Friday, January 24, 2014

Isaan Alternative Medicine

Shaman Applies First Treatment to Duang

Living here in Isaan provides me with many unique experiences and interesting opportunities.

"Allen's World" is a more spiritual world than the world that I lived in prior to coming here to Isaan.  When I write the word "spiritual" I am not using the connotation of Judeo-Christian beliefs, or Judeo-Christian practices.  The spiritual nature of "Allen's World" is the beliefs and practices of a belief system that predates the birth of the major religions of our time.  Here in Isaan and in particular, my wife and the other ethnic Lao people, is a strong faith and fear of the Animist faith.  Animism is the belief in spirits and their power to affect every aspect of our daily lives - for good and for bad.  The commitment to Animism is that it has survived the arrival of Hinduism and subsequent  arrival of Buddhism to the area.  Rather than eliminating the Animist beliefs and practices, the Hindu and Buddhist faiths tolerated and often incorporated the indigenous Animism into their system.

Animist believes provide answers to all questions great and small as well as solutions for all problems.  It binds the community and provides reassurance as well as stability to the ethnic Lao society.

A large part of the Animist faith deals with matters of health.  Ceremonies are often held to ensure that the 32 spirits required in one's body to ensure good health and good fortune are bound to the body to ensure that they can not escape.  These ceremonies are also performed to bring missing spirits back to a person's body.  The ritual involves making offerings to the spirits, invoking their help through chanting, and tying short pieces of string around a person's wrists to bind the spirits.

A Shaman Treats Peelawat's  Blood Infection
 When our grandson was just a toddler he developed a blood infection in his foot.  The family brought him to the local hospital in Kumphawapi for treatment.  Peelawat was given intravenous fluids and antibiotics to fight the infection. The family also summoned the local shaman to come to the hospital to treat Peelawat.  The shaman came to the hospital and proceeded unabated to treat Peelawat.  His treatment involved examining the foot, chanting, saying some prayers and spraying the affected area with red betel nut chewing saliva from his mouth.  Peelawat instinctively understood what was going on and pointed several of his other "boo-boos" to the shaman for treatment.  The shaman smiled but did not feel it was necessary to treat those old injuries.

Duang spent last week end in Tahsang Village, taking care of Peelawat while her mother was in Laos on a religious retreat in Vientiane.  We had discussed it and agreed that it would be best for Peelawat to remain at his home with all his friends that to spend the weekend with us.  Duang returned Sunday night to our home Sunday night with a very runny nose, very tired, and with a sore throat - all of which we attributed to her stay out in the village.

Monday she was still sick with what we believed to be a bad cold.  That evening we went into town for a great meal with an old friend and a new friend who were on their way to Laos from the USA.  We went to bed around 11:00 PM with Duang complaining about having pain in her abdomen and pain in her back.  She also indicated that she was hot, as in burning, inside and outside at specific locations on her torso.  She had great difficulty sleep and at 03:00 she went to the Emergency Room at the Military Hospital three quarters of a mile from our home.

Duang was diagnosed with shingles, herpes zoster, by the doctor.  She returned home with five different medicines to take and an appointment to return to the doctor in seven days.  The next morning, Tuesday January 21st, as is my habit whenever we get medicine, I went on the Internet to determine just exactly what were the medications as well as what are the treatments for shingles.

From the Internet I determined that Duang was to take antivirals for shingles.  Duang had told me that she had like a snake inside of her that would spread and if it had completely encircled her she would die. In questioning her the previous night about the condition she told me that she had gotten it from food in the village.  I had immediately though of liver flukes from unpasteurized pla daak (fermented fish  - 6 months minimum). I was definitely confused and was preparing to go back to the hospital and find someone who could explain to me in English what was going on.  By the time that I finished my research on the Internet, Duang's condition had developed to the point that I could see the red welts on both her abdomen and back. The skin eruptions looked exactly like the photographs on the Internet for shingles.  I felt much better and then explained to Duang what she had and that she was not in any danger of dying.  She told me not to talk about the progression of the welts on her back because that would accelerate their migration - a request that I could comply with although I did not believe in its efficacy.

Duang After Being Treated the First Time of Nine Times
Duang took her modern medicine all day Tuesday - anti viral pills five times a day, anti-viral ointment three times a day, an anti-seizure/pain medicine once a day, Tylenol. and Valium for sleeping at night.  Of course as is the case here, a great deal of time was spent throughout the day consulting with family and friends.  Many people confirmed that if the welts from the "like snake" inside of Duang met up to form a complete circle around her torso she would die.  On the brighter side, Duang's condition was not a rare one.  Many of the people had either had or knew of some one who had had the same problem.

One of Duang's best friends. Madame Gei, had had the condition as well as her husband.  She knew of a special man, a shaman, who had cured her, her husband, and two of her friends.  This was great news ... to Duang.  Wednesday morning we drove out to Madame Gei's home and followed her to the shaman's home.  Madame Gei did not know exactly where he lived but when we stopped and asked people they knew exactly who we were looking for.  We parked are vehicles there, crossed the main road, and walked a short distance down a narrow street to his home.  He was not home but a call was made by his wife for him to return home.

After a while, the middle aged man returned home.  In addition to being a shaman he is also a policeman!  I knew that he had cured people of the condition before but I was not sure what his qualifications were.  Duang asked for me and I learned that his deceased father had been a shaman with healing knowledge and powers.  The policeman had watched and learned from his father.

He had Duang sit on a plastic chair out in the street.  He placed some betel nut chewing material in his mouth but without the leaf or lime.  After a few chews and making an offering prayer to the spirits. he sprayed the semi dry material forceably on the welts on Duang's body.  This was the first treatment of three for that day to be followed by two more days of three treatments each.

That evening Duang returned home in much better spirits and in much less pain as well as itching.  It was a vast improvement over the previous day and the morning.  Was it due to the antivirals that she had taken and continued to take?  Was it due to the shaman's treatment?  Perhaps a combination of the two?  I don't know and it really didn't matter.  She was feeling better and in better spirits which is all that mattered.  The shaman called that night to check on her condition.

The next day when she went to be treated, he checked her welts and told her that she had been scratching them which he had told her not to do.  After being caught and called out, Duang no longer scratched the eruptions.

Duang's abdomen after two days of treatment
After two days of treatment, Duang is feeling better and confident that tomorrow will complete her treatments.  She continues to take her modern medicine too.  I call to ensure that she maintains her prescribed schedule for taking anti virals.

Duang's back after today's treatment

Tomorrow Duang will receive her last three treatments from the shaman.  On the 28th she will return to see the doctor at the hospital.  The good news, for what ever reason, is that she is able to sleep. the burning is gone, the pain is much less and she is in good spirits.

In Isaan there are more than one way to live and more than one way to be cured.  Personally though I will stick to modern medicine if my body is not able to first heal itself.

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