08 August 2010

On Teaching

After my father died, I started teaching.

Nothing made me wait -- or so I thought.

Within months of his funeral, I taught my first class on ear acupuncture. I was as excited to teach acupuncture when I began in 1994 as now.

I started teaching observers soon after I began my public health acupuncture work. I was excited about what I was learning and experiencing while practicing in that setting.

I'd originally thought that most of my learning would occur in my private practice, tucked away in a woodlot on the main road near my house. There I had the chance to palpate points, pulses, and watch for changes. Instead, the situations I encountered in the in-patient facility called Hooper informed my practice and challenged me to grow. I took the lessons learned there to my private practice, rather than the other way around as expected.

Hooper was named after the last man to die in Multnomah County jail of alcohol-related causes. Cops and public inebriates are a bad combination. Alcohol can blow open the solar plexus center, creating a veritable superman. Such a knight-errant could walk right up and assault on officer of the peace, who would not take to it kindly. While under the influence, their aim was dead-on --whether choosing a physical or emotional blow.

I worked in the Drunk Tank while working on getting my license in Oregon. It was an eye-opener. Alcoholics enjoy their 'eye-openers' in the morning. Our work began in late afternoon, when our wagon went out on calls with paramedics to harvest the fallen drunks.

This was after the Viet Nam war, and already by then the self-inflicted death rate among Nam Vets surpassed the war casualty rate. More of our veterans from that war committed suicide by various means than were felled by the enemy.

Volunteer activists saw their plight, and started the Central City Concern. They eventually were given various public roles by the government. It seemed that the marginalized and homeless population were a little more receptive to a non-governmental organization. CCC became the largest provider of 'Single-Room' housing in Portland, for those one step up from homelessness. This put them by default into the role of healthcare, job training, and a host of other projects.

CCC discovered early on that group acupuncture helped fill many gaps in their system --and in a cost-effective way. Ear acupuncture improved completion rates for the 5-day residency program at Hooper from 34 to 85%, while the 6-month return rate dropped from 25 to 6%. That was from 3 months of volunteer acupuncturists using a simple ear acupuncture protocol. We could see 10-15 patients an hour easily.

Acupuncture helped addicts to wait--the hardest thing for some of them to do. How do you tell a 17 year-old to wait all day in a lobby to see the nurse, while their withdrawal is just starting? It's odd, but putting needles in their ear helps just that.
It reduced fussing and fighting among patients. It empowered nurses and staff to feel that they were in a place that was using new methods like acupuncture to treat an old problem. When they asked a patient to get some acupuncture and it worked, they felt doubly proud. For example, a nurse would tell me that several patients' blood pressures indicated a potential seizure: I'd go treat them and change the numbers.

Using drugs to treat drug addiction is problematic. I have yet to see one that really works. The message it sends is not what anyone is really comfortable with. Psychiatric meds certainly work, but it was amazing to see how quickly patients changed once off their street drugs. Somebody might act crazy, until you dried them out for a few days. The social system had a hard time determining who needed what --detox or psychiatric hospitalization.

So there was a lot to talk about with students. Just walking in the door was entering another world. If a student had an alcoholic mother, for example, she'd be shell-shocked on the first shift. The brother or sister in trouble back home was there to be seen --in the full glory of their pajamas. I felt bad for those students. Some could never come back: it was too much.

We were all drawn there for a reason. For me, maybe there were some people there a little like my father, who drank heavily at times and was also a jaded veteran.

What were we really treating? Maybe an aspect of ourselves, a primary relationship. Someone we wanted to know better, or had a charge around.

For me, I was treating my father, or a lot of people like him in some ways. I was understanding, coming to terms with, and changing that aspect.


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