Mercury Retrograde

Apologies to anyone who doesn’t like astrology -- but sometimes it just fits. According to astrologers, Mercury is in retrograde from 1/14/22 to 2/3/22. Mercury retrograde indicates a period of “review and reflection”, particularly in relationship to challenges that have come up in the past. We seem to be having a review of past safety incidents -- not all safety incidents, just the epic ones! (Safety Incident #2 and Safety Incident #4 here on the blog.)

On 1/14/22, Orlando showed up at WCA Cully on the Friday evening student shift. He tried to go into the treatment room, telling the student receptionist that he needed to leave the building “by the side door” because people were after him.

On 1/18/22, K refused to wear a mask for a treatment at WCA Cully.

I was the supervisor on duty when Orlando showed up, but I wasn’t in the lobby; I was in the back office talking to Phoebe when Beatrice popped in and said, “I’m not 100% sure because of the mask, but I think Orlando is here?” Phoebe and I hustled out and sure enough, Orlando was wandering around the lobby. Phoebe went straight to him and said quietly, “You can’t be in here, I’m sorry, come on out with me” and they walked out the front door together. Orlando offered no argument and the whole incident, start to finish, was over in about 10 minutes.

Afterwards, the student receptionist told me she had been taken aback by the combination of Orlando seeming to be very familiar with the clinic AND saying some odd things about bad people pursuing him. She said that she didn’t have much experience with people in altered states and was concerned that she hadn’t handled it well. Actually she did. Even when she had to put herself in between Orlando and the door to the treatment space, saying, “I’m sorry, you can’t go in there, we don’t HAVE a side door”, she was calm and polite and didn’t get drawn into any long conversations or debates.

Four days later, the punk on duty described what happened with K to the other WCA punks in an email thread:

“K showed up with a plastic chin strap thing that in no way shape or form covered their respiratory excretions (haha). Looked kinda like a face shield but for a chin. The receptionists asked K to wear a mask. K repeatedly denied this request. After this going on for a while I was asked to come help out with the situation.

Coming into the lobby I immediately agreed with the receptionist’s analysis and said “Hey friend good to see you! Our boundary about wearing a mask in the space still is in effect. I need you to put a mask on." K said no and wanted to talk about it. I brought the conversation outside immediately and cleared space in the entrance for others to pass.

K claimed that their doctor had told them they were getting more seizures because of not getting enough oxygen due to the masks, and therefore was unwilling to wear them in our space. I let K know “We really care about you and want to continue to support you in this struggle, however due to our responsibilities to our other patients and for the sake of our own health as workers in the space, we are unable to accommodate folks right now who aren’t able to wear masks but I deeply hope you are able to find somewhere else that can." K said "You people don’t care about me, you’re more concerned with making this a political issue!” I gave my sincere apologies and let K know I had to get back to my patients in the clinic space. And that’s how we left it.

Since K was allowed back into the clinic last year, the issue of "the fake pandemic" "manipulative politics of masks" "freedom" etc has come up every time I’ve treated them. K has often worn masks that are falling apart and has refused new ones from us for free. K has continued to unmask in the space when my back is turned.”

After some back and forth among the punks, the consensus was to send K an email reiterating that WCA regrets that it does not offer “mask exemptions” and we look forward to treating K again when the Oregon Health Authority guidelines have changed -- but in the meantime, don’t come into any WCA clinics without a mask. K responded to the email that they were “unaware that only state-approved masks were allowed” (just a little snark there) but that they would look into getting acupuncture somewhere other than WCA as long as the OHA guidelines were in place. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

So in the spirit of “reflection and review”, here’s what I noticed about the reprise of our epic safety incidents: In both cases, things went SO MUCH BETTER than they did the first time around. It’s hard to overstate the value of not being surprised when it comes to safety incidents. Everyone was calmer. Our communication was thorough. We were clear about our policies (and we didn’t have to come up with any new ones!). Everyone who interacted with Orlando and K in the clinic (and over email) handled the interactions beautifully.

For me, there was a dramatic difference in how much energy that Orlando and K took up this time around. Previously, in both cases, their actions generated a blizzard of emails to read, a boatload of conversations to have, policies to write or clarify, and I couldn’t focus on much else administratively for a week or so. This time, both Orlando and K represented a blip in my day as opposed to the inundation of my week.

Also, nobody called the police and nobody threatened to kick anybody else’s ass. We’re doing great!

I’m going to take this Mercury retrograde as validation of our approach to safety, especially the idea that safety isn’t about trying to control everything -- it’s what we do in the face of what we can’t control. The omicron wave has been a reminder that we can’t control the virus, we can’t control other people’s behavior, and we can’t get perfect information on a perfect timeline. What we can do is to make good decisions for ourselves and then stick to them. What we can do is learn from our mistakes -- which requires tolerating our mistakes. What we can do is keep trying to make imperfect safety, together -- which includes unpacking safety incidents. Thanks, Mercury retrograde!