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Where There Is No Doctor

Yellow Pelican Case with Medical Cross

We left San Francisco with a large yellow Pelican Case, filled with medical supplies and expensive prescription meds we hoped never to use. We cable-tied it shut, put a dated tag on it, and taped a sheet protector to the outside with an inventory of the contents.

We started getting in shape as soon as we left. We weren’t doing anything special to make that happen. It was just a byproduct of living on a moving platform with a lifestyle of trimming sails, raising anchors, rowing dinghies, and regular swimming and snorkeling. Without a car, we were also more likely to walk to a nearby store when we were in port. The fresh air and sun were good for us too. Our moods were better, and visiting friends noted how I had “chilled out” since leaving. The yellow case stayed shut.

Eleanor was a good cook, and the absence of a freezer or microwave meant we ate more fresh food. When we got to Mexico, which was only a little over a month after leaving, we were astonished by the weight we had lost and how muscular we had become. The lifestyle was unarguably healthy, with a great balance of nutritious food, natural exercise, and adequate sleep.

I imagine tribal witch doctors would wow their villagers with tricks like this.

We were three years in when we got to the Tuamotus. We had done a good job of keeping the yellow case shut. The few times we opened it, we updated the inventory and re-secured it with a new cable tie and tag. One day, while snorkeling in Fakarava Atoll, I got the tiniest of coral cuts on my left shin. It was about a quarter of an inch in length and barely broke the first layer of skin. It didn’t even bleed.

It got worse over the next three days, with inflammation working its way up my leg. We were far from medical attention, and I was starting to worry. I tried topical creams and Erythromycin, but the inflammation kept progressing. I finally turned to a book we had about village medicine, called Where There Is No Doctor. It covered the situation superbly. The treatment it prescribed was to use hot compresses. We tried it and it worked to stunning effect. Within an hour the inflammation was receding and within a day my leg was all but healed.

I imagine tribal witch doctors would wow their villagers with tricks like this. It was a great thing to learn, but strengthened my cynicism toward our overuse of antibiotics. I have twice had allergic reactions to antibiotics—one of which was severe. Later, I contracted a case of C. difficile after a course of unnecessary antibiotics. I am not saying we shouldn’t have antibiotics, or that they can’t save lives. But we often have other solutions that are less harmful to the ecosystems of our environment and our bodies. It is time for us to pay more attention to those.


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