Our first profile – in honour of Acupuncture Awareness Week (27 February to 4th March, 2012) – was Maria Wells, the village's very own acupuncturist, interviewed by Helen Baines.
Photograph: Chris Baines
1. How did you first become associated with Brightwell, and how long have you lived in this area?
We have lived in Brightwell for 17 years this month. Before that we lived in rural Aberdeenshire but my husband was offered a job at the Institute of Hydrology so we made the move back “down south”. I looked at all the infant/primary schools round about, as our daughters were 5 and 2 at the time, and chose Brightwell mainly because of the warm and inspiring atmosphere I felt in the school.
2. What job did you think you’d do when you were growing up?
I can remember wanting to become a nun when I was quite young, probably because I went to a convent school. That lasted until my teens when I discovered boys. I also wanted to be a doctor but didn’t work nearly hard enough for my A levels (boys again I am afraid!)
3. Who did you most look up to when you were younger?
My dad, who had a great sense of humour and fun and could always make me laugh.
4. What was your first job?
Not counting being a Saturday girl at Boots the Chemist when I was 14, it was in the Botany Department of Leicester Museum and involved identifying mosses and liverworts from the Belvoir Valley. I had studied Botany at university.
5. Have you stayed working at the same thing all your life, or have there been changes?
No, there have been a few changes. On leaving the museum I worked as a laboratory assistant in a brewery. Yes, it did involve having to taste the beer – but often at 7am in the morning and straight from the tank! I left the brewing industry to become a mental health nurse when I was 25 and I have been doing that since.
In 2007 I decided to study to become an acupuncturist, something which had fascinated me for some years.
I first became interested in acupuncture after a relative decided to give it a try. She had been suffering with digestion problems for some time, and she got amazing relief from acupuncture. I needed to find out more about this ancient treatment and how it worked. That sent me off on a path that fundamentally changed my views on health and illness. I am a fervent believer in life-long learning so I set out to study this form of medicine. It was a great stroke of luck that, probably the best college for studying acupuncture in the UK (The College of Integrated Chinese Medicine), is only down the road in Reading. Some people on my course travelled long distances to get to college.
I wasn't long into the course when it became apparent that acupuncture is not only effective in pain relief from musculo-skeletal problems but also in controlling migraines, regulating menstrual cycles, assisting in fertility treatments, reducing side-effects of medication as well as increasing a sense of well-being.
Traditional Chinese Medicine does not have the dichotomy we have in the West between physical and psychological ill health. It is recognised in Chinese Medicine that a major (but not sole) cause of illness is our emotions.
Acupuncturists are trained to use subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for centuries: the colour of a person's face, feeling their pulse and looking at their tongue. The focus is on the individual, not their illness, and all the symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Each patient is unique; two people with the same Western diagnosis may well receive different acupuncture treatments.
While I would acknowledge that acupuncture would not be the treatment of choice for an acute medical emergency, it can be used effectively alongside Western medicine in more long term conditions to improve quality of life and well-being. Acupuncture has now been recognised by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) as effective as a first line treatment for persistent non-speciific lower back pain.
So now I work part of the week as a community mental health nurse with the NHS in Henley and the other part as a self-employed acupuncturist in Brightwell (where I have a treatment room in my home) and I also rent a room at Nettlebed GP surgery.
6. What’s a typical day (if there is such a thing)?
It depends on whether I have my nursing or acupuncture hat on but both involve working with people and trying to make a difference for them from that encounter.
7.Do people in the village see you differently from people in other parts of your life?
Its very difficult to know how people see you and that's probably a good thing.
8.Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I would like to build up my acupuncture practice. My ambition would be to set up a multi-bed acupuncture clinic where people could drop-in for their treatment and pay on a sliding scale according to what they felt they could afford. This is a growing movement in the UK and it is based on clinics in China (see www.acmac.net for more information)
Doing a post-graduate course in Chinese Herbal Medicine to augment my acupuncture treatments is also something I would love to do as is a study trip to China to work in a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital.
9.If you were Prime Minister tomorrow, what one thing would you change?
Probably the voting age. I would want young people to feel more involved and not disenfranchised so I would reduce the legal age for voting to 16. Young people get a lot of bad press but they can be so full of exuberance and fresh ideas and this needs to be acknowledged.
10.Describe the best and the worst moments in your life so far.
Leaving out births and deaths, the worst moments have to be those leading up to my acupuncture points exams – the most difficult and challenging undertakings I have put myself through. The best moments have to be the sheer relief, exhilaration and excitement at passing those exams.
A more complete listing of conditions helped by acupuncture can be found on the British Acupuncture Council website http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/ where there are fact-sheets outlining the current research.
You can email Maria at firstname.lastname@example.org