Early on, in the 21st century, I thought that Mayans were as extinct as Babylonians; that only Chinese people were “barefoot doctors”; that Bank of America could not fall any further, and, that if I kept waiting just a li-i-ittle bit longer projects would surely find me like they always had.
Wrong on all counts.
It turns out that Mayans are very much alive and, moreover, they enjoy Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). And, if the Market had turned in my favor or the Economy had delivered me a job I would never had seen my network act as a trampoline. This story is about a rebound anchored by two friends one from the 1970s the other from the 1980s. They do not know each other and, yet, they collaborated to create an ongoing Miracle.
In July 2010, I was most definitely not enjoying the space of Miracles; I was, in fact, in quite a dark state when I messaged, a very old friend, Juan. I told him that I needed to do something and didn’t much care if the activity was a suicide mission. Would he send me to that place where he brings his medical missions?
Since 2008, it had become clear that this sixty-plus year old couldn’t afford to live in the USA. And, I was wincing through the seething summer of the Deep Water Horizon disaster unable to stop watching the damn robots failing to cap the well. It was too hot, I was upset and it was crunch time. I left Baltimore and began visiting around the country secretly “saying goodbyes”– All the while casting about for any worthy domestic “project” that I could afford to take on and stay. Nope.
I needed to expatriate. But, what would I do? For sure, I would need to learn a new language. Asia was immediately out because both the language and the alphabet would be too unfamiliar plus the airfare was four digits. Europe was out for the same reason as the USA.
Back in 1970, I met Juan. He was eight and I was barely twenty a hippy hitchhiking from Los Angeles to wherever. He and his brothers and sisters were living next door to the Dallas crash pad I had landed in. He and his siblings liked to hang with us, and were delighted when I took them to get library cards. We would drive “top down and collars up” in a Mustang Convertible that belonged to one of the other guests. Each child could get three books a Saturday. By Tuesday Juan would pester me to get three more books. When some New Jersey guys with a car rolled in, I decided to leave with them and head for New York City. On the last day, I hugged the kids and told Juan to go to Yale never expecting to see any of them again.
Juan received full scholarships through his Masters Degree at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania. He became a very rich man dealing in distressed assets in South America. To “pay back” his high school, he created a program where juniors and seniors, who want to go into Medicine, volunteer for a mission trip assisting five medical doctors and accompanied by a few faculty members. By the end, the young men knew if they wanted to go into medicine and had earned substantial community service credits.
Me: Do you think they will notice that I don’t speak Spanish?
Juan: I don’t know.
Me: OK. Please set me up with the NGO.
Juan assured me I would like the place. “There’s lots of ex-pats from all over.”
So, forty-eight hours later, there I was at Lake Atitlan with everything I owned in a roll-about and a backpack desperate for the new “later on.” …whatever that meant.
And, yes, my lack of Spanish was a major problem for the medical NGO, because the indigenous Mayans speak their own languages but Castillano is the lingua Franca. Obviously, one needs to be exact in healthcare. So, it was time to refocus. It took only a few conversations to find some textile-related NGOs that needed an English speaker’s help.
The weavers of these NGOs were astonishing, friendly and, it turns out, once you can understand them, they are very funny. So in that first rainy season, I found my footing working for Guatemalan, Canadian and USA-based organizations. This was perfect. The NGOs briefed me on healthcare, education, disaster planning, women’s rights and the history of the Civil War. Some of these cooperatives distributed food, others did trainings. And, so, soon enough, I was adopted by an Aldea (small village).
A local leader invited me to teach a gaggle of Patanatic’s kids on Saturdays. So, we studied Sacred Geometry and traveled to the Mayan ruins, learned how to draw and throw water balloons. In this way, the fitful, frustrating years of pigeon Spanish would pass. A couple of babies would even be named after me. Word has it that most of the original dozen, from 2011-12, finished High School – And two Saturday players surprised us all by studying pre-architecture. Useful, welcome and included, I have become as “at home” as ever in Guatemala.
In 2011, my friend, Joan Boccino, D.A.O.M., L. Ac., was volunteering with a medical mission in a nearby district. As an Acupuncturist and professor, she had come to treat and train Indigenous women in modalities of TCM. Along with massage and moxibustion, she thought it would be wise, cost effective and easy to teach to the largely illiterate population NADA Protocol. [i]
Would I be interested in the project?
It looked like it would bloom… if cultivated. And, there existed (and still are) systemic obstacles to fruiting. For starts, Acupuncture, a complementary medical modality, is not legally recognized (therefore, not formally taught) nor certified in any form in Guatemala. So mainstreaming TCM through government health structures was kind of, shall we say, impossible. But, Joan agreed to bring supplies, colleagues and students twice a year while I set about creating the logistics for a more permanent mission. The biannual five-day ‘Medical Tourism’ missions were fun and got better once the 501(c)3, The Integrative Health Project, (IHP) was formed.
Then, suddenly (for me) and after long deliberation, Joan decided to go for her Doctorate. The several years long Capstone process would lead to the design and clinical testing of a protocol for patients with Type 2 Diabetes
In the spring of 2015, twenty-eight local patients with diabetes agreed to be the subjects for a four-week trial, here in Panajachel. It would have been enough if this ‘demonstration of professional competence’ lead to her receiving the title of “Doctor”. But, the study actually succeeded! The statistician and Joan’s oversight committee were so delighted with #BoccinoProtocol that she received an ovation for her Defense.
Citing the results of the study, I approached the local health department, and requested a space to open a weekly Pain/Stress/Diabetes clinic. The Health Department agreed to give us temporary space for a two hour clinic on Thursdays. During the entire first month of August 2015 twenty-five patients came. In 2016, excluding the 3,000 plus treatments given during the medical missions, and including three volunteer acupuncturists, IHP-Guatemala treated over 3,400 patients in four weekly, two-hour clinics. Two are hosted by the First Lady’s senior centers SOSEP – Anos Dorado. – About thirty percent are patients with diabeties..
IHP-Guatemala is currently providing Acupuncture for the Federal Government. Next steps are to take meetings in the Capital with Medical Universities and with the Federal Government to discuss changing the law and introducing the curriculum. Recently, The Prenza Libre headlined and praised ‘NATURAL MEDICINES’ confirming that we are in the perfect position and aligned for support of this development.
My clear intention in the quest for the new (better) later-on was to find some kind of project to keep me useful and it did not have to be easy. The Miracle was the long chance-chain that connects Juan, Joan and me to the people in Guatemala. Simply by being here, the perfect project ‘came to me.’ The Diabetes Study is making the Public Health component of the project very possible, especially with a full year of good statistics. And, I am enjoying discovering and treating people with diabetes. There is something miraculous about bringing down their blood sugar with ten needles in their ear. IHP is saving the government money because the patients need less medicine to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
The sequence to any later on exists in ‘No Time;’ you are holding the elements of it right now. Living in “economic exile” may not look like a life full of miracles… but on the streets of this little town, patients, who feel better, give me Saludos, smiles and hugs and I experience why I always wanted to be a doctor.
 BoccinoProtocol #earaccupuncture