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.


Mayan Temples – Xunantunich and Cahal Pech

The island kids and their moms straggled into Belize City’s morning fog and I hustled through this cinder block Venice –crossing the bridge to catch the chicken bus up to San Ignatio-town. (Since this was once an English colony the Spanish names are often suffixed with “-town.” )

My seatmate was a tacit gringo from Canada with a long grey tangle of hair, a long face and feint eyes– At last, he began to chat and I allowed as I was on my way to the ruins.

“We have at least six hundred of those in Belize…
They are everywhere.
I built my chicken coop on one and our house on another..”
The World Heritage in me blanched a bit but the stranger-passant was already going on.

He had once been a rebel editor in Ontairo- He met his first wife there – she was from Belize and only wanted to live in Los Angeles with her sisters.

He and his second Belizian wife are cow farmers two hours in from the coast.

“Things are difficult for cow farmers because Belize does not support beef exports – There are not enough delivery trucks or roads or ports .. The only people who are making any money are the German Mennonites. They have made a deal with the Mexican truckers and ship thousands of head through the ports up there.”

As if on cue, a family of 9 Mennonites filed onto the bus – freckled and fair as if Norman Rockwell had painted a wagon train scene ..The females (baby on up) were hooded in funeral black bonnets with three inch brims that tied with a large bow under the chin and the males had sewn-in matching suspenders on their trousers and sported Henley shirts with meticulously pleated sleeves and yokes — all five of them in matching homespun sea-foam green.

My seatmate was contining about how he had to file some drawings in order to fence in his grazing land..

“Belize requires me to put in access roads if I want to fence. So, I have to come up here for 2 hours on and show them where the access roads will go. Of course, no one will inspect this and I will not be putting the roads in — I just have to show the drawing and pay the fees and taxes.”

Seatmate, Menonnites and most standees exited at Belmopan – the inland capital built after coastal Belize City was destroyed by hurricane Hattie.

By 11:30 I arrived in the Cayo region ready to check in to my hotel, find lunch and the way to Xunantunich before it got much hotter. At noon, I started haggleing with taxi drivers wanting $US20. Out of nowhere a skinny black man who introduced himself as “Star” offered to guide me on the fifty-cent local bus to the site. And, so, Star and I shared a sandwich on the way to the hand pulled ferry leading to Xunantunich’s park.

Star was an ideal guide we went straight up hill for 20 minutes. He told me he was a bicycle racer in his 20’s, that he had lived in Hong Kong where his mother had been a private tutor, that he made all kinds of ice cream, and had been a lawyer and an herbalist. He had written a book on the last subject and explained that one of the local trees had given the British soldiers rashes and burns. He pointed out the offending red tree and standing next to it was a tree with white bark that he could used to make the healing salve.

“Even though they always grow in pairs the British never figured the medicine out.”

Star lead me up the steps to look at the view. Up there that I saw the signature corbeled arch of the Peten region. These were once braced by timbers but many of which have snapped and hang suspended from their ancient anchorments.

There had been some discussions about the integrity of the restoration at this temple. But according to the exhibit, the University of Pennsylvania field team took a casting of the frieze and placed that replica over the originals to protect them until a restoration plan could be devised.

Star and I shared beers waiting for the bus and finished the day with a homemade lobster dinner at his house and after that he soothed my insect bites with a poultice of baking soda but failed to heal “bird arm” with his cannabis decoction.

Star and I are politically aligned and his form of expression is to dial into conservative radio shows in America’s south with his thick creole and give ‘e hell. He was very serious about this and showed me his alarm clocks all set to go off when his targets come on air. After this revelation, Star proposed marriage. I declined with thanks and he walked me back into town.

Unlike the mythological entrance to Xunantunich, Cahal Pech is tucked into a residential neighborhood. (And, could easily have become ranch houses– if the Canadian guy had his way.)

There was a small museum entrance and then a path opened up to this jewel covered with mist and moss. Cahal Pech is so demure it could have been a Roman villa. There are courts and a well preserved 200 person stadium with tiny rooms off to the side. I wondered at the height of the steps considering the height of Mayans. Perhaps, they would install temporary intermediate steps seasonally?

At Tikal there would be ample time to ponder this.

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off to Belize –72 hours on Caye Caulker

If it were not for the visa requirements, I would never leave the high jinx and drama of Panajachel. But, so forced, I began my 24 hour march to the sea: 3.5 hours to the Capital only to be shuttled to the wrong bus station in the bad part of this rough town at 9PM. But, luckily for me there was one seat left on the all night bus to the frontier. My 20-something seatmate was also heading straight to Caye Caulker for his master’s certification in scuba. This bear of Brit. volunteers as — a nanny for sea turtles. It seems that there is a local myth holding that sea turtle eggs are an aphrodisiac; so, the more than 40,000 eggs got his protection.

His job is to wear a miner’s light, walk along the beach at night and to move the golf ball sized eggs into a fenced “incubator.”

“The Turtles will return to within 500 feet of where they hatch so we have hatcheries spaced out along the beach.”

He added that part of the donations are used to buy the eggs from the local poachers. Born three hours from London, he had begun life as a forester and told me about the mangrove trees that are also threatened in this area.

“When they are first harvested they can be cut but after a short curing period they dry rock solid.”

The upper deck was cold and the double decker wobbled wildly on its shocks so much that it was like shivering on a trampoline all night.

As I was about to take my winter’s nap, he began about the high powered lawyer, who started up this eco-organization, how luxurious is her seaside villa — built entirely of mangrove tree.

Out of habit, I asked how she got away with this and what her name was. And, once he said it I recognized it one of the “ten families” that own everything, here.

I would not shed my fleece until after I had carried my luggage up the Caye’s Front street for several blocks in search of my dream motel.. Meanwhile, I met Charles, the man with lobster tamales…yes, heavenly, as if a souffle..

I would follow that lunch with lobster curry for dinner and lobster scrambled for breakfast before even looking at the exquisite conche cerviche.

My dream room on the second floor with a balcony overlooking the sea was perfect — except for the disco next door. The first night I really didn’t notice.. But, Caye Cauker is noisy everywhere, all the time; so, I decided to snorkel – a good and bad idea…My mask was too big; so, I felt like I was being water-boarded most of the time- I loved the power of the flippers and that I was along a great barrier reef…The fish were electric and played with the captain for a bit of chum but I thought the coral looked menacing and dusty..
dive Captain
I was glad to be clad in my fleece and clutching a Red Stripe when a young man who was studying architecture and wanted to be marine biologist began a conversation. He told me that he had grown up on the island and that his dad was a contractor (as well as our bartender.)

The next morning I would board the ferry cum school bus for the second half of my journey. And, squeezed in with 40 grade school kids making the 45 minute journey to the mainland, I could imagine the early life and ocean dreams of the reluctant architect.

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I’m Posting every week in 2011!

If the technology is available, I will be posting on this blog once a week for all of 2011.

I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun and surprizing. Therefore, I’m promising to make use of The WeeklyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll add comments and crosstalk along the way.