This September marks the 5 year anniversary of my Community Acupuncture Clinic at the Victory Community Centre.
For those of you who haven’t made it down there to check it out, treatment occurs in a large room with four recliner chairs and piles of blankets and pillows spaced out on the floor. Patients are all in there together and while privacy is low for a treatment setting, the sense of community is at an all time high, and those attending pay what they feel they can afford (as little as a few dollars, up to $50). I don’t police this as my goal is to take the stress out of receiving treatment, so I leave it up to the patients to decide.
This clinic is my baby. I’ve wanted to run this since I was a student studying in Wellington, unable to afford treatment myself and very aware that I was pretty well off compared to many.
I approached the Victory Community Centre with the hare-brained scheme of offering affordable and accessible acupuncture treatments, and they agreed to let me give it a shot. I bought a pile of blankets and pillows from the warehouse, some surprisingly comfortable recliner chairs, put a transportable acupuncture kit together, took a deep breath - and hoped for the best.
It’s 5 years on and we now average 12 patients a week in a 2.5 hour window (with 17 being the current record) and I have treated over 326 patients (including 2 dogs), and given over 1580 treatments. These are some impressive numbers and I am insanely proud of this clinic and this achievement. The clinic is not funded, it runs entirely on the continued efforts of myself, the amazing support of the Victory Community Centre team, and the Koha I receive from the attending patients.
One of the things I love about this set up is that it really brings people together, and often people who may not have crossed paths otherwise. My regulars are quick to strike up conversations with newcomers, often taking on the role of unpaid assistants as they explain how it all works and what to expect, making them comfortable if I’m busy with other patients.
New patients have said that it’s a warm, inviting atmosphere, and while it can be a bit noisey some days it’s rare anyone leaves without us coercing a smile or a laugh out of them first, and this is as important as the treatment itself. Some come down more for the company and a hug than anything else, while others have been coming nearly weekly for the last 5 years to manage pain and symptoms of conditions they must live with, or while they wait for surgery.
I came into this project expecting to get a lot of experience with a wide range of conditions very quickly, and hoping to learn more about the Nelson community at large. I got all of this, and a whole lot more than I bargained for or ever expected - including some really crucial life lessons and a better understanding of myself.
One of the more surprising things I’ve learned from Community Clinic is that this relationship between practitioner and patient is a two way street. I’ve had to learn that no woman is an island, and let my patients help me in return. Sometimes it’s accepting an offer to help tidy up and fold my gear away for the day. Others it’s acknowledging that I’m having a really hard week and accepting a hug, a smile, or some advice - often I get a sly smile and a suggestion to try this acupuncture thing they’ve heard so much about.
There can be a pressure in health care to feel like you have to be invincible, to have everything sorted yourself in order to help others, but this just isn’t true. I’ve learned that it’s ok to not be ok, and that it’s fine for me to turn up to this clinic feeling utterly exhausted, rung out, and like I’d rather be at home in bed feeling sorry for myself (some days even on the verge of tears). When I feel like this I contemplate cancelling and hiding out for the day, I question what good I could possibly be to anyone in that state, and I just want to hide away from the world until I’m ok or can put on a brave face again.
What I’ve learned is that it’s these days when I need to be there the most. I turn up and just do my best. Sometimes there might be a few tears. Sometimes I may not be as present as I’d like, or find that I really have to work to put my own problems down and give my attention to someone else’s. But always at least one patient stops and really looks at me, then asks if I’m ok. Always, I find that in putting my problems aside and helping others with their challenges, I come back to my own struggles with a fresh perspective and having had a break from my own drama. No matter how terrible I feel on arrival, I always leave feeling lighter and having smiled, laughed, and hugged my way through the session.
This has shown me that humans need to give and be of service, I feel this down to my bones after these really hard sessions. I feel better for showing up and giving than I ever do staying home in bed, and my patients love to return the favour, so I’ve learned that it’s important I let them (not an easy lesson for an independent, head strong, stubborn woman - so thanks patients for your patience!).
There is a sense of satisfaction, calm, and wellbeing that I get from giving in this fashion that tops me up. I feel like I’m making an important contribution to the community and my patients, and I find a deep sense of meaning in this that far outweighs the time, energy and cost of running the clinic. And I get to meet a wide range of interesting people in the process (which as an aspiring writer is a huge bonus).
I owe Victory Community Centre and their wonderful staff, Steve and Ara in particular, a huge thank you for supporting my clinic there and for being so fantastic at what they do. A large part of the clinic’s success is due to the wonderful community they foster and their ongoing support and help (to find out more about Victory click here). And I also owe a huge thank you to the Nelson community and all of my wonderful patients - so thank you for showing up, making use of the clinic, and for all the kind words, support and hugs! Community Clinic wouldn’t be possible without you.
We’ll be having a pot luck this Friday (the 8th of September) to celebrate, if you’re around bring a plate and pop in to say hi, grab a quick hug or check it out.
If you’d like to know more, check out the Community Clinic page on my website, or get in touch.