Treating Victims of Hurricane Sandy for PTSD with Acupuncture

on the way to Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn
on the way to Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn

Looks fine on the outsideimageIn order to get my NADA certification, I was scheduled to meet with Wendy Henry, L.Ac., and to volunteer at her clinic for hurricane Sandy victims in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn.

It seemed that we could have run into each other during the post 9/11 recovery phase. Her group, CRREW (Community Relief and Rebuilding through Education and Wellness) was first formed to respond to the disaster. Since then, the acupuncturist has provided NADA training and treatment in New Orleans, Vietnam and, recently, after Sandy, she went to Haiti. I met this very caring woman through my trainer, Joan Boccino, LAc., of Global Clinic who contacted her on my behalf so I could officially complete the U.S. certification.

By subway and connecting bus, we wheedled our way deep into Brooklyn.

“The Occupy Wall Streeters shifted into gear after Sandy,” she reminded me.
But, she was networked directly into the residential community that includes generations of Firefighters through HEART (Healing Emergency and Response Team) that provided temporary trailers for offices and treatment.

“These folks lost a lot of brothers on September 2001,” Wendy said by way of introduction.

On this spring afternoon, we saw flags waving and BBQs being lit on tidy patios while neighbors chatted. It looked as if nothing had changed; on the outside the houses looked safe and sound, but, I would soon learn that was not the case.

My first NADA patient, “Marcie” (not her real name) would tell me her own story and, after her treatment, she took us to see her destroyed house. It stood apparently unscathed with its aluminum siding in tact.

“What happened?” I asked my patient.

She hesitated a minute, then began this story:

“I was filling every bottle in the house all day
…just in case.

The rain did not stop at all; so, I was really relieved when the kids finally got home. We had dinner and kept watching.. When I saw the water about to cover the running board of my Volvo, I asked my daughter to go with me to move it to higher ground.

As soon as we got in, the car went floating.

The guys across the street were yelling something we couldn’t hear. But, I did not want to be drowned in the car. I didn’t want to panic and was relieved to see a light post and told my daughter to hold onto me and that we were going to go grab the post. I don’t know how to swim and the water had gone from knee high to waist high after the waves washed in. All the lights were out and I could not tell if we were in the Jamaica Bay or still on the block. We just had to make a run for the house…

The water was already up my four steps and, when I opened the door I could hear waves lapping in the kitchen!

When the water had risen half way to the second floor and the refrigerator was floating around, I went down to collect canned goods, in case we were stranded on the second floor. I thought, for sure, I would die by getting pinned by the bobbing refrigerator, but the kids formed a brigade line and somehow things got handed upstairs.”

Seeing “Marcie” getting so excited, Wendy gently declared “quiet time” saying that if the patients get reactivated, they may not get all possible benefits.

While the patients soaked in the tranquility of this space, I chatted up the two crisis counselors, who work for the Visiting Nurses of New York. They and 25 more staff members had gone knocking door to door as part of the teams of social workers, who helped over 20,000 victims through the situation. But, in this small shipping container that served as a shared office for VNS and CRREW, they were gingerly “play testing” some of the donated “comfort bears.”

Watching them cuddle their bears “Marcie” told me that she was thinking of sending her own stuffed animal on to the victims of the Oklahoma tornado.

As we drove to her house “Marcie” would tell us that she is both accepting and hopeless.

“I don’t have the money to make repairs I just have to wait until the volunteers get around to me, again. People had volunteered to install dry wall and, later, a group of small young had women crawled under the house to clean out the debris. They told me that I have four types of mold in between the walls,” her voice trailed off..

Then would recall the “scariest part” was not living for a week without electricity or that, like the days after 9/11, the cell towers were not working.

“It was when we got the news a day later that Breezy Point had burnt to the ground. We really had no idea what was going on in the world even though we could smell the smoke all around us.”

By sundown, we found ourselves back in Manhattan. And, Wendy told me that I had earned my NADA certification. I was most grateful to her for the chance to meet some of the brave victims and caring persons that CRREW has been working with in the aftermath of the ferocious storm.