In July 1971, while accompanying Henry Kissinger to China, The New York Times columnist James Reston had an emergency appendectomy. Afterward at the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Peking, doctors treated his pain with a traditional form of Chinese medicine known as acupuncture.
“I was in considerable discomfort if not pain during the second night after the operation,” Reston wrote shortly after his return to the United States. "Li Chang-yuan, doctor of acupuncture at the hospital, with my approval, inserted three long, thin needles into the outer part of my right elbow and below my knees, and manipulated them in order to stimulate the intestine and relieve the pressure and distension of the stomach.
“Meanwhile, Doctor Li lit two pieces of an herb called ai, which looked like the burning stumps of a broken, cheap cigar, and held them close to my abdomen while occasionally twirling the needles into action. All this took about 20 minutes, during which I remember thinking that it was a rather complicated way to get rid of gas in the stomach. But there was noticeable relaxation of the pressure and distension within an hour and no recurrence of the problem thereafter.”
Many people in the medical field, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), believe that event is what precipitated what is now a 20-year surge of interest in acupuncture in the United States.
A report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the NIH in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being widely practiced by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists and other practitioners in the U.S.
According to the largest and most comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine in use by American adults, the 2002 National Health Institute Survey, “an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults had . . . used acupuncture [at some time] and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.”