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Standard Operating Procedures
By Gregory Ross
In 1983 I began studies at the San Francisco College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (SFCAOM). Most Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine schools in the 1980s were populated by upper middle class, upper class and "trust fund baby" students due to cost. Most offered classes only during the day Monday through Friday. Some required a year's tuition up front and full time attendance. Not, exactly a lower middle class, working class possibility. But do to a cash flow problem, SFCAOM was the first of the Acupuncture Schools to switch to a pay as you go, day and night school business plan.
I signed up as soon as I found out about this change. Three weeks after my interview, which mostly consisted of verification that I was able to pay, I started school. I told no one that I was a veteran. Not my fellow students, not my teachers and certainly not the administrators. I did keep vigilant to the possibility of another veteran in the field, but it was over twenty years before I heard of another veteran doing Chinese Medicine. By then I was well into a career doing acupuncture detox/rehab work mostly in the Alameda County Hospital in Oakland, California. I also worked a couple of years in a clinic in Bay View, Hunter's Point, San Francisco, California.
All the schools run low fee clinics with supervised treatments by the students. You start out as an observer and go through three levels of internships with both increasing hands-on training and responsibility. I was winding down, preparing to graduate and take the State Boards to get my license. At this level you might have two clinics a day, three days a week, or whatever time you needed to fulfill the State mandated number of clinical hours.
Most clinics, for that matter most, classes were taught by Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese practitioners, but this particular clinic was officiated by a Caucasian man, Alphonso, who had graduated from SFCAOM. He and I got along well, but not so well that I told him of my veteran status. One day in his clinic, when we were waiting to be assigned patients, a student came in very upset. She was outraged that her husband was getting to go climb a mountain in Tibet and she could not go because she had to stay for classes. This was not a working class problem. I remember thinking but, not saying, "Life is hard and then you die." I do remember mumbling to myself, "I wish she would shut the F*** up." Alphonso gave me a strange look. Perhaps I was showing anger that he sensed was not warranted.
She then said that her husband's climb was being delayed because the Chinese Army had invaded Tibet. She was dumbfounded by reports coming out that they had killed, maimed and raped Tibetan civilians. She and many students were unbelieving. How could the people who created this "Beautiful, Balanced, Juxtaposition of Medical Science and Art" be doing such a thing? I muttered, "S.O.P." Alphonso overheard it and asked me what I had said. I replied, forcefully, "Standard Operating Procedures." He looked at me quizzically. I replied to the look with this statement, "Every army over every period of history has done such things. Not every soldier but every invading army, it is S.O.P." He again just looked at me perplexed. I glared at him and said, "I am a Vietnam veteran," somehow thinking this would explain everything. And, in a bizarre sort of way, it did.
Mountain Climbing Wife overheard me, as did a few other clinical students. Soon most students knew of my veteran status. Some stopped talking to me. Some asked the, "How could you do such a thing" question, some thanked me for my service, some did not seem to care, but now that I was "out" I decided to use it to my advantage. We had to do a research project and most of them were based on common problems such as headaches, back pain, insomnia or anxiety. But I went to the Oakland Veterans Assistance Center and set up a twice a week, twelve week treatment project for "phantom limb sensations".
I especially enjoyed the moment when a particularly self centered, obnoxious student, with me in the room, complained to the Professor that he had approached the same Veteran's Assistance Center and had been turned down. He could not understand why. He arrogantly whined to the Professor that it was obvious he was a superior practitioner and I, an inferior student, got permission because I was a veteran. He actually suggested the Center have him take over the project and I could stay on as his assistant. He had no idea he wore contempt like a dress uniform - starched and crisply pressed, all creases in line, brass polished, spit shined.
Gregory Ross: Navy, Vietnam; 7th fleet [1968-69]. Graduate, VA Detox and PTSD program ; Acupuncturist, Detox specialty till 2011. Published in "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace". Feedback: email@example.com.