The Radical Act of Community Healing

As I reflect on this year working with you, I’m not sure I expected to see a space for healing as an integral part of community.  But that’s what Long Beach Community Acupuncture has become for me.  This space on its own is a combination of chairs and concrete.  But everyday, we come to this building and we talk about our pain, joy, sadness, fears, and the desire for balance or release.  These rich conversations breathe life into this old building.  And for these reasons we all have a stake in this community. 

This was most apparent to me in the first month I spent with many of you.  You welcomed me so warmly over and over again.  And you all said the same thing “welcome to our community.”  And it floored me.  Looking at this moment through the lens of my previous career as an urban planner, I know that creating community is not an easy thing to do.  So it has been profoundly important to me to honor and respect that sense of community and commitment you all feel in connection to your health and this space. 

Community acupuncture is so wonderful and it has provided me the environment to extend the values I cultivated in my previous career into this work.  As acu-punks we are committed to providing affordable and accessible care that cuts across race, gender, ethnicity, language, and sexuality.  In this way, we come together to uphold the values of unity, equity, and justice—a radical act. This is what brought me to your community and to this type of practice.

On any given day, I am treating people of all walks of life, from women of color, to immigrants, to men, and limited English speakers, as well as people of differing ability, income, and class.  It is beautiful to see you all lying there in your chairs side by side unified in your healing.  And that is such a significant way for communities to heal.  

Personally it has been such a joy and honor sharing space with all of you over this past year.  I am so happy to be your community acu-punk.  Cheers to the clinic and cheers to another year working together!

Shining a Light

When my husband and I set out for our vacation, we weren't trying to see the eclipse. We were just seeking some solitude in the peaceful National Forests of Nevada before we made our way to Salt Lake City for POCAfest, a gathering of community acupuncture clinic owners and workers.

Being out in a remote area, we thought we might see something even though we were way out of the path of totality and far from crowds. The morning of the eclipse, no one else was in our campground that was shaded by well-nourished cottonwood trees. We made an old-fashioned view-finder to check and see if we could determine any progress of the moon shading the sun.

We walked in the dappled light of trees, noticing how the cottonwood leaves reflected and refracted sunlight. Glowing crescents patterned the dirt, George took pictures, and we carried our view-finder, checking periodically but it showed nothing.

We continued our road trip, checking the sun throughout the day, then decided we had simply missed the eclipse. But once we got to POCAfest, four days later, we were talking to an acupunk who works at WCA in Portland. He happened to be in clinic that day and stepped outside to see it; he explained how the eclipse had also created an interesting pattern through tree leaves: shining semi-circles rimmed leaves and created beautiful shadow and light patterns on the ground. Turns out we HAD seen the eclipse, we just didn't recognize it!

It was a happy revelation and as I think of it now, a great metaphor for how POCA has been for me: shining a light on the obvious and not so obvious, and helping me recognize certain truths.

When I first discovered the community acupuncture model, my heart opened wide; it was a visceral feeling in my chest and I knew I had to practice that way in Long Beach. I didn't need to travel to another country to help underserved people, as there were plenty of people that needed help and access to affordable healthcare right where I live.

POCA helped me see and know that acupuncture doesn't need to be expensive to be effective. It helped me understand better how acupuncture works and how necessary frequent treatments can be to solve and manage difficult health problems. POCA taught me how to develop and grow LBCA and it continues to be a beacon for me, reminding me of my own privilege to practice this medicine.

Members of POCA, like Dr. Tyler Phan and Lisa Rohleder, remind me of the hidden histories of this medicine--the elders and activists who have been elided by the formal history of the profession: Miriam Lee, Mutulu Shakur, Ing "Doc" Hay, and Master Tung Ting Chang.

POCA is a constant source of education and enlightenment, advocating and practicing trauma-informed care and creating the idea of Liberation Acupuncture that draws from the practice of Liberation Theology. All of these ideas can be explored on POCA's website from the thoughtful radicals who have developed them.

It's a good tune-up for me to attend POCAfest when I can. This group of fearless practitioners is actively working to improve acupuncture education and the profession at large and it all begins within one's community. The co-operative ethos of POCA acknowledges mutualism: we need our patients as much as they need us. Together we can begin to address the real issues of pain and suffering that occur in our communities every day.

What Good is Medical Intervention If No One Can Afford it?

I’ve been reading with great interest the reporting about the inflated pricing by Mylan, Inc. of the life-saving device of the EpiPen. It should come as no surprise that pharmaceutical companies raise prices at the expense of patients who are in need, often sick, even dying. Take Martin Shkreli, for example, raising the price of a drug over 5000%. Making exorbitant profits from illness is deplorable.

As an acupuncturist, I have learned a particular skill set that can treat a variety of problems and thankfully it is not regulated by Big Pharma. Unfortunately, acupuncture is--almost always--cost-prohibitive for most people. Even if they can afford a single treatment and feel relief, many people cannot continue to use it because it’s too expensive for them. And most people need frequent treatments. Life is messy. We get hurt. We heal. Then there’s that cold going around…

My husband and I often talk about disability these days. He’s been working on a poet, Larry Eigner, who lived his life with severe Cerebral Palsy. Eigner created a large body of work, despite his physical impairments. We talk about the spectrum of disability, what counts, who is included, and whether or not most of us will experience it in some form the longer we live. These conversations make me think of the poor state of healthcare in America. Eigner says that, “a thing must be easy enough to do, feasible.” And when applied to acupuncture, I would add that a thing must also be affordable, accessible.

In October, we support POCA’s biannual membership drive by offering treatment discounts to our patients who are members of the co-op. We do this because LBCA wouldn't be here were it not for POCA--a generous cooperative of practitioners, patients, and organizations who share information of all kinds. 

I learned how to start this business from them and fiercely stand by our goal of making acupuncture "feasible," easy for people to try. Because with all the good acupuncture can do, what's the point of having a skill or the technology to help people if no one can afford it?

Why I am leaving Community Acupuncture--and (finally!) becoming a POCA Tech Sustainer

I’m quitting Community Acupuncture.

Not forever!--anyway, probably not. This election year has revealed some surprisingly aerodynamic pigs, so I don’t want to make any hard-and-fast promises. I can say that doing acupuncture of the non-community variety doesn’t interest me, and hasn’t, since I first started doing community acupuncture about nine years ago. This work has been my home and my salvation, and I love it.

But here’s the deal: my family is moving, again. My spouse has let go of her career dreams for Plan B. It’s going to be a good Plan B; we’re lucky. But moving is hard. Another exciting plot twist: the town in which the Plan B job exists is my hometown. My hometown has no community acupuncture clinic and therefore no job for me, unless I want to set up a clinic there, work my ass off for very little pay, as a solo acupuncturist, for who knows how long.  

Now, when you’re a diehard acupunk like myself, that last sentence sounds like a clarion call. I actually got a little frisson of excitement as I typed it. I love punking, and I actually really like starting new projects; starting a new clinic is the kind of challenge I enjoy (probably because of what a polyamorous friend refers to as the “new relationship energy” of a new job). I’ve done it twice, and I can do it again...and probably, eventually, I will. I’ll find myself peeking in the windows of shabby empty storefronts and guessing how many recliners could fit; my head will swivel toward any “FOR LEASE” sign I see; I’ll go to the library and check out NOLO Press books on lease negotiation, just in case. I’ll start scouring Craigslist for used recliners, and haunting the university surplus department for office furniture and filing cabinets, and I’ll wish we still had a pickup truck. I’ll re-read everything in the Best Practices forum. I’ll even pay to take the goddamn Nationals again so I can finally get my Michigan license.

But after the honeymoon comes the long haul. After launching two clinics and being an employee punk in two clinics, I know one thing about myself: I’m a good punk, but I’m not a superstar. I’m generally likeable, I think, but I’m not charismatic. It might take me a year or so to really get where I want to be--and where a clinic needs me to be--in terms of patient numbers. The outreach and promotional stuff is hard for me, and it’s hard to ask for help (though, having a child has given me a real crash course in total humility). I just don’t have the resources for the long haul right now.

Also, I really don’t want to do it as a solo punk. I may be a secret introvert, but I’m a born co-operator. Parallel play is my jam! I’m an okay boss--not great--and I think I’m an okay employee. But to be really invested, I want to co-own. And when there’s a long row to hoe, I prefer to be yoked with another ox or two (or three or…). I want to share the endless decisions, the scutwork, the setbacks and the day-to-day joys.

The thing is, and here’s the really hard part: I’ll start to meet people, neighbors and co-workers and friends, and get to know them, and their pain. I’ll see people on the bus, at the grocery store, the gym and the playground, and see that they are hurting. I’ll start to get regular headaches again myself, or fun new allergies, or throw my back out picking up my kid, or I’ll hear the black dog of depression snuffling under the door in the middle of a long Midwestern winter. I’ll wish there was a clinic we could all go to, and nap together, and rise up feeling a little bit better, with a little bit more capacity to make our lives and our worlds better.  

In the meantime, at least, there’s one acupuncture school I can recommend. And so I’m finally (finally!) committing to being a POCA Tech sustainer. Because eventually, even if I’m not the one to start it, I want there to be a POCA clinic in my hometown--and in all of our hometowns. Join me!