Medicine Men

Chiropractors are hard to come by here in Cuenca, in spite of the fact that nearly 400,000 people live here.  In fact, I have heard of only one chiropractor … and she is a gringo who charges North American prices.

So one day Sheri and I were on a walk and passed by a health food store, and we thought: “Maybe this health food store can recommend a local chiropractor?”  We wandered inside, and in my best available Spanish I asked the owner of the store if he knew of a local chiropractor.  To my surprise and delight, he said that he does spinal adjustments, as well as perform other healings.  He called himself a natural “Healer,” and his services include working with the chakras of the body to re-balance and optimize the energy fields of the body.  I thought, “Why not?”  I´m willing to try anything once (that is within reason and moral behavior), and he only charges $10 for a 30 minute session.  So I made an appointment for the following Monday.

In addition to wanting some chiropractic work on my back, I had been battling for 4 weeks some sort of allergy to the local climate, and since I was feeling run-down I wanted to find a local Doctor as well.  Fortunately, the school where I am teaching English provides a list of suggested local medical Doctors, so I picked one from the list and made an appointment for the following Monday about 2 hours after my appointment with the Healer.  Who knows … maybe the Healer would cure me and I would not need to go see the medical Doctor afterwards?

Two medicine men.  Two completely different healing methods.

On Monday I arrived early with Sheri for my appointment with the Healer.  He asked us to sit down on the bench behind the counter while he prepared his studio.  After several minutes he looked at me and said “un momentito,” which translated means something like “just a moment,” but in Latin America could mean anything from 5 minutes to half an hour.  In full view of where we were sitting, he began to clean some dishes that were sitting on the sink in his studio.  After several more minutes it became clear that he had a clogged sink, so he unfastened the drain pipe under the sink and water began to pour onto the floor and in our direction.  He quickly plugged the hole with his hand, grabbed a pitcher, and motioned for me to come help him.  He filled the pitcher with drain water, plugged the hole again with his hand, and asked me to pour the pitcher of water into the toilet that was next to the sink in his studio.  After I had poured about 3-4 pitchers full of water into the toilet, the sink was empty and he re-attached the drain pipe to it.  Then I took my seat beside Sheri, and we watched while he mopped the floor and cleaned and prepared the studio for my session with him.  And actually, the studio was nothing more than another bench (covered with a towel) which was in front of the sink and toilet.

Finally, after about half an hour, he came to me with two jars of ointment.  I had my choice of which ointment he would use during the session.  I picked one, and he ushered me behind the wall into the studio and asked me to lie down on the bench.  Silly me, I only took off my shirt … so he asked me to also take off my shoes and socks, and to strip down to my skivvies.  I thought, “What the heck? – I´m willing to try anything once …“  So, he started to work on my back, and legs, and feet, and neck, doing what seemed like a combination of massage and acupressure.  At one point while he was working on my upper back, I could feel someone caressing my foot.  I thought, “Hmmm … who could that be?”  His nephew was also in the store that day, and I knew that he was serving as an apprentice, but it did not feel like a man´s hand.  It felt like my wife´s hand, indeed I hoped it was my wife´s hand, but I did not miss a beat and continued to lie motionless while he worked on me.  Sure enough, Sheri had moved to the end of the bench where she was sitting because she wanted to observe the proceedings – and she even got to participate in the proceedings!  While the Healer worked on me, including hovering his hands over my energy points, he was explaining to Sheri everything he was doing to me.  Although it was all in Spanish, he acted as if Sheri could understand everything he was saying.  And of course, she kept nodding and acting as if she could understand everything he was saying to her.

He ended up working on me a full 40 minutes, and because he started late, there was not enough time left for him to work on Sheri.  We had to hurry to get to my other Doctor appointment … and besides, after Sheri had seen what I got, she decided to pass on getting treated.  (Perhaps it was the stripping down to the skivvies that gave her the heebie-jeebies).

So we went to the other medicine man, the Doctor trained in western medicine.  After the customary stethoscope trip around my chest … and after a brief but pleasant conversation about my symptoms, about where we are from and why we are in Cuenca … the Doctor wrote me a prescription for both Claritin and an antibiotic, and we were on our way.  I was charged $15 for that 10-minute consultation.  

I don´t mean to make fun of the Healer or discount his method of helping people.  This guy has been doing this work for over 30 years, and apparently has a steady business.  Indeed, there was a family waiting to see him while I was still lying on the bench.  Nonetheless, the whole scene was a bit comical to us … but we did not chuck and make fun, and I submitted myself to the whole procedure, and then afterwards gladly paid him for his services while thanking him for helping me.  I can´t help but think he could do more business with gringos if he was a little more prepared, if he was a little more punctual, and if got himself a longer, wider bench – my big feet and ankles were hanging off the end!

In contrast, the western Doctor is trained at throwing medicine at the problem straightaway.  And the truth be told, a prescription for an antibiotic was exactly what I was after.

So, if you are ever in Cuenca and need medicine men, let me know and I will point you in the right direction.