone and it made her pain worse. Any advice is very welcomed.

She did improve for 5 hours and didn’t get worse so I might try KD+ again - it didn’t hold because she may not have any stability to hold onto anything. Look at all that life trauma, so much instability. (from a western point of view I’ll bet she has a high inflammatory load - i.e. high CRP, ESR - these are the people I find treatments do not hold and quite challenging for me).

Also I find that location, location, location is so important. Make sure you hit your points and needling technique is correct.

Toby explicitly pointed out the KD/HT pair in the advanced class for lacking love. If her heart rate feels rapid or hurried I might hold off on HT+ since it made it worse and just try KD+ again. (maybe double!)

This system is definitely Heart medicine - so like you said using your intuition is connecting your heart to the patient and asking what is needed. I often go this route for cases like this and go through each channel and wait for a hit on what feels like the correct treatment for that patient in that moment. I go through each of the 12 channels and wait for a hit and that sounds like where you are at already.

(For future reference if you are going to present a case write it up in the format Kristin provided as I know she would appreciate it. But I think your original intention was to share you first “oh my gosh” Sa’am moment. )

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