A Hobble on the Wild Side

Friday night I twisted my ankle quite badly while getting ready for work. A lot of ice and an ace bandage later I was in class, but still unable to bear weight and leaning on an old broom handle.

“You have to get it massaged,” my students told me.  “When you don’t have health insurance,” my students said, “you have to make do with home remedies”.  There was a phone number, and an address, but no name.  We called.  “You can give them what ever you can,” my students said. Ten dollars, five dollars, then a pause. For you, twenty dollars, it was decided. You only have to go once and you are cured, I was reassured.

“I don’t trust those kind of treatments,” said the program coordinator.  “Great treatments,” said the security guard.  I remembered being treated with deep tissue massage in the Caribbean years ago by a woman way up in the hills. She treated the whole local soccer team.  Halfway through the massage she went out on her porch and yelled “JESUS CHRIST” and some other unintelligible stuff. It hadn’t decreased my anxiety level any. “That was a bruja,” security told me knowingly.

Saturday after class, my foot tingling slightly (isn’t that a neuro symptom?) I made the trek to the neighborhood. A small door at the side of a house and two rooms inside a garden level basement. The first room with mismatched chairs and several people waiting. A departing child was offered a Halloween treat and prompted to say “trick or treat”in flawless English.

In the second room the massager gestured to a chiropractic type table covered with a blanket. I jumped up on it and introduced him to my afflicted ankle. First he put some alcohol on a kleenex and told me to sniff it. It was alcohol all right. Then he took some lotion on his hands and started to massage the foot lightly as the smell of Ben-Gay filled the room. Initially he had gestured me to lie down, but the pain brought me sitting up again quickly and I grabbed the sides of the little table with both hands. He had found a spot on the top of my foot that didn’t appear to be swollen, like the rest of my foot, but was excruciatingly painful. As a cheap radio on a dresser churned out jazz music, he massaged the foot in time to the music. As he kept pressing the sore spot to the side, the pain decreased and finally left. Then he went for the swollen part of the foot and I nearly shot to the ceiling. At long last he wrapped the ankle in a new ace wrap from a drawer under the radio, and told me the nerves had been twisted but would now heal right. As I gave him the twenty, I caught a flash of an expression that told me my students had instructed me well about the price. The tingling was gone too.

What was he? It was made clear to me he was not formally trained in anything.  It was something he had learned from his family. Although it was painful enough, it wasn’t anything at all like the deep tissue massage I had gotten in the Carribean, which was excruciatingly painful. Other details were similar: the referral from a trusted third party, the exchange of real goods–in both places an ace bandage that one could be expected to be reimbursed for and Ben-Gay, here kleenex, there a pin for a bandage,–the denial that the treatment was medical, refusal to name a price.

Is that the international language of those who are outside the system of western medicine?

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