Like ships of centuries past we carry a comprehensive medical kit on board. In it there is everything from good old saline solution and band-aids to an arsenal of antibiotics. There are over the counter remedies for cough and cold, constipation and diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and pink eye. We have suture kits, emergency dental repair compound and a varied selection of prescription pain killers. But most of this is “just in case” stuff. Just in case we find ourselves in an emergency situation 1000NM from any medical facilities, or point of land for that matter.
What probably gets the most use is a pot of Tiger Balm, a vial of Arnica Montana tablets and a little red tube of Lucas’ Pawpaw Ointment, a salve made out of papaya fruit that cures everything from chapped lips, burns, scratches and minor topical infections. As you can tell we have a healthy respect for natural medicine.
But despite my usual judgement last week I kept surprising myself by refusing to try using some local bush medicine. I don’t know why I was so reticent when several of the Fijian staff at the marina kept suggesting it to me. Every time someone insisted I found myself making excuses, thanking them politely and then hobbling away.
Time, I figured, I just needed some more time.
I had spent five days resting in the cockpit, popping regularly scheduled ibuprofen tablets, icing and supporting my knee. I took long hot showers, liberally used hippie analgesic spray that smelled faintly of cough drops and a cream that is derived from poison ivy. Nothing seemed to help and I was starting to get antsy.
So when a perfect stranger came over and offered to bring me some leaves that he promised would help me I shrugged my shoulders and said sure. I mean he wasn’t telling me I need to eat them, just put them on my knee, wrap the whole thing up in a loose bandage and wait until morning. I was willing to try anything at this point.
The next day he came as promised, with a bag leaves. They were a beautiful deep, shiny green with lime green veins and a dusty underside. He explained how to clean them, wipe them with warm oil and arrange them around the most painful part of my injury face down. He did a quick measurement and left me with the right number of leaves. That evening after a shower I followed his instructions to the tee and fell asleep that night with the smell of forest lingering under the sheets.
The next morning I gingerly swung my right leg out of the bunk and prepared for the usual routine.
Balancing on my left leg and slowly straightening a very stiff and sore right knee until I could put my foot on the floor and start the morning hopping around until things warmed and loosened up. But, much to my amazement my knee flexed without stiffness, my foot landed flat on the ground without pain and I was hobbling around at 6am like I usually do after half a day and a couple pain killers.
My gait on the morning walk to the bathroom across the yard was noticeably more even, my footprints in the dirt almost identical where last night they had been so lopsided. When I approached the stairs, the wretched contraption that I have been practically crawling up and down like a toddler for the past week, I found myself willing to try taking them one foot at a time, and better yet able to put weight on my right leg through almost a full range of motion.
When Vinod returned that day to check on me I happily reported my surprise.
They only thing he was surprised at was my sudden enthusiasm. Luckily he found a couple of trees along the fence that the marina shares with the resort next door. When I finally got a chance to see them growing I realized these were leaves from the noni tree, a shrub that grows throughout the South Pacific and whose fruit is fermented into a drink, now recognized and touted as a cure all in the West.
He picked a handful of leaves and handed me the five biggest and glossiest of the bunch. He explained that remedy must be done with only an odd number of leaves and that I could keep them on until the leaves went dry and crackled. I thanked him repeatedly and he shyly left me admiring my stack of greenery.
That night I preformed the ritual again, rubbing the leaves with coconut oil and arranging them neatly around my knee. The next morning I was practically springing out of bed and almost skipping through the yard.
It had been exactly seven days since I fell.
As I sat in the cockpit enjoying the sunrise and my morning cup of coffee I wondered why I didn’t trust the bush medicine the first time it was offered. What was it about a well-designed bit of packaging that made even natural products more appealing than a hand full of leaves picked right off the tree? And what other plants had I walked by a hundred times without realized their potential? Now that walking wasn’t so hard it felt like I had a lot of exploring to do.