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
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.
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.
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? Sign...me...up.
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
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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