Indonesia: travelling on faith and little white pills
What can I say about my trip in Indonesia? Well, it was certainly hot, dusty, dirty, and very challenging, but refreshing and immensely enlightening. Some would call me very brave or extremely insane for undertaking this trip. Looking back, I am glad I didn’t look too far ahead or I wouldn’t have gone. Being only a second year student at the Bay of Plenty College of Homeopathy in New Zealand, I went armed with only a few homeopathic remedies, my Kent repertory, and 2 therapeutic books. All I can say is: please be careful what you pray for, it does get answered in some form or other!
I jumped on board a mission trip to Indonesia, consisting of mainly allopathic doctors, with me as the only homeopathic nurse. We headed over to the Mentawai Islands, a small group of islands along the coast of Sumatra that is not even on most maps; an area that was hard hit by the 2005 tsunami.
On entering Medan, it was very obvious we weren’t in a western country anymore. Our bags were searched and torn apart; all the allopathic drugs were seized and confiscated, to later be broken down and sold on the black market. Our bandages and dressings were left alone but everything else was taken. When my turn came to have my bags checked and my pilules scrutinized, I pictured myself locked in some tiny filthy Indonesian cell for months on end. Miraculously, the guard handed them back, saying in broken English “No good, no good”. Someone explained later that the ‘little white pills’ were ‘no good’ as they couldn’t be broken down and sold. I couldn’t believe it, I was free to go.
So, off we went and then reality hit hard: there was no hospital, no ambulance, no power, no running water, there was no food in some cases, no help for miles, and people really died on the streets; my ‘little pills’ and my faith in God were all I had.
Sadly, most of the doctors decided that without their medicine they couldn’t cope and they headed back home, so I was left with another nurse and some backpackers. I spent almost 4 weeks traveling around, seeing almost 400 patients in that short time. There were extreme cases ranging from gangrene (complete with maggots) to dengue fever, malaria, TB, and leprosy. I worked in a leprosy colony for 10 days before moving to set up various clinics along the coast. People traveled for hours to consult us and often waited all day in the 30 degree heat for a 15 minute appointment. Please excuse my lack of photos, my batteries went flat, and it was a 3 day trip to the nearest supermarket for some more.
Arriving on the island the first night, absolutely exhausted from the 3 days travel, I was called to see a patient at 2am. It was an elderly woman of about 73, who had fallen 3 months ago and the family had no money for the doctor. The one and only missionary doctor on the island refused to help her: “She is going to die anyway and I have limited supplies and nothing to help her.” So, she was ignored and left to die in pain. She had broken her hip and her leg had started to rot. The family unwrapped it for me and I was greeted by a cascade of flies coming from between her toes. The wound smelled like rotten meat, so bad that it made me want to gag, and the woman was beside herself with pain. She was rolling from side to side and crying out for it to stop; blood poisoning had obviously set in. The skin was so broken down that it was slimy and sloughing off her foot; I did not dare to touch it, in case it came off in my hands. What to do?
Rotten meat: Pyrogenium; blood poisoning: Arnica; pain: Hypericum, all 3 at once. Some might say: “No, you can’t give three remedies at once” but this woman was in severe pain and she needed to be treated quickly and effectively. I gave the remedies in 1M potencies, every 30 seconds, for about 5 minutes, until I could see the pain starting to subside. I went to check on her around 6am. For the last four hours, she had been sleeping like a baby, the smell had gone, and the flies had set up residence elsewhere. Another dose of Pyrogen, Arnica and Hypericum 1M was all that was needed.
The lady died the next day but she slipped away painlessly, which meant more to her family than words could express. The body was laid out for people to pay their last respects; her face looked so peaceful and at rest, with none of the grimaces of pain. Attending her funeral was one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had.
The other case was a very quiet pedicab driver with a sore on his inner ankle, which would get scraped every time he peddaled his pedicab; he needed to work, but it was getting worse every time he went to work, and so the cycle kept on going on and on.
He hobbled into the clinic with an oozing sore. Since he didn't speak, I had nothing to go on apart from ‘honey-like fluid’, so I prescribed Graphites according to Nash: “eruptions oozing out a thick honey-like fluid.” He took Graphites 200C, 5 doses, once per minute, and went away. He came back three days later, the discharge was gone and the wound had started to heal nicely. Another three days later, the wound had improved even more and the last time I saw him, it was healed completely.
One last case of a mother who rushed into the clinic in great distress with her child in her arms. His temperature was 42 degrees; I had never seen such a high fever before. The child was lying in his mother’s arms, drinking copious amounts from his bottle; he was peeing it out as fast as he could drink it. On trying to pick the child up, he began to scream, on laying him back down in his mother’s arms, he was quiet. "Grumpy old bear, with a great thirst", Bryonia 1M once every 10 seconds. His temperature dropped to 40oC within one minute, then to 38oC, then to 37,5oC, just minutes later. The temperature was now down but his skin was extremely hot and dry, so the next remedy was Sulphur 1M, 3 doses, which brought the hot skin back to a normal state. The child got up 10 minutes later, toddled around the clinic, took a look at his stressed mother and a stressed homeopath as if to say: "I don’t know what all the fuss was about!” He then wandered off outside to play.
It has all been a great leap of faith for me, including all the illnesses I could have caught. It of course crossed my mind to have vaccinations but it felt hypocritical to trust homeopathy for others yet not trust it for myself. I took homeopathic prophylaxis: dengue fever nosode, Polio, TB, Malaria, Diphtheria, Meningitis, Cholera, Typhoid, Tetanus, Hep A&B combination. I never once got sick, yet strangely enough most members of the group who been vaccinated did become sick, and they eventually ended up asking for help from the “little white pills”, which survived numerous x-ray machines, the most unsanitary conditions I have ever seen, being dropped on the floor, rolled around in grubby hands, and taken with other remedies, and still... they worked!
I have very fond memories that will last a lifetime. I walked everywhere I went, I slept on dusty floors, bucketed water out of a 15 foot drop well, had to collect wood and build fires before I could boil the water. I was taught how to catch fish with the simplest of fishing line and I traded a consultation for help in gutting the fish. (I’ll never forget Aloe for hemorrhoids like grapes, nor will that contented patient.) I could handle gangrene and maggots, but a dead fish staring at me was too much! Life is funny.
The people were amazing and they knew the meaning of life. They survived on next to nothing and often had only the clothes on their backs, yet I never went without a place to stay nor food to eat. I was always offered a cup of sweet tea to drink, something which I later learned was like gold, only reserved for special guests. I learned that building wealth does not always make you happy; it is the people you have in your life that enrich it.
I learned that it is not happiness that makes you grateful, but gratefulness that makes you happy.
Photos: Joanne Gundry
Keywords: extreme poverty, leprosy, malaria, TB, dengue fever, gangrene
Remedies: Aloe vera, Arnica montana, Bryonia alba, Graphites, Hypericum perforatum, Pyrogenium, Sulphur