There’s a lot that is needed when working as an acupuncturist in a community acupuncture clinic. It’s a physically demanding job. Treating 20-30 patients per 4 hour shift means I use my body a great deal more than I did in my previous life of office jobs, retail and even entertainment. I’ve suffered from chronic back pain since my teenage years. It’s just something life has handed me. Mix my long history of lower back pain with my current job and if I’m not careful, things can get tricky rather quickly.
Recently, my biggest fear happened. I injured my back while working. As most of you know, my job doesn’t afford me sick leave. If I don’t show up for work, there’s not another coworker that can take care of my patient load. If I call out sick, I don’t get paid and my patients don’t get treated. This is a big issue on both ends.
I’m grateful for my training in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Because of my regular treatments, I’ve only called out sick one day in my two years of running a solo clinic. That was the hardest decision I ever made. I asked myself, “What would I tell my patient?” The answers was simple, “Stay home and rest.” The issue was more cut and dry than back pain. I had a cold. I could have infected others. With the help of Chinese herbs, I was able to recover with a few days of bed rest.
An injured back is a different issue. If I continue to work, I won’t infect others. People will get well even if I am in pain. It will take longer for me to heal but I will still be able to receive a paycheck and pay my expenses. When I asked myself the question, “What would I tell my patient?” The answer was a resounding, “Stay home and rest.”
But there’s a glitch in this line of thinking. I live in a reality that is very similar to my patients. I can’t always afford to stay home and rest. My patients will suffer. My business will suffer. My livelihood will suffer.
I remember what I’ve told numerous patients who cannot afford to stay home and rest. “I understand. I really am sorry that’s not an option for you. Let’s see how we can get you feeling better by working with what we have available. Come in as often as you can. Rest whenever you can manage a break. It’ll take longer to get better but there’s no judgement on my end. You’re doing a great job taking care of yourself.”
That compassion and non-judgement I offer towards my patients is something I now offer up to myself. I’m not a person that cares more about work than my body. I realize my body is a gift I need to care for if I am to remain useful. I’m not a person who doesn’t have her priorities straight. Like my patients, I know that keeping a roof over my head is important.
I am an acupunk (an acupuncturist who works in a community acupuncture setting). I realize that the job I choose may not pay much in terms of cold hard cash but the profits in community wealth and service cannot be measured. This job also affords the knowledge that health is not a moral issue. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
For me, I rest when I can. I practice all the home remedies I recommend to patients: apply olive oil nightly, get acupuncture, gentle stretching and rest, rest, rest. For me, rest happens on my regular time off. And luckily, my acupuncture is free as I can treat myself or be treated by my acupuncturist husband.
As for my clinical practice, I am more humbled than ever by the patients that manage to get their tired, broken bodies to the clinic for regular treatment even when they have a boss breathing down their neck, even when the kids need help with their homework, even when the car breaks down. They teach me about courage, stamina, abundance.