Friday 12 August 2016

PNG 15 Traditional Medicine - For Bad Backs

While at the Misty Mountain lodge outside Mt. Hagen I had a small crisis. For two days Gabrielle and I had been taking an enforced chillout. The mist of the said mountain was of a pea soup consistency. It was there when we woke, it would clear for twenty minutes, long enough for us to glimpse said mountain, and then would roll back in again like a soft wave breaking over the hillside. It was quite beautiful. Gabrielle and I took a lot of photos which turned out to be mostly whiteouts of the landscape with the occasional peak visible through the envelope of rabbit fur. Gabrielle loved it. She spends a lot of time at her home in the bush west of Brisbane so was used to the quiet and the slowness and was comfortable settling in for a day of reading and writing and photographing fog.

I was a little less settled. I insisted that we go for a hike at the first opportunity when the clouds lifted in the afternoon of our second day and the gods, as they say, were kind to us and the sky stayed clear for a couple of hours. We saw Mt Hagen in all its distant glory at 12,000ft, and the views from the ridges were pretty special.

The next day our host, Pym, had offered to take us for a ride to his village to see his lifestyle up close. 'When's he coming?' I asked more than once as the hours passed. 'Maybe after lunch. Maybe this afternoon,' was the reply as lunch came and went.

I needed to get some clear air and exercise so I set off down the 4WD track to see what I could see. The sound of water rushing down the mountainside after the overnight rain drew me out. The track down was steep and slippery but not half as steep as the same track on the way back.

I had descended for about fifteen minutes and reached a point where the road levelled out and in doing so came upon an idyllic thatched house and garden and the sign at the beginning of the climb which said: "SUE 4 WHEL L H." I couldn't figure out who Sue might be and why someone would make a whole sign for this one person. It was pretty clear that 4WD was essential. Was Sue a newcomber about to arrive for the first time?
Anyway, I backtracked and made my way back up the rocky and uneven climb. When I got to the entrance to our lodge I was pretty stuffed and stood for a moment to catch my breath whereupon a small man emerged from the forest with two giant pieces of timber in tow - one on each shoulder and his axe balanced across the load. We said hello. He thought I was strange and I thought he was mad. He was about to descend the path I had struggled up, laden with two fifteen foot long, thirty kg pieces of timber.He just smiled and wandered off downhill.

Pym did arrive eventually and we boarded his 4WD to make the descent to his village. Gabrielle sat in the front and I hung on for dear life on the hard bench seat in the closed-in trayback. I must have held on too tightly because when I went to step down at Pym's village my back seized up and I collapsed. I was suddenly a cripple. Pym was most concerned. He particularly didn't like the idea of me becoming a cripple on his watch - the fear of litigation has hit even the remotest parts of the world. I lay down did a few stretches, lied to everyone that everything was okay and hobbled along behind the other three pretending to enjoy myself.

At one point Pym seemed to catch my condition and he too decided he needed to lie down while we went ahead. He showed us some interesting artefacts and his home, which was not thatched but sported a galvanised roof, was surrounded by beautiful gardens, a small piggery and two cassowaries in cages being fattened for a feast. Pym continued to ask after my back and then offered to apply a local traditional remedy which he promised me would fix it like magic. Gabrielle, more experienced in these things, assured me that no harm would come to me from what he was suggesting. 'We use something similar in Timor,' she said. How could I refuse? So I said okay.

Pym led me towards some the undergrowth, picked a couple of leaves, told me to pull up my shirt and point to where the most intense pain was and proceeded to slap my lower back with the flat of these leaves. JESUS! My back was on fire. Any pain I felt was no match for this treatment. Gabrielle extended the treatment by saying 'Wait, wait, I need to get another photo. Do it again Pym, I missed it. No, one more time."  All the time I'm saying 'Enough! Enough!. It's working. It's working!.'

It was as if my back had been attacked by fire ants. 'What was that?' I asked Gabrielle grimacing and regretting my decision.'One of the stinging nettle family,' she said.  'It's supposed to work by a combination of shock and maybe a balm which enters the body where the nettles have pricked you.'

I did feel a little better over the next hour or so as the treatment continued its work (and I got to sit in the comfortable front sea of the Toyota). Pym kept checking in on me, challenging me to deny that his treatment had worked. On returning to the lodge I used what I thought was a wise combination of modern and ancient medicine. I took a double dose of Voltarin and went to bed.

The result. I woke feeling relaxed. Was a little tentative getting out of bed. Had a hot shower and dressed cautiously. And by mid-morning I had decided it was safe to again sit on the hard bench seat in the rear of the Toyota on our journey down the mountain back to Hagen.

Modern Ancient Traditional ?? Hmmmm. I'm willing to give them all a try. I haven't had more than a twinge or two since but I'm not sure I'll be harvesting our local stinging nettle for my next emergency back treatment. I would need someone with Pym's knowledge and conviction to do it again.

Oh and "Sue" of the 4WD signage. Pym was confused himself, even though he had asked one of his staff to paint the sign. Eventually he figured out what it should have said: "USE 4 WHEL L H" (L H = Low High gear? Left Hand? Or the mis-spelling of WHEEL)

And this from my google search (not medical research just old fashioned google).

2. Osteoarthritis and Joint Pain
Arthritis sufferers often experience joint pain, typically in the hands, knees, hips and spine. Nettle works alongside nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to allow patients to decrease their NSAID use. Because prolonged use of NSAIDs can cause a number of serious side effects, this is an ideal pairing.
Studies also show that applying nettle leaf topically at the site of pain decreases joint pain and can treat arthritis. Nettle can also provide relief when taken orally. Another study published in the Journal of Rheumatology shows stinging nettle’s anti-inflammatory power against other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. (5)

Wednesday 3 August 2016

PNG 14 Death in PNG - "Clos to yumi go pinis"

I love tokpisin. It uses English so inventivly to describe things in surprising ways.

I am a very thin man. My new friends, with some encouragement from Gabrielle took to describing me as "bon nuting' - nothing but bones, and referring to our advancing age as 'clos to yumi go pinis" - "soon we'll all die/all be finished."

Gabrielle and I are on our independent pilgrimages, hers to the Hagen of the 1970s and me to the New Ireland  of the 1880s. For each of us the journey feels as if it has some urgency.

We talked about why we  were doing this at this time of our lives. In our 60s. The second half of our 60s in fact!

Maybe, we thought, it was the last chance  we might have to visit such challenging places, such challenging and fascinating (mesmerising) aspects of our histories; maybe we were at the age when we begin to reflect on our lives and what they've meant and maybe history and family had come into a sharper focus; maybe we had realised that time was passing and there are some things that can't be put off; maybe it was a recognition that we were each at a point of transition - that time when you take stock and understand that you are entering a new phase.

We talked about that last one a bit and both had stories of critical moments in our recent lives when we became acutely aware that we were now definitely entering our third age, the final of the three ages of man. In Egyptian mythology the riddle which was posed went: " What animal walks first on four legs, then on two and finally on three legs?" Neither of us uses a walking stick just yet, so perhaps we are not quite ready for this three legged stage. In Shakespearean terms perhaps we are in our fifth of seven stages.

For each of us it had taken an incident or an experience beyond the everyday to provoke the realisation that this time was upon us. For me it had been a trip to Sicily, where in travelling with a younger travel companion I was confronted with the truth  that I would never again be the young man I imagined I still was. For Gabrielle .... well that's not for me to tell.

And where did this conversation come from? Travelling in company with a person you trust but is not your life partner can loosen the tongue and lubricate the ruminations one has about life. It was a safe time for introspection with neither of us inclined to make any assumptions about the other. We were good listeners and the highlands of PNG was far from our standard routines.

We had spent some small amount of time with the wife of our Magic Mountain host, Pym, and after relating to her our separate stories including our ages (though these were easy to fathom from the context of the stories), she made a comment which surprised me. She described us both as being "Clos to yumi go pinis," (close to the end/approaching our last days/death). Though she had included herself (even though she was much younger than either of us) I thought her commentp was a bit close to the bone, a bit presumptuous, blunt. Even misinformed. Or perhaps this stranger in a land and culture largely foreign to our own simply was saying what she saw. Maybe she spoke the truth (of course life expectency in PNG is much lower than in Australia and this may have influenced her perception of us).

Nevertheless it hit a note which Gabrielle and I found difficult to ignore. We both agreed that getting old was inevitable but we were not quite ready to accept "Clos to yumi go pinis." That we were getting older we agreed was true, but not yet ready to die. 'How do you say that in tokpisin?' I asked Gabrielle.

'Longpela taim yet, mipela," I clumsily repeated Gabrielle's phrase. Pym laughed, though not in a way that gave me confidence he really believed it.

We came back to this conversation again and again over that week as we wound down each night. Our experience in Mt Hagen and in New Britain was an adventure neither of us had really expected to be having but we'd done it without incident, without trauma and with energy and the wisdom of years of travel. We both felt excited by our time in PNG and satisfied in having made this choice which had carried an element of risk when we were contemplating the trip. Now we felt emboldened; confident that these adventures were not beyond us and that perhaps the third age had the potential to be every bit as exciting and fresh as the first and second ages when we were learning about life through a constant diet of new experiences.

I came home with a spring in my step and keen to plan the next adventure.

'Long time yet, mipela.'