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Healing Wise ...
with Susun Weed

Trauma Care in the Wild, part three

Trauma Care in the Wild, part three

"It grows by the river," Alex said. Thumbing through his iPhone, he pulled up a picture and the botanical name: Anthrium salvini. "Tomorrow I will go and get a leaf and poultice your arm at night."

Meanwhile, the dance of the compresses, Step Four, was in full swing.

Our crone from Slovakia soaked towels in vinegar and bound then to my arm with an old Ace bandage. A plastic bag contained the vinegar fumes and protected surfaces from drips.

As soon as the comfrey leaf infusion was ready, I began to drink it. Some went into the freezer to get deeply chilled and, an hour later, my arm/wrist was soaked in that.

We also tossed the spent comfrey leaves in ice water as a soak. And we soaked kitchen towels in the infusion, froze them, and used them as a cold compresses -- Ace bandage, plastic bag, and all. 

The picture of both arms shows the swelling.

For pain remediation – did I mention that it hurt like nothing I ever remember feeling? – in addition to 3-5 drops of fresh-flowering skullcap tincture as needed, I indulged in one of my favorite forms of meditation/pain relief: doing a picture puzzle.

I finished it the last night of our Wellness Adventure, with a little help from my friends.

By the next afternoon, about 24 hours after the initial trauma, I was ready to lead our first weed walk in Costa Rica, with a smile. A near-sighted smile, I lost my glasses, remember.
After dinner, Alex appeared, holding out for my inspection a large, and I mean large – well over a meter/yard long –  shiny, dark green leaf.  "A knife, some oil, a frying pan, and this leaf is all we need. Come, let's poultice your arm." 

He got the oil so hot that water popped when added to it. Then he cut sections of the leaf about the width of my swollen wrist and dropped them, one at a time, into the hot oil, and applied them (pretty hot) directly to my skin. One section on the front, one on the back, and one wrapping around. All held in place and covered by that useful Ace bandage. "My mother used a bandana," Alex muttered.
"Keep it on all night, important," were his parting words. And I did, though it itched a little. I turned off the light, stretched my arm out, propped it on a pillow, lay down and slept, awakening only to take a little skullcap and pee.

In the morning, we were amazed when the poultice was removed. The area (my fingers and mid-hand) untouched by the leaf were twice as swollen as those covered by the poultice! "More. Tonight," said Alex with a genuine smile.

Step Four continued through all the following days. We chilled my arm (for 20-30 minutes at a time), then compressed or poulticed my wrist and arm for several hours, continuously, all day. And at night, it was Alex. Alex and the Anthrium salvini.

The second night was like the first, but bigger pieces of leaf, and more of them were used. Did I only imagine they were hotter? "Keep it on all night, important," Alex said and left. And I did, though it itched. Arm stretched out, propped up, lights off and awakening only to take a little skullcap and pee.

The third night, repeat. More, hotter, itchier. "All night, important!" I did it.

Here is a picture of Alex and me and the Wellness Adventure ladies, Thursday, about 40 hours after the trauma, at Curu Park on our Day of the Blue Morpho.

Fourth night, no way. Within minutes of Alex's departure, I unwrapped the Ace bandage to relieve the fierce burning and itching on my skin from the poultice. I thought, perhaps there were more leaf veins in the poultice than before, and maybe I could remove them. But with only my left hand and no sharp tool, I failed at doing much more than making a leafy mess, which I valiantly  tried to replace on my arm and wrap up. Only to have to remove it five minutes later as the skin irritation grew too intense to be endured.
Next morning, when I admitted failure, Alex smiled. "Ah, Mama only ever did it three times!"
This is folk medicine becoming herbal medicine. This is herbal medicine as people's medicine, the medicine that grows outside your door. This is herbal medicine as story medicine, weaving us back into wholeness. The plants are aware of our interest, our use. They talk to one another. They come to our dreams. The Old Ones bend an ear. They respect self-sufficiency.

Everything works. I do not ask about a remedy: "Does it work?" because the answer is always: "Yes!" To counter swelling and pain in a traumatic injury, vinegar works, comfrey works, ice works, arnica ointment works, a plant I never heard of before works. They all work.

Instead, I ask: "Does it make the family as well as the person healthier? Does it make the community as well as the family healthier? Does it keep the ecology healthy too?" Only in the case of the healing leaf of Costa Rica, Anthrium salvini, are all answers: "Yes, indeed." (Back at home, in the Catskills, the correct answer would be comfrey, which I grow, and vinegar, which I make.)

All the other remedies we used take one out of the home, out of the family, to the store, to the global marketplace, to procure them. They work; they heal; but their scope is limited because they are items of commerce. They are loose threads, come undone from the healing cloak of the Ancients, and so they cannot weave us back into wholeness. This is the true beating heart of herbal medicine: the earth, the plants, the community, the family, the person, becoming more whole, more holy, and healthier at every opportunity.

An injury is an opening to greater wholeness.

Trauma Care in the Wild, part four

I am telling you the story of my traumatized wrist, so let's return to Story Medicine for a while.
The Second Step of Healing is Story Medicine. Story Medicine is diagnosis. It is the answer to "why?" It is the answer to "what?" It is the stories we tell ourselves when we are injured or ill.

For most people with access to hi-tech medicine, the desire to know "why" and "what" sweeps the patient immediately into the last river of healing, the most dangerous river. My injured wrist looked ugly and distorted and part of me wanted to know just what had happened. Was it broken? Dislocated? Sprained? I knew that what we did immediately to counter the trauma was more important that answering those questions, so we applied immediate first aid measures as outlined in part one of this series.

After teaching my class, and while continuing to rest, ice, elevate, and compress my wrist, I called Alex, our Tico friend, over and told him that, if he would take me, I would go for an x-ray if one was available. At that point, I figured, waiting in an emergency room for hours wouldn't slow my healing. In fact, from now on, I realized, it was just a matter of being patient while my wrist healed. As it turned out the nearest x-ray facility was about ten hours away. My curiosity was not that strong, so we didn't go.
But I was hesitant that I was doing all I could to help myself. Perhaps I was being foolish and needed hi-tech help.

Instead of an x-ray to tell me what to do, I asked for stories. Other people's stories of sprained or broken wrists. These two stories were right there in our circle, immediately available to me, not ten hours away. Let me tell you what they told me.

Broken Wrist (Healthy white woman in her thirties)
"I fell while hiking and was carried out to the emergency room. X-rays revealed a broken wrist. I received the best modern orthopedic surgery: My wrist was set, screwed, pinned, wired, and immobilized." She described in detail the horror and pain upon the removal of the pins and the months of physical therapy. She showed us her wrist. It could not bend back at all!

"If that is the very best modern medicine can do in a worst-case scenario, I know I can do better," I said, with emphasis, after listening to her story and looking at her hand and wrist. "Even if my wrist is broken, there is no need for an x-ray, because I heal rapidly and well – and the healing is already under way."

Broken Ankle (Healthy white teenage boy)
"My son fell while rollerblading, waited in the emergency room for several hours, then was told that the swelling was too severe to do what they needed to do to put his ankle back together again. 'The bones are not only broken, but out of place,' they told him. 'Come back in two weeks when the swelling has subsided and we will operate.' He went home and allied with comfrey: He drank the infusion and used the spent plant material as a poultice. He also soaked his ankle in comfrey infusion. Two weeks later, he had surgery. When he was in the recovery room, the surgeon came in and smiled at him. 'Never seen anything like it,' he admitted. 'When we opened you up, all the bones in your ankle were back in place and the fractures were healing exceptionally well. We put a screw in, just so we wouldn't have cut you for no reason.'"

"Thank you for sharing your son's story," I said with real appreciation. Now I knew for certain that I could heal my trauma better than modern medicine could, without x-rays and without surgery.

We live by stories. Stories tell us what we can do and how we can do it. When we change our stories, we change our lives. The next time you are hurt or ill, ask for stories and see what the universe has in store for you. I have never been disappointed.

to be continued . . .

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