Friday, October 5, 2012
Community Healing at Burning Man
This post is by our acupunk, Amy Chang
"May I see your tongue, please?"
My patient pulls out a dry erase marker and scribbles his reply on a small whiteboard attached to his belt. "I have no tongue."
I blink, a little taken aback. I'm supposed to be taking his pulse, but I've never met someone without a tongue before. True, we're at Burning Man, an annual art festival held on a prehistoric lake bed in northern Nevada, where one might meet participants from all over the world, but in 5 consecutive years of being a HeeBeeGeeBee Healer (a theme camp which offers free healing sessions and yoga classes) this is the first time I have run into someone who literally could not show me his tongue. The wind billows through the 30' diameter army green parachute that makes our Chillspace Tent #2 as I swallow, wondering how to proceed.
He explains, in a scrawl, "I was in Vietnam." He mimes something hitting him in the right jaw, a grenade perhaps, blowing through his face and half his chest. He pulls up his t-shirt and shows me a web of sutures and scars. My first thought is: how are you still alive? It is a miracle. Just as the existence of this place is a miracle: Black Rock City exists officially for only seven days each year, during the week of Burning Man, but while we're here no money is exchanged beyond the gates, no vehicles are driven (except art cars registered at the Department of Mutant Vehicles), all services and goods are given freely, all art installations are open to interaction, and everyone commits to leaving no trace behind us when we leave. Here I have met people I would never have met if not for Burning Man, like this scarred Vietnam veteran sitting on the blue and white checkered couch before me.
Thankfully, his current complaint is fairly simple, one that I see many times a week at Sarana: left shoulder pain with difficulty raising the arm. He writes, "I am a lamplighter. I need my shoulder!"
The Lamplighters are a theme camp, like the HeeBeeGeeBees. While we provide healing and restful shade, they contribute light. Every day, men and women dressed in white robes set out at dusk along the Esplanade and the paths to the Man and the Temple, carrying long poles laden with blue lanterns that are hung upon wooden stands, to help everyone see where they are going. The lights are removed at dawn, also by volunteers of Lamplighter Village. The streetlamps are tall; the lamplighters use hooks to raise and lower the lanterns. It is a repetitive motion, one that he cannot do at all right now.
After some thought, I put three needles in his left hand, avoiding the scar tissue all over the rest of his body. Usually I would go for shin points too, but I'm afraid he might have more scars that I don't know about, so I keep the treatment simple.
Half an hour later when I remove the needles, full range of motion has come back to him. He writes on his whiteboard, "You are a gift from the gods!"
Two days later, after the Temple has burned to the ground, ritualistically marking the end of this year's Burning Man Festival, the man with no tongue comes back to find me. He gives me a small silver pendant with a lamp on it, and shows me how well his left arm has retained the benefits of the first acupuncture treatment of his life.
I don't know what makes me happier, the token of gratitude or his smile.