Acupuncturists Without Borders -  Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort
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Acupuncturist helps out Katrina victims with healing art

Acupuncturist Karen Adams said New Orleans, La., is a world of contradictions and extremes. She just spent 10 days down there in late November with the organization Acupuncturists Without Borders helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. She traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood with her team giving acupuncture to residents who are trying to clean up their cities and hired workers doing the same, helping them deal with stress, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

The sky was blue and it was a balmy 70 degrees and sunny — signs to her that all was right in the world. But then, all around her there was destruction and trash, a reminder of the dark clouds and winds that swept over the city and drowned it when the levees broke.

The same contradiction was in the people’s personalities. One minute a 911 operator would be telling Adams in a flat voice about being on the phone with a woman as she drowned.

“What can you say to somebody who’s calling because their house is flooding? ‘Get to the highest point and pray,’ is pretty much all they could say to folks,” Adams said.

An hour later, the same woman and her friends would laugh like a group of high school girls and Adams could see what she thinks is the true personality of New Orleans.

Adams recently moved back to the Franklin County after spending a few years in England studying to become an acupuncturist. She came back here to set up a new clinic on Avenue A and began the long process of getting her state license to practice here.

Adams decided that instead of sitting around waiting for the paperwork to go through, she would make the best of her time and help people in need. She volunteered to head down to New Orleans to help people dealing with the trauma of the hurricane.

“I had time, I thought, and I could do it,” she said. “It was something I could do, which was kind of nice. It was the first time for me that something like this has happened and I could contribute.”

According to its Web site, Acupuncturists Without Borders is an organization devoted to alleviating the suffering, supporting the health, strength, and self-sufficiency, of communities in need around the world through acupuncture treatments and training. The organization focuses on treatments for trauma and responds to disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Adams said acupuncture is a medicinal technique that goes back 3,000 years. She said Western scientists don’t know exactly how it works, but the Chinese, who invented it, say it helps clear the channels of “qi,” the animal life-force. She practices a kind of acupuncture called “Five Elements,” which is based on the idea that each person is controlled by the elements water, metal, wood, fire and earth.

She got into acupuncture about 15 years ago when she was seeking alternative medicine to help her through a stressful time in her life. She decided to study it when her children graduated and left home and while studying it she realized it isn’t an alternative medicine, but a complementary one.

“It would be extremely unethical for me to say to a patient, for instance, I don’t think you should be on this medication, you need to get off,” Adams said. “It is ethical for me to work with that patient’s doctor to support the patient so they can maybe come off a medication or maybe not, who knows, so that it can complement what the doctor is doing.”

The form of acupuncture she used in New Orleans is a kind developed to fight alcoholism. Adams stuck five needles into people’s ears and had them sit still for 40 minutes.

One needle is supposed to hit a point to help relax the autonomic nervous system, another is for a spot that works on what Adams calls the spirit. One goes to a point that works on the kidneys, which she said the Chinese believe are the essence of who we are and which helps the immune system. One needle helps the liver, which helps clean out toxins both emotional and physical. And, the last is supposed to help the lung area, which Adams said is good in New Orleans because so many people suffer from “Katrina cough” caused by breathing so much mold in the flooded homes.

Adams said that most people were receptive to the acupuncturists’ help. Some asked what it was and then were excited about trying it. In one Vietnamese community, the older population was quite familiar with the practice and came for other ailments beyond just stress. They didn’t speak much English, so they would simply point to where it hurt and would say “Ow.”

Three months after the hurricane, Adams said the destruction isn’t as dramatic as she had expected. The water has been drained and the mud has hardened and looks like cracked concrete if you don’t look closely at it. A lot of things look normal there until you look closely at it, like the fact that there are so few people around.

“You see cars down there and it’s colorful-looking and it looks normal then you look closer and realize there are no people there and cars have windows smashed in and are maybe flipped over and there are trees down all over the place and there are refrigerators in front of these houses and lots and lots of trash, an immense amount of trash,” she said.

She said the people in New Orleans seemed grateful for the help they were getting and they told her how important it is for people to not forget what is going on there. But, for the most part, she said, people just wanted to get back to their homes and start cleaning up.

Adams hopes to open her new clinic on Jan. 3. She chose to set up her practice in Turners Falls because she said she loves the energy in the town and because she wants to be able to bring acupuncture to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it. That’s why she plans to charge for her services on a sliding scale.

Adams is having the office space renovated by her son-in-law, Joshua Parkinson. She wants to share the space with other alternative medicine practitioners like an herbalist, homeopath or massage therapist and is looking for people to contact her about sharing the space. For more information about her practice, she can be reached at 863-8033.

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