Relief Acupuncture Trip to New Orleans after Katrina

  • On December 13, 2 2006 I went to New Orleans to do acupuncture under the sponsorship of CRREW. CRREW has been in New Orleans since last year doing volunteer acupuncture under the Louisiana temporary acupuncture license (which allows only NADA ear points.)

    Karen Giving Acupuncture for the New Hope Ministries Health Fair in Algiers

Wednesday, Dec 13, 2006

I arrived in New Orleans at twilight, with little view of the destruction from Katrina.  Huynh Quang, a Vietnamese-born acupuncturist picked me up at the airport. Occasionally he pointed out water marks, on the railroad tracks over the highway, by the water pumping plant that I had seen in Spike Lee’s film When the Levees Broke, and in formerly occupied shopping centers that had been completely inundated and were now vacant.

We dropped my suitcases at his clinic, then set off for the Musician’s Clinic. St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, on Esplanade north of the French Quarter, has a special mission to musicians and runs a free dinner, legal clinic and medical clinic with both scheduled music and open mikes on Wednesday nights. As we entered, an older African American man with a patterned top hat and an orange print vest was seated at a computer, next to a table of musicians with long dreadlocks deep in conversation with the legal advisor. Music blared from the front of the dining room where a band was entertaining the diners. Mother Mary, a 50 something blond woman with a disarming smile dished up stew on rice, and we sat down with the gentlemen who had finished their legal discussion. Pat, an older guy with an African Israelite necklace asked me about my Ethiopian cross, then segued into a discussion on ear acupuncture. It seems he is coming up to New York in January to get NADA ear acupuncture detoxification training at Lincoln Hospital.

Quang needling at Musicians Clinic
Quang needling at the Musicians' Clinic

Quang and I set up a table for the acupuncture and about 15-20 people came by for treatment. The doctor is a young priest, who would pull people out, check their blood pressure, give them medication for their lumbago and generally give counsel. I had a great discussion with a French nurse and a psychotherapist who were interested in acupuncture, wanted to know about pulse and tongue diagnosis. They also checked out my inventory of liniments, essential oils and herbally infused oils and we chatted about treating trauma in an area where the entire community, work and home, rescue workers and rescued alike were subject to unrelenting exposure to the devastation.

Rebuilding the city was difficult since so many skilled people left the area.  Even the churches, like doctors and service personelle have left New Orleans in significant numbers. Of 300 psychiatrists, 18 remained after Katrina. Something like half the doctors left the area (and since acupuncturists must be sponsored by a supervising MD, that left several acupuncturists who could have been giving health care unable to do so.)

Common Ground Clinic in Algiers

Much of our work was in Algiers, near the Common Ground clinic. Although Algiers, across the Mississippi from New Orleans, did not flood, the hurricane ripped off roofs, allowed serious water damage and significant devastation. Father O’Hallorhan and the Fire Department let us set up a clinic at the Delill Community House across Teche Street from Common Ground. He announced the acupuncture services at mass and we had a steady stream of congregants the next day.

Common Ground herb garden

Common Ground runs a full fledged health clinic on Teche Street in Algiers,  including two herbalists with a well stocked herbal pharmacy and other volunteer health care workers who live in the area. They run a community garden and are growing herbs to keep their herbal pharmacy stocked.

The next day, Saturday, I was walking down Teche Street and noticed that the New Home Ministries was having a fair including tables on health, so I volunteered my services. At first people circled warily with occasional questions. After a few brave men including the pastor decided to try it, everyone came over to look and ask if it hurt. Their replies were positive enough that 1/2 of the adults there decided to try acupuncture for the first time.

Another day we went to treat the staff of Project Acorn.  Project ACORN, sponsored by SIEU is a community advocacy group that specializes in housing. They have been working to get relief to homeowners who have been displaced by Katrina, engaging in direct mold remediation and getting funding to homeowners who had difficulty applying themselves. We  had 30 people show up for a lunch hour acupuncture stop.
My sponsoring doctor worked at a program for homeless teens.  The clinic was closed the day we were available, so she set us up in the lobby of the Covenant House residence where she had a clinic.  Several teens had acupuncture for the first time and were able to ask us about their health concerns.

For Sale in the 9th Ward

One day I drove out with Larry from the Fire Department to see the extent of the devastation as he made his rounds. In the Ninth Ward, devastation was overwhelming.  Watermarks  were high on the house walls and large swaths had been wiped out by the flooding when the levees broke.  We drove out to the east.  Beautiful neighborhoods with large houses and dead landscaping stood abandoned, like something out of the Twilight Zone.  At night perhaps three lights shone in entire subdivisions.  Mold contamination made many of the homes, looking still attractive from the outside, potentially lethal.

For Sale, $25,000 Firm in Algiers

The people we treated were happy to receive treatment and one elderly lady followed us to other treatment sites.  It was good to have a modality that could offer relief, where even people who had trouble verbalizing their trauma could respond.  Going to New Orleans after Katrina was illuminating and I am grateful to have had the experience.

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