Archive for tag: travel

Hasta Luego, Nicaragua

I'm home. I know it, physically. I see my house, my car, and the backpack already waiting to go back to class. But, my mind is still in Nicaragua. This morning I subconsciously shook out my shoes before putting them on. You know, to check for scorpions, since we have so many here in Illinois. I tried to put my used toilet paper into a basket in the bathroom at Target yesterday, and stopped myself just in time. Go ahead and throw it right into the toilet, Juli. Welcome home.


The week I spent volunteering at the integrative medicine clinic in Nicaragua with Natural Doctors International (NDI) is sticking with me for much longer. Even though it was my third time going, pulling up to the rancho, strolling into the clinic, and meeting my "mami" for the week was just as exciting as ever. The village of Los Angeles on the island of Ometepe is a dry, dusty place at the end of April, as the hungry families yearn for the rains to start and signal the planting season.


The roughly 30,000 people strung around the base of the two volcanos that form the island aren't starving, though. There aren't clusters of orphaned children with protruding bellies scavenging garbage piles with flies landing in their eyes. Even though Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere -- after Haiti -- life on the island is not what you might expect. The children are mostly dressed, everyone has at least rice to make in the outdoor kitchens, and villagers are seemingly low-key for the most part, smiling, saying "Buenos Dias" as you walk down the dirt roads punctuated only by horse poop and the never-ending small fires.


Again, I'm awed by the graciousness of the people, who walk, ride, hitch, or bike to NDI's free natural medicine clinic, and then wait patiently and happily in the colorful plastic chairs out back for hours. We learned that many of them give us a run-down of five or ten general health complaints simply hoping to get a refill on multivitamins, omegas, or probiotics, which they treat like gold when we dump them into a plastic baggie for them. We delighted some children with a new toothbrush to hold while Daddy hopped up onto the table for some pain-relieving acupuncture.


We volunteers smiled as baby horses and cows causally strolled around the village. After a few days we stopped asking, "Whose horse is that?" when we realized that the animals knew where they lived and ended up back at more or less the right house at the end of the day. We struggled -- some of us more than others - to communicate with our host families in Spanish about everything from food preferences to how to refill the bucket for a shower. We even celebrated a fellow volunteer's birthday with a birthday cake and a huge bottle of Coke; the power only went out on us once.


Times were good. Patients were appreciative. Volunteers were learning. We reminded ourselves how unique NDI's clinic really is -- not just for Nicaragua -- but for anywhere in the world. Mainstream western medicine is starting to shift, yes, but it's not yet common in the U.S. to walk into a free clinic, have a consult with a naturopathic doctor and receive supplements and a take-home parasite-in-my-poo test kit, have a consult with an acupuncturist and get needled under the mango trees, and enjoy a lavender oil massage after a grievous counseling session with the in-house psychologist. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sign. Me. Up. For. That. I even found the beach in our village this year, after three years!


By day we performed the abovementioned magic out of the 3-room open-air clinic. By night we grappled with the tough questions during our evening classes on global health history and policy. Why aren't we helping out in our own country? Why couldn't we carry in all of the donations that we raised? Why are naturopathic doctors not recognized in most states in the U.S.? Did they break ground for the new canal? Why is smoke coming out of the volcano that our village is ON!


Nothing is answered definitively; earthquakes rolled on days after I left the island. I returned home to the pile of donations that we couldn't get into Nicaragua. I still can't get my insurance to cover a naturopathic doctor visit in Chicago. We didn't cure every patient; the rancho still needs to be re-thatched before the rains come; and the clinic ran out of children's multivitamins before we even got on the ferry to head home. And it's OK. We are fulfilled. Our work was done and cannot be undone. And guess what? Hasta Luego doesn't mean "good-bye." It means "until next time." Yep, I'll be back.

One of Those Kinds of Posts

Ok, I'll do one--one of those kinds of posts. I usually think it's more interesting and relevant to share information about some topic of concern or awe to those of us in alternative medicine, but this time I'm just going to do what the original intention of this AOM blog probably was. I'm going to share what it's like to be an acupuncture student fighting her way towards the end of the trimester.


Now, I'm not fighting because I'm bored, confused, or frustrated with my classes. On the contrary, I enjoy the nights I get to drive in a car by myself and sit quietly for 4-5 hours learning about something I love. It's the most relaxing part of the day. Hey, I have active young children, a messy husband, and a sometimes too-demanding teaching schedule to juggle all day. Give me a graduate night class any day of the week!

No, I'm not fighting in a bad way. I'm excited to reach the end of this trimester because the day after it ends, I'm getting on the airplane for Nicaragua. Two weeks in Central America is just what the doctor ordered for this stressed out, over-committed student. I'd love to say I'm a good flier, but that wouldn't be true. With that missing Malaysian plane, I'm going to be grinding ear seeds into my PC6 points until they're bleeding. Awesomely inopportune time for that mysterious tragedy. Not to be insensitive, but I barely make it through my flights as it is. Rescue remedy? Yep, I'll be using that heavily.

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The past several months have been leading up to this medical mission trip, and soon I know it will be here, then already--sadly--behind me. Since last year's trip, I haven't been able to get that clinic off my mind--not that I want to! NDI's integrative healthcare clinic serves so many appreciative and needy people, and it's the only medical setting I've ever experienced where providers of several medical fields all circle around and get to take a crack at each patient who walks in the door. I know that when I start my first shift, a middle-aged Nicaraguan farmer will come into the clinic with the chief complaint of back pain. If I used a machete all day, I'd develop back pain, too. Instead of that patient being confined to the limits of one provider's medicine, this patient will reap the benefits of the naturopath, the chiropractor, the acupuncturist, the psychologist, and the massage therapist on staff at the same time. He might get an adjustment, soft tissue work, some needles, and even a tincture for the road. I can't get that sweet deal anywhere in the United States, that's for sure. Did I mention it's free?

This is the future of medicine, people.This is it. Integrative medicine is the way. True, I have to get on an airplane to immerse myself in it at this point, but I promise you one thing--I'll bring it back.