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Six practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) volunteered to treat and train indigenous Guatemalan Mayans. The team traveled to the Highlands to work at the Barbara Ford Center for Peace. The outreach was organized between Dr. Joan Boccino, a New York City acupuncturist and Sister Virginia Searing, the Center’s Director. Joan invited four other NYC L.Ac.’s: Norva Bennett, Yefim Gamgoneishvili, Peter Pankin, Dan Wundrlich and Julie Ing Stern (Lic.Ac., joined in from Boston.) Terese Wundrlich (CAT. LMT.) came along to celebrate her birthday. Together this team would identify cases of late stage cancer, Type 1 diabetes and a few serious infections that required immediate attention.
Unlike Western doctors, who are always a bit unsure of diagnoses made in the field. Acupuncturists don’t need lab tests because they place total trust in physical signs. To them, disease presents itself as irregularities in any of the multiple “pulses,” or more evidently, in the color of tongues or texture of skin. Because this is their process, the healers were very “hands on.” They gently massaged bellies -young and old – rubbing one way to relieve diarrhea and the other to alleviate constipation. So far off the CDC grid were they, that after giving a treatment, they would teach the families how to take care of their own. Such careful instruction is an integral part of TCM delivery. The simple traditional Chinese remedies (including burning moxibustion sticks) were quickly transmitted and easily understood. This was a miracle in itself: instructions had to chain back and forth from Chinese>English > Spanish > Quiche /or/ Ixil dialects…. And, apparently nothing got lost in translation. To handle the daily load of over 200 patients, even the Center’s gardeners, cooks and drivers were needed to assist the volunteers. By the week’s end, they were ready to ask the questions about dreams and wind on their own. Sometimes intake got a bit too efficient – running ahead of the available beds. Late in the day, things got hectic. After ten hours of solid work the “punchy” practitioners would lose sight of where their current patients were. At one point, Peter Pankin turned to his translator and asked (half joking) “How do you say “Shen Min” in Quiche?
Intake was divided into two parts: Temperatures and BP were recorded by the students and the patients were passed on to the intake desk. That desk was always packed with patients and their families, the translators and assisting students all ticking through the question sequence. Sometime into her stint at the desk, Joan Boccino observed that something very obvious was not being reported: coughs. (Lung problems are prevalent because of wood burning stoves and so common, that the patients did not think them worth mentioning.) Yefim and Peter ran the training for the local students in another building leaving only four people to attend to the patients. The lack of acupuncturists during the training slowed things down but, eventually, things flowed so well that each bed looked like a tableau from Rembrandt’s Anatomy lesson. Norva and Julie seemed to be masters of flowing around their crowded beds – all the while pointing out signs and symptoms to their students.
some team members specialize in structural disorders; so, they were fed the most broken old ones and younger patients – with CP, failure to thrive and the effects of malnutrition. In contrast to the other acupuncturists, who quietly needled, these Tui Na experts were active and their results were quite dramatic. They seemed to love their patient’s bones back into place and kneading the tiny, gnarled Mayans until they smiled with relief. In their hands, an inflated rubber glove became a therapeutic device. The ad hoc “balloon” provided enough resistance to make the child strive to compress it between his knees. Dan played with a young boy – encouraging him to tag him on the head and he would tag the boy back. Maybe this was a means of diagnosing; maybe it wasn’t — but joy and healing followed.
Practitioners can’t just walk away knowing what they know and not anguish about follow-up. Yefim was upset; burning on the way back from San Filipe. He had seen a woman with diabetes that required very little money to control. And there was no one there to care for her. Sister Virginia Sears, S. C., would say that San Filipe was the worst case. They have no structure at all- not even a resident church group. Yefim was the first one to volunteer to be back in August.