Take Five Leaves and Call Me in the Morning.

Six years ago, while the boat was in a cyclone hole in Fiji and Steve was away working, I misplaced a foot on the stairs and fell from deck height at 0800. I landed on my side, or perhaps I should say I bounced on my side as apparently that’s what happens when you fall almost 2 meters without anything to break your fall. Although I was lucky enough to sustain only a few bruises, one of them being my ego as my next door neighbour Jim on S/V Kalo Kalo witnessed the whole thing and exclaimed “You bounced!”, I twisted my knee during the dismount.

Jim rushed over to ask if I was ok. Thankfully, he had sense enough to know that after I was able to move all my extremities and answer coherently it was probably best to leave me alone to lick my wounds without an audience. I hobbled back into the cockpit to collect myself and wait for the pain and swelling of my knee to being in earnest. Oddly the swelling never happened but by nightfall I was having a hard time bending my right knee and it was starting to throb.

I took some ibuprofen and hoped for the best.

In the morning my knee was almost immovable and the usual maneuver of getting out the vee berth extremely difficult. After a strong cup of coffee and a little warm up and some more ibuprofen I limped to the marina store for some ice. It was obvious that my day would be best spent resting my body. So, I propped myself up in the cockpit and alternated icing my knee and popping anti-inflammatories.  Sporadically, I felt well enough to venture down the boatyard to the bathroom. By the time I hobbled home was happy to return to my corner with a view.

Over the next few days I popped my little pink pills like candy and went through bag after bag of ice. I took long, hot showers, used a hippie analgesic spray that smelled like cough drops, and a cream that was derived from poison ivy. Nothing seemed to help and I was getting worried. Scheduled to fly out to Australia in a week to met Steve, I was concerned that getting on a plane and sitting upright for 6 hours might be difficult. I also had A LOT of work to do to prepare Kate for a few months without me. Work that couldn’t be done with an injured appendage.

I was starting to get antsy.

I have a healthy respect for natural medicine. The most used items in our medical kit are probably Tiger Balm and a topical ointment made out of papaya. Yet, when several of the Fijian marina staff suggested I use local leaves to heal my knee, I was reticent. Every time someone insisted I found myself making excuses, thanking them politely and hobbling away.

Finally, after nearly a week of stubbornly suffering, I shrugged my shoulders and said sure. They weren’t telling me I needed to eat the magical leaves, just put them on my knee, wrap it in a loose bandage and wait until morning.

The next afternoon a man named Vinod brought me a bag of 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 told me it was important to always use an odd number of leaves.

They said the leaves would heal me

That evening after a shower I followed his instructions to the tee and fell asleep 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 I slowly straightening my right knee until I could put my foot on the floor. Much to my amazement, my knee flexed without stiffness, my foot landed flat on the ground without pain, and at 6 am I was hobbling around like I usually did after half a day and a couple pain killers

Crusty morning leaves

My gait on my morning walk to the bathroom was noticeably more even; my footprints in the dirt were almost identical when the night before they were uneven. Upon returning to the boat I approached the stairs, the wretched contraption that I have been practically crawling up and down like a toddler. I found myself willing to try taking them one foot at a time. Better yet I was able to put weight on my right leg through almost a full range of motion.

When Vinod returned to check on me I happily reported my surprise.

The only thing he was surprised about was my sudden enthusiasm. Vinod said he found a couple of trees along the fence at the marina and wanted to show me. I hobbled over to the fence with him and realized it was noni tree. We had seen noni growing wild throughout the South Pacific. The fruit is fermented into a drink, a traditional remedy now touted as a cure all in the West. The leaf cure, it seems, hadn’t been exported.

Beautiful Cure

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. Over the following days, I managed to get all my boat work done and had a comfortable red-eye flight to Australia.

My knee would never be the same again.

Like other soft tissue injuries I have sustained over the years, it bothers me occasionally. I am careful when getting on and off the boat, walking on deck when it is slippery and, recently, if I jog too frequently it plays up. Thankfully noni grows in every country we’ve sailed to since. When needed, I pick a few leaves from the side of the road and perform my evening ritual, always careful to use 3 or 5 leaves. And, everytime it bring great releaf (haha!)

I have always wondered why, I didn’t trust the bush medicine the first time it was offered? What is it about a well-designed bit of packaging that make even natural products more appealing than a hand full of leaves picked right off the tree? And what other plants have I walked by a hundred times without realized their potential? 



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