Humanitarian Aid and Refugee Transition Center, a.k.a “Tesco”
Przemysl, Poland. 10.6 miles from the Ukrainian border
The sights within this refugee center are indelible images etched into our minds. However, out of respect for the Ukrainians, we shall show no photos yet simply describe our observations.
The scene within this repurposed micro-mall from the 1980’s is one of solemn calm and utter exhaustion. Over 500 refugees, overwhelmingly comprised of women and children, are arranged cot-to-cot. They have fled the war zone of their homeland through an ad-hoc volunteer evacuation network, traveling across Ukraine for days. After waiting patiently at an interminable border control queue in the cold and rain for hours, they finally crossed into Poland on foot, carrying their remaining possessions by hand.
Upon entry to Poland, these Ukrainians were embraced by yellow-vested volunteers pushing shopping carts to relieve the weary of their heavy bags. They were escorted through a overwhelming gauntlet of international relief tents and a cacophony of sights. Numerous volunteer kitchens lovingly offered all varieties of food: bortsch, paninis, dahl, even fresh oven-baked pizza. Children were offered toys and balloons, even by an actual clown. Toiletries, blankets, clothes, diapers, new SIM cards for free calling are all theirs for the taking. Signs in Ukrainian reassure the refugees that yes, everything here is actually free. Medical and veterinary personnel offer free care. At the end of this walkway of generosity and sensory overload, they queued yet again to board a bus for the short ride to Tesco.
Tesco is a large, teeming waystation, a temporary shelter, yet another stop to determine the next destination. Small rooms are marked by national flags. Sleep here in this room if you want to go to England. Here in this one for Denmark, and so forth. Room 13 is a massive open floor, the largest room by far, with approximately 300 beds. Persons in this room are headed to a teeming Warsaw whose population has increased 20% in three weeks or elsewhere in Poland where families take them into their homes as if they were family.
Now enters two American men with bicycle bags on their shoulders. We are escorted to a back room to meet the director of the center. We could explain that we carry on our shoulders two zero-gravity, vibro-tactile chairs with a microcontroller delivering intelligent patterns of pulsed-pressure waves to the body that rebalance the autonomic nervous system. We could talk science for hours if need be about how the Shiftwave neutralizes stress, reduces pain, upregulates left prefrontal cortex activity, and may reduce the chances of long-term traumatic disorders. We can explain the medical reasoning as to why we have come thousands of miles to offer this technological assist to tired, traumatized, and aching Ukrainian women and children.
After a few brief attempts to explain that to someone that doesn’t speak English, we quickly revert to calling the Shiftwave by the apparently universal term, “massage.” The Tesco organizers quickly understood the potential value of a “massage chair.” Who here couldn’t benefit from a massage after all? They enthusiastically welcome us in with our two Shiftwaves. We set up this extremely advanced piece of technology in plain view of the 300-plus refugees in room 13. Even in West Coast advanced biohacking conferences, this Shiftwave system attracts befuddled looks. Under Tesco’s bright fluorescent lights, among scores of women and children in cots, piles of bedding, and makeshift barriers of pallets, this high-tech piece of equipment looks very out of place. Positively alien.
Thank goodness for the insatiable curiosity of kids. They gather around, puzzled and interested, asking what it is. Fortunately, we have a trick up our technological sleeve. Before leaving the US, we worked with a Ukrainian mother of two to create a stress and pain-relieving protocol with a full explanation and instructions voiced in Ukrainian. We sit children in the chair, drape them with a blanket, and show them how they can actually control the strength of the pulsed-pressure waves with a large hand dial. We place pastel unicorn eye-masks over their eyes, position headphones over their ears, and press play on the Shiftwave. The soothing voice of a Ukrainian mother fills their ears as waves of pulsations pass through their body. Their reactions are priceless. Usually, they start by giggling and laughing, as if tickled by the vibrations. This stimulates a brief and healthy sympathetic nervous system response, a good excitement. After 2 minutes, the protocol suddenly stops the vibrations abruptly. This is a magical moment. Their body feels completely weightless and is dropped into a deeply relaxing, parasympathetic state. After this shift, their body-mind locks into the pattern of the pulsed pressure waves, which guide the autonomic nervous system into balance. Their faces turn to looks of peaceful relaxation, content smiles accompanied by the occasional thumbs up.
The group of kids grows and they patiently, yet assertively, await their turn. A boy who just finished his journey, runs off, returning with his mom. Her son’s insistence and our simple explanation of “massage chair” is enough to persuade her to sit. Her face is one of stony but acquiescent exhaustion. During the session, we watch her tension literally disappear. Her jaw slackens, shoulders drop, and her head lists gently to the side. The protocol ends, and she does not move a muscle until we are forced to gently sit her up. We remove the eye mask to reveal bright, alive eyes, broad smiles, and the exclamation of “Wow!” Another term that needs no translation. She skips off to grab her other children and orders them to all ride the Shiftwave.
This pattern repeats itself all night. We offer “massage,” and they soon reply with “Wow!”
In one instance, a mother experiences relief and returns briskly with her special needs child, approximately eight years old. She holds his hand as he squirms under the unusual sensations. She repeatedly instructs him to stay seated in the Shiftwave. Halfway through the ten-minute protocol, this child surrenders to the experience, becomes quiescent and calm. So too becomes his mother.
Three nights in a row we visit Tesco, giving well over 100 refugees the Shiftwave experience. Kids from the previous night are thrilled to see us and line up as repeat customers. Mothers again seek the immediate pleasure of pain relief and sorely needed stress reduction. However, the American Ph.D. and M.D. standing next to them know from a body of scientific research that downregulating the sympathetic nervous systems after traumatic experiences may lessen the chances of developing long term psychological difficulties.
We came to Poland and Ukraine with just the two Shiftwave systems we could carry. We brought neither back home.
One is now in the hands of Laurier and Camilla, a Canadian psychotherapist and physiotherapist volunteering at the border. They will return to Tesco night after night, and then move onto other such facilities. The other system, we delivered over the border into Ukraine into the hands of Anton, a Ukrainian bus driver evacuating women and children across Ukraine since the war’s onset (not his real name). Watching him experience the Shiftwave reset himself within the border crossing tent was a highlight of our trip. He delivered that system to Central Ukraine to the organization KidSave. KidSave now uses the system to reset and recharge their large network of drivers who work around the clock, exhausting themselves and being exposed to lethal danger, atrocities, and massive amounts of stress and trauma. As of April 8th, 2022, KidSave has evacuated 9,850 people, 5,682 of which are children.
Mental health in this wartime situation is already a large and intractable problem, the consequences of which will be seen for generations. Ukrainian people are the strongest, most stoic people we’ve ever met. Standing in the cold rain for five hours waiting to cross the border, not a single person was upset, agitated, or raised a voice. Children played silently, and the babies somehow didn’t cry. We learned quickly that discussing mental health in Ukraine is utterly foreign to most. The culture seems more akin to the traditional approach to mental health in first responder communities in the USA: suck it up. We saw volunteer psychologists simply passing out blankets because no Ukrainians wanted to discuss their emotions. At Tesco, the table labeled “психотерапія” (psychotherapy) was always empty.
To share our cutting-edge technology with Ukrainians, to literally and simply press a button on a system that provides immediate mental and physical relief and autonomic nervous system rebalancing was intensely gratifying.
But there are only two Shiftwave systems forward deployed right now.
We have requests from other organizations in Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania to integrate Shiftwaves into their programs. We have appeals for Shiftwaves from aid workers mere miles from the front lines. We have a university in Krakow, Poland, ready to evaluate the long-term benefit of repeated Shiftwave sessions as mental health interventions in refugees, including performing psychophysiological studies to ascertain longer-term effects on the body as well.
Shiftwave has already established these relationships and supply chain networks to deliver Shiftwaves where they can be of the greatest benefit.
A single Shiftwave system can work around the clock, providing on-demand relief to over a thousand people a month. It is medicine that does not need a refill. It is a combination therapist and bodyworker who never tires. It is simply the best stress management technology on the planet, and Ukraine is where it is needed most.
Mike “Doc” North, Ph.D., CEO/Founder
Jeffrey Rouse, M.D., Chief Medical Officer