Welcome Back Folks! This Guest Post is brought to you by Michael Kalebich of FSPA Community Acupuncture, as part of a series that illustrates the need for POCA clinics run by POCA punks. Michael sweated over writing this beauty for your enjoyment during this months Membership Drive….
Part 3- “Look too close and you might see the stitches.”
“Okay, Mike, the “bit” is wearing pretty thin at this point, and you're really not *that* funny or talented enough to begin with to really keep that up, anyways. So where is this great “Weird Tale” of the worst- job-at-some-and-such you keep talking about?”
Hey now, no worries! No-PROBLEM, I see you! I see how AWESOME you are and AWESOME you've been, and without any further ado, I am now going to begin recounting, in full, the story of all the at-times Kafka-esque garbage I had to put up with at the WJIP/CA. But first,
Hold on, hold on! I've talked about how *I* got to said clinic, but I feel I should explain a couple other important details. Namely, who left some rando who wanted to build “Floatation Services” into an otherwise capable community acupuncture-clinic in charge? Well…
The clinic was initially started about five years before I had gotten there by someone very plugged into the spirit of POCA, and what then I assume would likely have been called CAN(Community Acupuncture Network, if you hadn't heard). They ran the clinic pretty successfully, and they were able to hire a dedicated front-desk person, in addition to another punk. After about four years, life had happened to this person, and they decided to sell the clinic and move to where life was demanding them. They were lucky enough to find someone also grounded in POCA/CA to buy it, and they picked it up from there.
I want to take a brief moment and emphasize that this is merely and only *my* understanding of what happened, and for my purposes here in this brief description, I feel that's enough. However, I'd be a fool if I didn't say that I might not get everything 100% accurate, especially when I'm intentionally trying to be oblique for reasons already discussed. So, be aware of that. Also, more importantly, I want to be clear that I don't want to inadvertently paint the person who started the clinic as anything less than damn decent. I don't want them to come off as someone negligent or “uncommitted”, “abandoning” anything to “future ruin”. Based on what I learned about them from the patients I treated at the clinic in those early days, and the reputation this person had among them, I would never conclude anything less than a sterling report of their character. I never met them(and I wish I had been able to), but I will absolutely stand by that. Life will happen, regardless of literally anything else. That's it, I don't see any real reason to further qualify that.
The person who the clinic was sold to by the founder came down with a cancer diagnosis not too long after they started up at the clinic. I know based on what people who were there told me about it primarily, and what I was told was that while this 2nd owner definitely spent time punking and running the shop, things progressed pretty quickly for them. By the time I got there, they were alive while I was interviewing, and had passed more than a month before I had gotten there(I started interviewing in the middle of October 2015 and moved January 2016). All total, there wasn't very much time from when they were diagnosed to their passing. Who would become my boss at the clinic came in after no one was really able to find anyone else to take over the clinic. After it became apparent that ownership of the clinic was going to have to change again, everyone involved gave it a pretty extensive effort, but no one else really found. This isn't necessarily a suprise, of course. I mean, close your eyes for a moment and imagine the kind of person who would agree to buy and run a small “alternative” health-clinic under sudden, unfortunate circumstances. Now imagine how you would explain what a CA clinic is to this person in such a way that would appeal to their sensibilities; keeping inm mind it's likely a 50/50 shot if they've ever even HAD acupuncture anywhere at all before you started talking to them. And, of course, the owner-before-my-boss was running on a bit of a time-frame, and definitely had things they needed to get done(to put things VERY, VERY lightly). It wasn't an ideal situation to have the person who would become my boss(Hm, I realize here that I'm going to need to come up with a name for them. How about, “DA”? Yes, I think that'll work!(more on why those letters later)), but they were able to pay the asking price for the clinic, and they did have(at that specific moment in time) a good relationship to a more long-time clinic volunteer(DA was the volunteer's partner(more might come up about that later)).
The point is, it wasn't some “accident” or gross mis-judgment of character. It was concientious people working around quite a bit of unfortunate circumstance, and running into an nont-inconceivable wall. In that void, a volunteer who was friends with the person who was the owner of the clinic brought in DA; it was rough, but it wasn't random, and was in response to some trying circumstance. And, that's basically how we get to where I come into all of this. Like I said, the owner before DA(By the way, this is not in any way an “acronym” for their name, their real name doesn't even possess any of those letters. More on this in a while.) passed while I was interviewing, and I was interviewing specifically because DA was obviously in need of another full-time punk. When I got there, the first punk hired by the original owner was filling about three five-or-six hour shifts, but wasn't in a place to want to go full- time(for VERY good reasons I would learn). There was a fill-in punk before that who was covering a couple extra shifts on top of that for a while after the before-DA owner(I'm going to call them the “2nd Owner”, since after all, they were chronologically the 2nd owner of the clinic), but I was told by DA that they were let go after a dispute. DA had told me this fill-in punk was initially interested in becoming the full-time punk, but then all-at-once changed their mind and repulsed DA(when DA told me what they believed happened more fully at one point over lunch, they started to get so wound-up that their partner had to put their hand on their shoulder to calm DA back down again. Kind of like how an adult handles a child who is becoming grumpy about not having gotten their way. Early “Red Flags” is what I'm trying to say.) Hence, more specifically where my “job” came in.
And, that pretty much brings us up to speed with where everything “started” from. I moved to where the clinic was from Illinois on January 15th, 2016. For a brief few days prior to my first shift, just having an “opportunity”, no matter what it was, felt like progress. After all of the insanity of acupuncture school, and the demoralizing reality-check of how difficult it can be to navigate the “structure” of the “acupuncture profession”, I got some “quiet” for a few days after I'd moved. Little did I know for how long that was supposed to last.
Now, like I said about a thousand-or-so words ago, I didn't exactly go into this without doubts. There was absolutely a palpable tension as DA interacted with people who had been with the clinic for a while. I didn't know the exact details(yet), but I was already pinned at least a bit between my own rock-and-a- hard-place; so, yeah, I was trying to make the best of it and give DA the benefit of the doubt. Even when he told me that he was planning to move the clinic(okay, sure, rent was kind of high), and expand the”alternative therapy” options(I mean, the clinic had massage therapists for a while who did some adjunct stuff, so it's not like that could be TOO bad), and add sensory-deprivation tanks(ummmm…wah?), a Far- Infrared Sauna(…because why not try/fail as hard as you can?), and Heating Pads That Cost Around $800 A Piece By Virtue Of Having An Unecessary Amount of Crystals In Them(…)
But again, I was trying my best to give DA the benefit of the doubt. I mean, they had so much Business Experience(SPOILER- But, not around actually RUNNING a business(at all, even remotely)), and did seem for a while to be into keeping the clinic around for patients. And, the palpable tension I was feeling likely was what contributed to me showing up early on my 2nd day at work, and leaving the door unlocked for about 30 minutes(WHOOPS!) after leaving to briefly get something from my apartment. I mean, yeah, they chewed me out pretty hard for that, but I mean, I did fuck up pretty hard. And, the next day, when the other punk who I was training with couldn't make it in to work and subsequently meant I would be flying solo, DA called me before my shift and seemed to be pretty moved on from what I did the day before. So hey, maybe they weren't so bad after all! Maybe I just needed to be patient, work hard, stay sharp, and I could turn these lemons into some top-dollar lemonade! That feeling of nervous scattered-ness these last couple paragraphs probably convey was about the feeling I had for that first month and a half. I knew something was up, I just didn't know what yet, and honestly, there was enough with just figuring out the basics(from DA's point-of-view, admittedly) and training for my first CA job to really dive into it.
Now, there was one bright spot in these very-early-stages that I want to take a moment to talk about. When things got bad, I would come back to what I felt and experienced then to remind me why I was doing what I was doing, and what Could Be. The 2nd owner was involved with and had friends in POCA, and one of them had volunteered to become DA's “Mentor” in running the clinic. In DA's mind, it would be a good “training experience” for me to go an spend some time observing at their clinic, even though it was a few states over. I headed out near the end of January/beginning of February to “train/observe” at DA's mentor's clinic.
I got there a day before DA did, as they and their partner were taking the long way to check out “Float Centers”(this was a major feature of this phase of things, DA doing what they could to get as much experience as they could checking out floatation-tank centers so as to not mess that up when they got to the point of opening that service at the clinic. They mentioned traveling to check out other CA clinics once or twice, I think.) I'm obviously very grateful, because it gave me a chance to experience the feeling of being in a functional, efficient clinic that was solely directed at helping get acupuncture to as many patients as it could; without getting caught in any Looming Darkness at the same time.
DA's mentor's(ack, this is getting on my nerves. Assume “Mentor”= DA's mentor) clinic was excellent, which was no surprise given the reputation they had in POCA. It was a big space in a larger building which was a mix of different offices and shops, and what struck me was how seamless everything and everyone involved, patients or otherwise, moved through it. Despite how large an operation it was with at least five punks total and around four front-desk people, the heartbeat of the clinic was totally focused on taking care of patients and preserving the structures in place for that. It's obviously hard to talk about a clinic when you're trying to be real indirect at the same time. But, this sticks out in my mind because, barely a month into a new job “back home” which was full of uncertainty(and more than a couple of red-flags), getting another chance to really be in the space of an entity which wasn't all over the place felt important. It was a reminder of what I was ACTUALLY in all of this for, WHY I was doing what I was doing.
At the time, it felt like it gave me some hope to hold on to that maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance back at what was then becoming “my” clinic. Some chance that maybe, even if I couldn't all-the-way change DA's mind, I could preserve at least some of that carefully-cultivated “space” for people who needed it. (Obviously, that didn't pan out. Likely, it was just my mind trying to find something, anything firm enough to really hold on to amid all the Fear n' such) Mentor was also very kind, as were their punks, and I think they understood the situation I(and the clinic) was in (One of Mentor's punks actually said to me when no one was around, “Why not just finish observing and them come work here instead?”). I never got the impression Mentor was enthusiastically signing off on all of these dumb ideas DA was coming up with, but like other people I'd met, was trying their best to at least keep the clinic alive long enough that just maybe it could have a shot at some kind of “recovery”. I lost touch with Mentor about as soon as I'd met them, unfortunately. Obviously, as things started to really Go Down(which was in full-swing by the end of that April), confiding in them didn't feel like a great move. Again, Mentor seemed a bit uncomfortable about things, and putting them in the middle between DA and myself felt like an unkind thing to do. Still, much later on when things would get rough, the experience I had of their clinic and their people would hold me up. I don't mean to gush or make to much of this, but it was those small, but bright,moments that kept me going later when things got very, very dark. A lot of good people that I met throughout that helped me make it through via small things I never got to say “Thanks” for, and I wish I could have. It's easy to admit how dark things got at points, and much harder to admit how much I wanted to just throw in the towel on this whole CA/POCA experiment in those times.
During very lonely moments, clinics with real punk jobs that weren't *weird* and conditional seemed to only exist in states where I couldn't work. The idea of pushing through what I was dealing with for what felt like was only going to be the privilege of getting to do it all again was a wide, deep chasm that felt myself at the edges of. The small moments of kindness I received from different people while out there at what was becoming DA's clinic were what helped pull me keep me from going any further. Given where I'm fortunate enough to be at now, I really appreciate that. So, thanks, Mentor. And, thanks to all of the other people who helped provide hope, I'll do my absolute best to remember you.
If this reads scattered, well, that's what I, things happening around the clinic, and the clinic itself was at that time. There was a real sense of foreboding as big, demonstratable changes were either happening or in-process, and the slightly better affect I had driving back from Mentor's clinic didn't obviously wasn't enough to physically change that reality.
Everything felt tenuous to those of us who were not as keen to the more specific details happening behind the curtain. I felt it, some of the volunteers felt it, and the patients definitely felt it. It was a fear of what was coming, because something *was* coming. It was likely going to be bad, and there was no way to tell exactly how bad, and in what ways it would be bad. All amidst the kind of scattered way DA was slowly revealing their plans for what was becoming their clinic.
Graciously or not, we would not have to wait too much longer to discover what the dawn was about to bring us…..
AND… You'll have to stay tuned to hear Just What Happens….There are 3 more installments.. Just you wait and See. Thank you everybody for your support during this year's Drive!