In Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick tells the true stories six North Korean defectors, including a doctor she calls Kim Ji-eun, who worked in a small hospital during the devastating famine in the 1990s. Demick spoke with Kim about North Korean health care, including the use of acupuncture for anesthesia. She reports in her her book:
“For years, North Korean hospitals had been using herbal remedies in combination with Western medicine. Instead of painkillers, the doctors used cupping, a technique in which a suction cup is applied to stimulate circulation to parts of the body. Another technique borrowed from the Chinese involved lighting sticks of mugwort next to the afflicted area. With anesthesia in short supply, acupuncture would be used for simpler surgeries, such as appendectomies.
“‘When it works, it works very well,’ Dr. Kim told me years later. And when it didn’t? Patients would be strapped to the operating table to prevent them from flailing about.”