A new alternative medical shop opened in a shopping centre I regularly (too regularly!) frequent, last Christmas. Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, that kind of thing. As I was passing it one day, minding my own business, the girl behind the counter rushed from behind the desk to beg me to come in for a free consultation. I didn't want to. But I'm no good at saying no. So I went for my consultation there and then.
The tiny clinic doesn't have a door, all that stands in the entrance is the reception desk and some chairs for those waiting, to sit. And needless to say, shelves piled high with uber expensive Chinese medicinal products. Behind are four or five flimsy little cubicles, separated by some plywood and a curtain.
The Chinese doctor spoke not one word of English. So the receptionist girl had to do all the talking and asking of questions. The free consultation was very brief - the doc didn't look at my tongue or take my pulse (which I know from going to the wonderful professional Chinese doctors on Aungier St, are their most basic diagnostic tools).
Then the hard sell began. I would come for an acupuncture session in a few days and in the meantime I would take some tablets. Which of course were expensive. And I know you think, how stupid why didn't I just say no and just walk away. But to be honest it all happened so (purposefully) quickly. I've had some good experiences with Chinese medicine in the past, so I thought, what the hell. It was to be €35 for the acupuncture.
So I arrived for my appointment in a couple of days. I was whisked in through the plywood partitions, into a cubicle, divested of clothing and waited until the grimly silent doctor arrived. In the surrounding cubicles I could hear people telling the pushy receptionist their most embarrassing medical histories so she could translate it for the doctor.
The doctor swept in. Without a word exchanged between us, communicating only by grunts and gestures, he stuck me full of little acupuncture needles, left me for twenty minutes or so, returned, whipped out the needles, proceeded to light flames in little jars and stick them painfully all over my back. Ouch! I realised this was cupping, but only because I'd read about it. The cups were whipped off my back with a horrible sucking noise and the doctor then proceeded to knead my muscles and thump my back for a while. Bloody hell.
After this unpleasantly intimate experience he grunted his one and only word to me "Finish" and swirled out through the cubicle curtain. I sat shakily up on the couch thing, got dressed and staggered out to the desk at the front. I was then asked for €110.
"What?!" I said
"€35 for acupuncture, €40 for massage, €35 for cupping."
"But I didn't ask for any of those other things. I didn't even know what they were"
"This is treatment you receive. And it also another €40 for medicine"
This was getting worse. I refused to pay, I didn't have the money on me. (I had actually run out of the house to get to the appointment in time and left my purse behind - I had only had €50 in my bag). That was fine they said, they took Visa. Or they would escort me to the cash machine. Neither of which were options - they were both in my purse. We were at a stand-off. A couple of other staff members had arrived by now. All stood staring at me and the atmosphere was becoming distinctly hostile. In desperation I had to phone Kirstie on my mobile, luckily she was working nearby. By the time she arrived to rescue me (it felt like hours later) I had agreed to pay some of the money, under condition that I would receive a further acupuncture session for "free". Oh yeah, they tried to book me in for a whole course of 8 sessions - a deal at only €500. I pretended to go along with this, knowing that hell would freeze over before I would hand them over that money.
Totally shell-shocked I left. I actually couldn't believe that a legitimate business could operate that way in this day and age. They're part of a chain, with lots of branches in the UK, one in Dundrum and one in Maynooth. My brother in law had a very similar experience in Dundrum, I learned later - and he's no soft touch. And then I heard of a few more such incidents.
So their MO is this: they get you in on the pretense of a free consultation
That takes about two minutes and they promise you the earth. Want to stop smoking? No problem. Incurable illness? Not any more! Dead? You'll be resurrected.
You arrive for your appointment. They do loads of other "treatments" at the same time that have never been mentioned to you - and then charge you for them.
The only way you can get out of paying is to book sessions of six or eight treatments, which they pretend are good value - bulk buying as it were.
If you try to get away with paying the original price you were quoted (In my case €35) you are psyched out of it
My family were outraged. Everyone was outraged. My mother wanted to ring Joe Duffy. Joe wouldn't stand for that she said.
I went back for my second session, but this time I had Achilles with me, who stood like a bear with a sore head the whole time we were there and when they tried to book more appointments and sell me more herbs I said no and walked away.