Why we’re grateful to Miriam Lee

Miriam Lee, originally named Lee Chuan Djin (李传真), was born in Shandong province in 1926. She trained as a nurse and a midwife in China before becoming an acupuncturist. In 1949 she moved to Singapore where she lived for 17 years before moving to California in 1966.

When she arrived in California, acupuncture was illegal, so she worked on an assembly line at a Hewlett Packard plant. A young man from her church was unable to walk after surgery on his spine; Dr. Lee broke the law to give him acupuncture. Acupuncture restored his mobility and he returned to work. This was the first of hundreds of patients who came for acupuncture treatment at her house, as no one would rent her an office to practice illegally. At one point, there were so many people waiting on the back stairs of her house that the staircase broke!

In 1973 an MD offered to share his office with Dr. Lee. She only had use of the office until 1pm, so as her patient base grew she had to start earlier and earlier each day. By 5:00am there were people waiting in their cars to get in. She treated between 75 and 80 people per day, 14 to 17 patients per hour. During that time she developed her famous treatment “Miriam Lee’s Great 10 Points” a safe, effective treatment that she applied quickly and easily to many of her patients.

Dr. Lee is probably best known for being arrested and fined for practicing medicine without a license in 1974; she was released a few days later after over a hundred of her patients, showed up at the courthouse in protest of her arrest. Within a few days acupuncture was legally made an “experimental procedure” and Dr. Lee was granted the right to treat patients and San Francisco University. The $500 fine was refunded and she was spared the six-month prison sentence.

We’re grateful to Miriam Lee for many reasons, but just to highlight a few of them:

She was instrumental in getting acupuncture legalized.

Not content with only having her own practice legalized, she worked with other practitioners to advocate for licensing acupuncturists. In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation that formally legalized the practice of acupuncture.

She didn’t hoard knowledge.

Unlike some practitioners who guard their “Secrets Of Success” or only share them for a hefty price at expensive workshop weekends, she shared her clinical methods with hundreds of students and wrote books about her work.

She treated many people an hour.

Raven Lang, one of her apprentices, recalls of Dr. Lee: “[She displayed] a tremendously creative and courageous medicine, practiced with a prayerful heart. The results she achieved were often phenomenal, patient after patient.” Dr. Lee explained what midwifery had taught her: “That is why I think fast, that is why I move fast, that is why I make no mistakes.”

Because acupuncture schools here teach students to treat one patient per hour, new acupuncture grads are not equipped to treat multiple patients per hour in a community setting and generally don’t understand how possible it is. The sad result is that there are not enough community acupuncture clinics, and existing clinics often struggle to find acupuncturists to work at them. Our cooperative, POCA, is opening POCATech, a school for community acupuncturists, in September 2014 to address this problem. Meanwhile, Dr. Lee’s story helps us illustrate an important point to prospective community acupuncturists: “If Miriam Lee could treat 17 patients an hour, you can definitely learn to treat six an hour!”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 is the five-year anniversary of Dr. Lee’s passing. We’re giving free community acupuncture treatments to as many people as possible that day, in her honour. We figure that she would approve.

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