Since opening LBCA in 2013, I have rarely had to cancel shifts. Other than our scheduled vacation breaks, I took a week off when my father died in 2017 and more recently I had to call off my first day back in 2019 due to a cold I caught over Christmas. Since January 25, I have largely been immobile and housebound after breaking 3 bones in my right foot on my way to work. The injury required surgery, along with strict instructions to bear no weight for at least 5 weeks.
This change was abrupt, ending a daily routine I have enjoyed for almost 6 years. Like my foot, my sense of independence and ego was also fractured. This forced hiatus has yielded insights, surprises, and much appreciation. People sent cards and well wishes via email and social media, and I must admit it was nice to be missed. Some even brought flowers and books to the clinic for me. The wonderful people who work at LBCA really stepped up to cover extra shifts and not complain as their income was adversely affected by my own absence.
I have never had an injury so debilitating and the emotional side of this situation was truly a surprise. While I have felt blessed and loved, I have also felt very isolated and depressed at times. It is a great lesson in the physical and psychological complexities of injury, illness, and disease. As a healthcare provider, I am aware that physical pain comes with an emotional component, but the feelings of uselessness and dependence were a genuine surprise to me. And still, I have been lucky in my life--this injury will heal--while many people will continue living with disabilities that will not and others must navigate the enormous challenges of terminal illness.
As I was lying around recuperating, I thought a lot about the daily work of treating patients and missed it. I also thought about the probability of accidents and just how much uncertainty there is in life and in small business. My mind kept returning to the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs that Lisa Rohleder identifies in Acupuncture Points are Holes: A Case Study in Social Entrepreneurship (2017). Like most community clinic owners, she and I have very little formal business training. Neither one of us necessarily wanted to open businesses but we had to create our own jobs in order to practice acupuncture in a way that rings true to our values. Of the qualities she enumerates, Rohleder includes “a tolerance for risk and uncertainty” (8).
The realization that she possessed these characteristics came only in hindsight, as she remembers a devastating personal loss that occurred long before she even thought about being an acupuncturist. It is a poignant moment emphasizing the fact that anything you have or have worked for can be taken away from you in an instant. No amount of planning will guarantee any security over your life as you know it. Her clinic WCA (Working Class Acupuncture) is the original community clinic that spurred this movement of promoting affordable acupuncture. WCA remains successful, treating upwards of 50,000 patients a year. Rohleder admits she couldn’t have imagined this successful outcome and certainly didn’t realize that enduring the loss of a dear friend so many years earlier would inform her business acumen.
Embracing uncertainty and taking risks requires great courage. And sometimes things happen and leave you with very little choice. This experience has shown me--like no other could--how successful LBCA has become and not just because of me. Sure, we’ve had to limit hours but treatments continue, week after week, with or without me. And that is a great thing!