This world is an unpredictable place and if you live in Colorado, I’m preaching to the choir. About 6 weeks ago I awoke to a cloudy, rainy day in the typical sunny Boulder, Colorado and I was delighted. You see, just a few years ago, the Fourmile Fire pushed me and many others out of the mountains. Several hundred acres of land and many homes were lost. Needless to say, when it rains – most of us are happy. It saturates the ground and takes us lower and lower on the scale for fire danger. But on the 2nd day of rain, you would see people looking at each other in that cock-eyed, confused, purse-lipped-kind-of-way saying, “weird, it’s still raining.” By the third day, on September 13, 2013 Boulder County and several other surrounding counties were declared a Federal Disaster Area. Just like that – relief turned into dread because here we now have another disaster in a community that not long ago, recovered from a disastrous fire that made history in Colorado.
As Boulder and surrounding towns flooded (as it apparently hasn’t done in more than 100 years), I was trapped in the little town of Lafayette with no way to get in or out, laying witness to the devastation as I heard it on the news and as my phone rang from friends who were in shock and/or in trouble. I received word that my office in Boulder had flooded, a dear friend and her family with small children lost their house and both their cars completely washed away. They were out of reach because they were busy hiking out of the danger zone they used to call their front yard. People whose livelihood relied on the abundance of their vegetable gardens were watching their entire year’s harvest drown in an instant. I met a woman who went to check on her basement where she had a spare bedroom and her carpet was wet. She went ahead and tucked in the bed skirt so that it wouldn’t get stained in case the water was to rise. By the next morning the bed and mattresses were all floating in 6 feet of water…..
All the stories were coming in and one can’t help but to wonder, what can I do to help?
(Using ear acupuncture, people start to feel really calm and relaxed. You can see the handles of the small needles sitting on his ear.)
(And some people just get really happy!)
There are many ways to help, fortunately. In the heat of the moment, unless you are trained in emergency response care, you are better off staying out of the way. I am a Wilderness First Reponder and that means I have emergency medical training but my license doesn’t take effect unless we are 2 or more hours from a hospital. However, as an acupuncturist I have many skills in being able to help people right away in a disaster situation. And with my training from Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB), I felt organized, prepared, and had support for jumping right in.
Stress, pain, fear, dissociation, anger, grief, mania, isolation, PTSD: these are all responses to trauma associated with disaster situations. At one point there were 12,000 people who were unaccounted for and about 700 first and second responders looking for them and preparing to help them once found. Then of course there were all the pets that were left behind, all the belongings destroyed, and memories that were washed away in the flood. These people, and the people who worked to respond to this situation, could all use some help after something like this. So what did we do?
The day after Boulder County was declared a Federal Disaster Area, a few of us acupuncturists mobilized. We had a conference call that included AWB support members as well as several local acupuncturists who were able to volunteer and literally hours later were setting up an acupuncture clinic for all the responders stationed at the Incident Command Post located at the Boulder Airport. These men and women were from numerous organizations and had varied backgrounds. I met rescue divers, Hot Shots, EMT’s, paramedics, search and rescue, FEMA, Red Cross, firefighters, air force, army, and many more I can’t even remember! They were all camping out in a sea of tents at the airport and getting served their meals and their orders for each day in this airport. Their hub was the giant open aviation garage. This airport was the place they were calling home for a couple of weeks while people were still getting rescued. This was also the place that evacuees and their pets were landing after being airlifted from their homes. The aircraft would land, evacuees and rescuers would walk off and over to that garage, get signed in, get a snack and some water (the first fresh water in days for some) and then hop on a bus to a shelter. It was an active place
So what a perfect place to be able to offer a little reprieve with acupuncture! We set up a circle of chairs with a tool cart serving as the table for our supplies and we were open for business. Our first night, we treated 35 people. Our second night, we showed up and there were 5 people sitting and waiting for us to arrive. After 7 days we had treated several hundred responders in the aviation garage. Additionally out at the Office of Emergency Management, we were taking shifts treating people stationed there: Emergency Operations Staff, Office of Communications staff, police officers, Boulder County Sheriffs staff, and lots of volunteers. By the end of the first week we also had clinics up for the evacuees and others affected by the floods in both Longmont at Twin Peaks and Boulder at the Disaster Assistance Center. We were moving and shaking. In the end, we had treated more than 1300 people and had over 60 local acupuncturists volunteer just over 600 hours. And not only that, but this was the first time that we, as acupuncturists, worked alongside the Red Cross, FEMA, etc. during a disaster. And now we may be creating the very first ever Medical Reserve Corps, Acupuncturist Disaster Response Team in Colorado! This is very exciting and will be so beneficial for all.
One really touching story during all of this that I’d like to share was of 3 dogs that were rescued with no owner. These were 3 Weimaraner’s who were all very well taken care of and obviously from the same family. They were rescued via helicopter but there were no humans to be found. They were anxious and whining and didn’t want to sit in a kennel. Several of the off-duty responders were taking them for walks throughout the day and then returning them to the animal area to keep waiting for their human to show up. Many of us couldn’t resist petting them and helping them to relax. Hours went by and many aircraft came and went throughout the day with no owners to claim these sweet dogs. It wasn’t until almost dusk that the dogs were out on a walk through the yards and an older man in his late 60’s, early 70’s was about to hop onto the bus to get taken to a shelter. Apparently he hadn’t even inquired about his dogs’ rescue assuming they had taken care of themselves as he let them out on his rural property. But just as this man stepped foot on the bus, one of the dogs got wind of him and without hesitation, bolted through the yard, across the parking lot and fiercely greeted his longtime companion, nearly knocking him over. The other 2 dogs followed suit. It brought tears to my eyes as it was one of the most amazing reunions I’ve ever seen.
(You can see the team of massage therapists behind us. Together we made up a “Healing Corner.”
(P.S. Everyone who is in the above photographs signed a photo waiver!)