A group of about 20 volunteer acupuncturists from across Missouri - including Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis, Fort Leonard Wood, Van Buren and Brixey along with Acupuncturists Without Borders provided 500 free acupuncture treatments to Joplin residents and relief workers immediately after the May 22 tornado that took more than 150 lives and destroyed one third of the homes in this southwest Missouri town of 50,000.
The volunteer acupuncturists set up shop every day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Salvation Army tent at 26th and South Main in the most devastated neighborhood of Joplin. Each day, the acupuncturists have typically provided 30-40 NADA ear acupuncture treatments, and many more ear seed applications for children.
The most profound aspect of the experience for most volunteers was simply being present to hear the survivors' stories, while also offering a treatment that can alleviate some of their suffering. Volunteer Sage Norbury LAc from Lees Summit, Miss. described treating a volunteer who she had seen sitting at a table eating lunch. He had a flat, shen-less look to his eyes, she wrote in an email. He told her he was helping clear debris. The first day he had found a foot; the second day, he found a body. After the needles, he said he felt better. The next day Sage saw him in the tent again - he was smiling and laughing with a friend, and told her that he'd "really" slept the night before for the first time since the tornado.
A woman who had been to six family funerals in one week said that when she was sitting in the tent with needles in her ears, she could forget that she was in the middle of a disaster area.
During the trip, AWB Managing Director Melanie Rubin wrote the personal journal below that she has shared with Acupuncture Today. The journal contains first-hand accounts of the devastation in the region and the process of the relief efforts that took place.
Anatomy of an Acupuncture Disaster Relief Effort
By Melanie Rubin, AWB Managing Director
On May 22, 2011 a tornado with winds of more than 200 miles per hour hit the town of Joplin, Missouri destroying everything in its path. More than 8,000 homes and apartments were destroyed, as well as 500 commercial properties. As of June 1, 2011, 134 people had been reported killed by the tornado.
The Red Cross and other relief agencies appeared quickly on the scene to provide support for survivors. At the writing of this article, more than 7,000 Joplin-area residents had registered for assistance.
Immediately after the tornado, Springfield, Missouri-based acupuncturist Abba Anderson contacted Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) to ask whether an acupuncture relief effort was underway for Joplin. AWB responded by saying the organization would be happy to support her if she wanted to spearhead a relief effort. Since Abba had never received the AWB training in disaster relief, AWB agreed to do an abbreviated training in Missouri for Abba and other Missouri volunteers.
This account is the "anatomy of a local relief effort" co-written by AWB Managing Director Melanie Rubin and Joplin Acupuncture Relief Effort Team Leader Abba Anderson. We hope it will help you get a sense of what is involved in launching a disaster relief effort.
Friday morning, May 27, and I am on a plane from Albuquerque, New Mexico where AWB is based, to Kansas City to help out with the Joplin tornado relief effort being organized by Abba Anderson and Missouri acupuncturists and acupuncture detoxification specialists. When the Joplin tornado hit, AWB was in the middle of getting our trauma relief training for Haitian health care practitioners organized for a May 27 program start in Port-au-Prince, and just returning from a national conference on mind-body methods for working with Veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, we put our heads together to see if there was a way we could do a one-day relief training in Missouri, and then help organize the relief effort.
While I finished getting the Haiti training out the door, Diana Fried, our Executive Director, Program Manager Giselle Perez, and Administrator Jessica Truelove pulled together to make my plane and car reservations, get out the word to the acupuncture community about what was happening and ask for funds needed, produce the training materials, organize relief supplies and documentation, pack everything, and coordinate housing and other logistics with Abba.
So, here I am on the plane, with just an hour and a half of sleep after getting my personal affairs in order to leave, realizing that I feel excited and nervous and also really tired. I'm not sure how we'll cover everything we need to address in one day of training - I'm wondering how I'll feel when I experience the devastation in Joplin – and I'm asking myself whether the heat and humidity in Missouri will be a sudden shock to my system.
I drive by acres and miles and meadows of green. The air is moist and smells of fresh cut grass and earth. Cows dot the hillsides, brown, tan, and black. White, red, and silver barns are everywhere. The wind bends the tall meadow grasses and the trees wave in the breeze. Daisies, black-eyed susans, and sweet peas decorate the side of the road - honeysuckle festoons the mailboxes and fences and tree trunks climbing into the sky. I have never seen so much honeysuckle in my life. And it is literally the middle of America. There are many billboards for churches. Strip malls with Walmarts, Lowes, and Home Depots are familiar. The road kill along the highway is unfamiliar. Capsized armadillos, so prehistoric I am shocked by their death. A dead box turtle. Six dead deer.
And I think to myself that I am not in Kansas anymore. Except that I am in fact just down the road a piece from where the Wizard made his last stand. And near many famous confederate battlefields. Next door to the deep south.
Abba has already spent hours and hours this week contacting the state acupuncture association to get out the word to possible trainees and volunteers, organizing housing, setting up a training venue, contacting the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) office, contacting possible treatment venues in Joplin, and coordinating the production of training materials. She has never done any of this before and is learning on the fly
In Springfield I go straight to the library where we will hold our training – a lovely, stately structure made of stone, more than 100 years old, with gracious windows and wide staircases. Abba has arranged for us to use their large meeting room for free. What a gift – they have everything – projection screen and projector, laptop, large TV and DVD player, tables and chairs.
Soon Abba arrives with all the necessary documents and miraculously we get everything arranged by 6 pm when the library closes, with just enough time to smell the fragrant bouquet of Midwestern roses on the circulation desk, thank the librarians, and head for dinner.
I've been on protein bars and nuts all day and Abba takes me to an informal soup and salad place to have a good meal. As my blood sugar rises again, I'm able to think, and Abba and I go over all logistics for the next day.
Around 8 pm I leave for Nixa, where acupuncturist Renea Barrett and her husband Bob Schmidt have offered to host me for the time I'm in Missouri.
Saturday, May 28
By 9 AM all the trainees have arrived at the library in Springfield and we begin. It is a wonderful group of acupuncturists and Acupuncture Detoxification Specialists (ADS's) who were trained at the NADA conference in Missouri the previous week. I think how lucky the timing of that conference in Missouri has been, and feel grateful for this opportunity for acupuncturists and ADS practitioners to work together in a state that has ADS regulations.
The training is a whirlwind – trying to cover in one short day what usually gets addressed in two. We review the NADA protocol, procedures for setting up and running a mobile field clinic in a disaster, documentation, effects of trauma on survivors and practitioners, issues to be aware of in a disaster mobilization setting, and team leadership and group dynamics considerations.
We also organize for a team of volunteers to meet in Joplin the following day. Abba has had the great fortune of connecting with a chiropractor in Joplin who has set up free services at the Christian Community Center on Main Street, and we will use this as our base to provide initial treatments and get organized in Joplin. Here is another aspect of this work – teaming up with other mind-body medicine practitioners who are all working toward a common goal: helping those in the community who are suffering from trauma.
Late that evening I edit a press release and get it out to newspaper, radio, and TV stations in Joplin with information about our upcoming treatments. I also send it to Abba and another trainee, Ron Vickery, for them to distribute to additional contacts. Abba distributes it to our whole team so they can pass it along.
As we drive into Joplin we are struck by the devastation. The roads are clear, but one portion of the town is completely destroyed. Buildings are reduced to rubble, with splintered beams and shattered glass on the ground. The trees that remain are shredded of all foliage, branches torn apart, white inner limbs sharp in the sky. Service vans for relief agencies are everywhere, providing water, food, and other aid.
Our passage into town is slowed to a crawl because of security measures for President Obama's visit to Joplin today. He is scheduled to speak at a Memorial Service at the university this afternoon, just one week after the tornado.
Michael Finnell, another volunteer, is texting to give us updated directions and street closures and finally after much navigation and re-routing we arrive at the Christian Community Center on Main Street, which is closed to traffic. Several volunteers are already waiting, but there are very few people to treat, since the street is closed, and much of the town is engaged with President Obama's visit.
Everything feels a little chaotic with too many practitioners, and not enough people to treat. I observe to myself that this is one form that "chaos" takes in the aftermath of a disaster, when everyone wants to jump in and help, and the path to help has not yet become clear.
We put out more signage, set up treatment stations, organize our documentation procedures with the help of Michael's wife Chris, and begin treating a few people. Marianne Chalmers volunteers to take on the task of coordinating volunteer schedules to cover disaster relief treatment efforts for the next two weeks. Sage Norbury and Jana Farrell leave to visit possible other treatment venues that Abba has researched, which are providing relief services to tornado survivors. Abba and I depart as well with Marianne and her mother Lily to try to get to the university to pass out flyers to the crowds assembled for President Obama's speech.
Soon we are snarled in traffic again, and decide we will never make it to the university.
Meanwhile Sage and Jana have had success visiting the Bridge, a faith-based community center where FEMA staff, the Red Cross, and other agencies have set up stations to provide services and support for tornado survivors. The coordinators at the Bridge are very open, and Abba and Marianne provide treatments for them. We arrange to send in a treatment team the next day for volunteers and survivors receiving services.
Sage and Jana have also visited the Salvation Army and have arranged to return tomorrow to provide treatments to tornado survivors receiving services at this location. We are grateful for this opportunity not only to treat but also to share with a national relief organization what acupuncture can do to support healing after a disaster.
Later, I drive by myself to the tornado area to take some photographs.
Walking amongst the devastated homes I feel like I am on the surface of the moon. It seems like something in a movie rather than in real life. Houses have been torn open at the seams, and refrigerators, hot water heaters, and cabinets spill onto the ground. I wonder what happened to the people who were sitting, eating and talking in these houses when the tornado hit – and I wonder whether any of them are here still under the refuse. Everything is shredded. Cars and trucks are mashed and shattered, and at one location, part of a car is wrapped around a tree 20 feet up in the air. Another car has a coke can in the drink holder in the front console, and I wonder who was drinking that coke just a short time ago, and what happened to that person.
Most of the scene is deserted. But in one area a woman picks through the pile of rubbish that was once clearly her home. I wonder what she will find – what she will not be able to find – and where she is living now.
In another area, giant trees have been uprooted out of the ground, with big holes where the roots once went down into the earth – and already the massive trunks have been chain sawed into a pile.
American flags fly everywhere, above the wreckage.
Arriving back at Renea's it is a relief to sit with Renea and Bob in the fragrant safety of a summer evening on their back patio.
Monday, May 30
I put together an electronic file of full page and quarter page flyers that can be handed out at the Bridge and other venues. Then I prepare to leave for Kansas City to fly back home.
Throughout the day I receive texts from volunteers in Joplin treating at the Bridge and the Salvation Army. By the end of the day the team has been able to treat about 50 people including tornado survivors and first responders.
(The following segment is written by Joplin Relief Effort Team Leader, Abba Anderson)
As I write this, it's been a week since the AWB training in Springfield and two weeks since the tornado. We've treated close to 200 people in Joplin so far, mostly at the Salvation Army tent at 26th and Main, in the midst of a neighborhood of crumbled houses and debris. I am deeply grateful to the Salvation Army for giving us a home there, and to volunteers Sage Norbury and Jana Farrell who got us started there. It looks like we will be there for the next six weeks, which is how long the Salvation Army plans to have the tent up. While the Salvation Army tent has become our cozy home base, we have also provided treatments at The Bridge where relief service agencies are gathered, at the Missouri Southern State University (MSS) student center where volunteers who were clearing the rubble gathered, and at a church gymnasium downtown. We are now actively looking for other places where we can access people who will benefit from services.
We currently have a list of potential volunteers from across the state – Kansas City, St. Louis, and across the south of the state, Brixey, Van Buren, Fort Leonard Wood – and a handful from other states, representing a mix of licensed acupuncturists and acupuncture detoxification specialists. I'd particularly like to thank and celebrate the volunteers who have so far taken time from their practices and their lives to be in Joplin with us: Renea Barrett LAc, Marianne Chalmers LAc, Rebecca Chrestman LAc, Candace Faith Fruge, Jana Farrell ADS, Michael Finnell LAc, Stacy Flathers LAc, Maureen Fox LAc, Vinnie McKinney LAc, Sage Norbury LAc, Beth Spangler LAc, Mary Wallis LAc, Nate Wax ADS and Ron Vickery ADS. We look forward to others joining us in the coming weeks.
The most profound part of the experience for volunteers is simply being present to hear the stories, while also offering a treatment that can alleviate some of the suffering. Volunteer Sage Norbury LAc from Lees Summit, Missouri described treating a volunteer who she had seen eating lunch with a flat, shen-less look to his eyes. He was helping clear rubble, he told her. The first day he had found a foot; the second day, he found a body. After the needles, he said he felt better. The next day Sage saw him in the tent again - he was smiling and laughing with a friend, and told her that he'd "really" slept the night before for the first time since the tornado.
The week has been a crash course for me in Missouri health care politics, in disaster relief politics, in my own foibles (many), but mostly in the beauty of our medicine. Imagine: We can feed a soul in a few minutes with five little needles in two ears. Wow.
At the beginning of the project, I had visions of treating everybody in Joplin (I always think way too big), and had no idea what I was getting into, and how complex and ever-changing a disaster relief situation is. I spent way too much energy trying to make things happen that were beyond the scope of what I could control locally – like trying to get approval for out-of-state acupuncturists to treat with us in Joplin
The divisions I've experienced among some of the helping and healing organizations have been challenging. For liability and policy reasons it is not always easy to align with all other relief organizations.
I've learned yet again that Lao Tzu is right about everything. Be like water - go with the flow. Follow the energy. Go where it's easy. In this case, it's been easy at the Salvation Army tent. And we have easily worked alongside chiropractors and massage therapists and that has been gratifying.
Above all, I think I can safely say that volunteer ADS Nate Wax speaks for all of us when he said in an email that the experience of treating the variety of people that show up at the tent, including "volunteers on their lunch break, survivors of the storm picking up cleaning supplies and free cell phones, police officers controlling traffic, staff of the Salvation Army taking a quick break" made him realize "how appropriate the name 'Acupuncturists Without Borders' is, not only referring to borders as geographical boundaries, but also to the more subtle borders that prevent certain people from receiving certain types of care. To offer free acupuncture in a public setting, open and available to any person who is interested, is acupuncture without borders in the greatest meaning of the words and is a pleasure to be a part of."
It is a week after my return from Missouri and the images from the disaster are still very strong in my mind. I have needed time with my friends, good food, exercise, and rest to integrate my own exposure to the trauma present in Joplin.
The relief effort Abba is coordinating is going strong with the help of Abba's perseverance and dedication, and involvement from many dedicated volunteers. For AWB this has been a wonderful experience of supporting acupuncturists and ADS practitioners in jump-starting their own, local trauma recovery effort. The Missouri team is a great demonstration of what people can do if they are willing to risk the discomfort of chaos and the uncertainty of never having done something before in order to serve in the face of great need.
Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) is a nonprofit group that urgently needs donations to continue the important work in New Orleans. Please visit the AWB web site at www.acuwithoutborders.org. Donations can be sent to 37 Kelly Lynn Dr., Sandia Park, NM 87047.
Melanie Rubin, MEd, is a NADA Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist and Co-Director of Acupuncturists Without Borders. Melanie has been a trainer for more than 25 years, delivering programs for health professionals in hospitals, acupuncture schools and bodywork programs. Melanie has worked with AWB since 2009 providing support for redeveloping the national training program, training delivery nationally and internationally, systems administration, marketing, the Haiti program, and other special programs.
Abba Anderson, Joplin, Missouri Acupuncture Relief Effort Team Leader.