The evening of the 14th of June will forever leave a devastating mark on British history, as the fire at Grenfell Tower took the lives of over 80 people. Reportedly the highest death toll in UK, peace time history.
Like many, sitting back simply watching as a community was being torn apart was just not an option.
In the days to follow, a small but ever growing group of acupuncturists were forming on the ground. Pop-up street clinics with people sitting in chairs were forming in the area, offering immediate support with auricular (ear) acupuncture to victims and community members to help with acute anxiety, grief and the physical symptoms of emotional trauma.*
I was driven to help and immediately got in touch with Sheira of Emergency Acupuncture to see how I could assist her and her team. The following weekend I was assigned to work at their recently formed pop-up clinic at the local Mosque; the same community who were first to respond on the evening of the fire.
The clinic was in a back office room with plastic school chairs lined up against the back wall, for patients. The space was soon bustling with patients who had often not experienced acupuncture before but who had heard about the positive treatment outcomes from their friends in the community. A steady stream of victims, family members, neighbours, volunteers, of all ages were coming for treatment on an almost daily basis.
20 minutes, 2-4 auricular needles and gentle breathing exercises were used to help reduce this constant state of fear and bring the body back in to rest and repair, offering much needed emotional respite.
It was during this session where I once again witnessed the power and simplicity of my medicine. A volunteer councillor suffering with secondary trauma came in and sat in front of us. Without her needing to say a single word, 3 needles were tapped in to her ear (Shen Men, Sympathetic & Point Zero) followed by 2 points in her feet (Liver 3 threaded to Kidney 1). We watched as she crumbled, emotionally. LETTING GO. Sitting with her own emotions after being so stoic for others over the past week.
The effects from treatment were instant. And I remember a young girl saying to me that she found such benefit from her treatment that she now wanted to train as an Acupuncturist. A very humbling experience!
But we were acutely aware that nothing could resolve their wounds. There is no quick fix for that level of grief or trauma, but the treatments that we were offering acted as a temporary emotional band-aid and a safe place to come and just be, without expectation.
*This is not a new concept. This is a protocol developed in the US for military persons, veterans and those effected by environmental disasters to help with the immediate symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Barefoot Acupuncturists travel around the world establishing temporary clinics in aid relief areas to help suffering victims with great effect. How this works from a physiological and Eastern Medical perspective will come in a blog to follow.
As patients, friends or followers of mine you will likely know that disaster relief was one of the main reasons I became an acupuncturist. To offer care and support to those who have little in the way of healthcare or emotional support in impoverished areas or following extreme traumatic events. But I have always been drawn to international relief efforts. I never anticipated that the need would ever be on my doorstep!
And with the changing landscape of British politics and extreme political/religious beliefs, traumatic events are closer to home than ever before. Managing the aftermath of trauma should therefore be at the forefront of our relief efforts.
Emergency Acupuncture has the intention of forming a rapid response team to support victims of acute and secondary trauma, at a grassroots level. Although it is a developing concept born from the Grenfell Tower disaster, it will soon be a service that can be deployed Nationwide with the help of other volunteer acupuncturists. I am so grateful to have been part of this team down in London working with such beautiful, caring practitioners. To them, I thank you for your determination, patience and empathetic nature to help bring this service to life.