Anatomy of a Safety Incident #5, Part 3

The story of What Happened at POCA Tech’s 2023 Re-Accreditation Site Visit would not be complete without including these things: blue hyacinths, a pink hyacinth, several potted plants, two bars of excellent chocolate, a homemade cookie on a plate, cards, handmade cards, socks, a pocket-sized hand drawn zine, so many messages of love and support that I lost count, and (though it wasn’t actually for me and there’s a longer story behind it that I can’t tell here) a pinata. In other words, the long list of ways that POCA Tech people made an effort to cheer me up. (I would like to note, though maybe it goes without saying, that the people making the effort were already busy and probably tired themselves, which makes it even more important.)

In general, when somebody gets triggered by bureaucracy the way I did, the best case scenario for what happens next is nothing. The person gets overwhelmed and flees the scene, and that’s all. Maybe they pull themselves together to try again another day. It’s more likely, though, that what follows is punitive consequences in some form or another, from the bureaucracy itself. And then there are the negative ripples in an already difficult life; it’s not lost on me that I didn’t have to dry my tears and go try to parent a child, or pull myself together to show up for my grueling minimum wage job, or both. Crucially, I didn’t have to hide what was happening, because everybody in my life already knows I have PTSD. (The cognitive overload of having to pretend you don’t have PTSD -- that would be a topic for a whole other blog post.)

Also, I just want to note in case anybody’s wondering, I see my PTSD as a chronic problem that I have to manage the shit out of, if I want to have a decent life -- and I do manage it. Yes, I take responsibility for my mental health. Yes, I’ve done a lot of therapy. Yes, I have all kinds of practices and strategies that are intended to prevent what happened last weekend. Many of those practices and strategies require resources and flexibility that lots of people don’t have: a daily meditation practice, a support dog, very little social media, micro dosing, a peaceful and stable home environment along with a job that lets me work from home. As much acupuncture as I want. I have all those things, I do all those things, and they still weren’t enough for me to not get triggered when I felt overwhelmed and cornered by bureaucracy. Imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have those resources.

Over the last twenty years or so, I got to build my own world where I rarely have to be in close contact with people who think that ordeals, cognitive overload, and barriers to access are a GOOD thing. I rarely have to grapple directly with the acupuncture profession’s core philosophy that acupuncture is only valuable to the extent that we make it hard for ordinary people to get -- or to practice. I guess I needed to be reminded that I’m not as strong as I’d like to be in relationship to those elements, that under the right circumstances they can take me down, and “down” is exactly as bad as I remembered.

Getting back to Care Oregon and its hotspotting program, this makes me think of something that Amy Vance, one of the caseworkers who initiated the partnership with us, said about the value of community acupuncture. She commented that she thought the most healing thing about WCA for her clients was possibly not the acupuncture itself, though many of them were getting great results. She thought her clients were getting even more benefit out of being able to access as much acupuncture as they wanted without having to jump through any bureaucratic hoops -- and accessing it in a space where they didn’t stand out as difficult patients, where their trauma didn’t cause problems, where they felt welcome and they blended in with all the other people using the clinic. Essentially, being able to feel -- for once -- like they weren’t on the wrong side of the gatekeepers.

I don’t think it would occur to somebody who has only ever been on the right side of bureaucracy and barriers what a big deal that is. Which gets us back to the empathy gap.

I picture the empathy gap as a moat made out of polished concrete (to give it flawlessly smooth, lethally slippery sides). It’s filled with freezing water. In my imagination I’m gathering up the blue hyacinths, the pink hyacinth, the potted plants, the excellent chocolate, the homemade cookie on its plate, the cards, the handmade cards, the socks and the zine and the pinata, and I’m carefully setting them all down at the edge of the empathy gap. I’m offering them to everybody who’s ever gotten triggered by bureaucracy, especially if it happened when they were trying to access healthcare. This is to say, I’m so sorry that happened. I wish you could feel all of this support. POCA Tech loves you.