Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mystical Medicines


Sometime around July of this year, shortly after we moved to Rossville from Chiclayo, Peru I damaged my right knee. I can’t associate it with any specific event. It just, one day started hurting. I ignored it for several weeks, until the pain became more frequent and severe. When it became obvious it wasn’t going to improve, I did one of my least favorite things to do; made a doctor appointment. The diagnosis is a partially torn meniscus. The course of treatment is leg exercises, ibuprofen and to stay off of it as much as possible.

During that doctor visit I wondered out loud what the diagnosis and treatment would have been in Chiclayo. I’m positive that one of the medicines would have been a salve or ointment of some sort, either a commercial product or a homemade concoction. Chiclayonos are big on ointments for whatever ails you. I mentioned several other examples of Peruvian health care practices that the doctor had probably not come across in medical school. For chronic pain that is not responding to usual remedies, one might contract with a bruja (male witch) to make a house call. Often as part of the treatment the bruja will place a live cuy (guinea pig) on the affected location, and let it run in the area, which somehow transfers the cause of the pain to the cuy. The bruja usually eats the cuy in imitation of his Incan ancestors, who ate tons of the little buggers. All such treatments are taken seriously by the population. If a treatment doesn’t work it is because something else is interfering.

When the doctor laughed I surprisingly found myself feeling defensive. That’s when I told him about what I call the yellow rock. It’s actually a hard cylinder of sulphur. It is sold as a pain reliever in pharmacies and many corner grocery stores. My first experience with it was during my initial visit to Chiclayo, when I developed a severe headache. I suggested to Maribel that we walk to a pharmacy for aspirin when instead she produced the yellow rock from a kitchen drawer. When she began rubbing the rock on my temple I immediately heard a crackling sound, like paper being crushed. Within minutes the headache was gone.

I am a skeptic. My mantra is, “Show me proof”. My conclusion about the rock and headache was that it was simply coincidence. The second time that exact scenario happened several week later, I again said coincidence, but this time not so loud.

I mentioned earlier that Chiclayonos have a penchant for ointments as a medical treatment. As I think about it, that is no different than the dozens of ointments sold in the ‘health stores’ all over the USA. And to my knowledge 99% of all of their products carry the mandatory disclaimer that essentially says…’this product has not been government evaluated and has not been proven to cure anything or have any healthful affects at all’. So basically they are no more legitimate than the sulphur cylinder of the guinea-pig-on-the-back treatments.

Whenever I get involved in a discussion about health supplements, the ‘believers’ usually end up saying, “Well, there may be no scientific proof, but I know my body and these supplements work”. Given that line of thinking, isn’t it just as valid for a Chiclayono to say that they know their bodies and the guinea pig treatment works? Or for me to say that the sulphur cylinder works?

Okay, back to my knee. This week after examining my knee, the doctor concluded that the conservative treatment approach did not work. In two more weeks I will see an orthopedic surgeon in preparation for arthroscopic surgery. I really don’t like that but it sounds like there is no option. Well…maybe there is. Before I go under the knife I’m going to a pet store to buy a guinea pig. I’ll let it run around on my knee for a while. It can’t hurt, unless it bites me, and whether it works or not, we’ve got dinner.