A lady came through the clinic doors on our first week, assisted by her daughter in law, she crumpled in to a blue plastic clinic chair. She spent no time in presenting me with a huge bag full of scans and empty packets of pain killers explaining that she had terrible lower back pain, radiating down her legs. This would have been a typical sciatic nerve impingement presentation however the lady was fearful that the doctor might have to do surgery, and the pain was visible in every line on her face indicating this was much more severe.
On inspection of the scans, she had a severe bulging lumber disc which meant surgery would have been her only option in terms of long term pain management and reestablishing normality in her day to day life. I offered a simple distal treatment along with auricular acupuncture to help manage her acute pain and advised that she mustn't delay in seeking medical assistance from her doctor, to bring forward the date of surgery.
After 3 home visits trying to encourage her to take action, the lady was now bed bound and suffering with what appeared to be bed sores, using a bed pan with the assistance of two of her family members. Bound to a hard mattress in a small, partially ventilated room, she leans up on her right arm to sip tea with us, insisting she is now feeling much better and is opting out of surgery. On further questioning, it transpired she had been visited by the local shaman the night previously who had stayed up with her all night conducting a spiritual ceremony.
Shamanic healing is thought to be one of the oldest healing practices in Nepal, aiming to address the spiritual aspects of illness, to restore balance and harmony in the emotional and physical self. Jhar-Phuk (to cleanse, energise and blow in healing spirits) is initiated with singing, chanting, dancing, drumming, rice grain scattering and the burning of incense, aiming to dispel the root cause of pain, suffering and illness.
Intrigued by the sheer power that this one evening ritual had on my patients perception of pain and wellness posed a number of questions. Can belief and faith be transformative enough to instil a state of wellness in someone with debilitating pain?
It is not for me to question or judge but rather take a step back and admire these traditional forms of medicine deeply rooted in such communities, to grow and learn from these experiences. Be it placebo or not, I have now witnessed the power of belief that people place in shamanic culture generating positive change to people's lives, which leads me to question if this form of medicine is truly any different to our Eastern and western philosophies that we have come to live by? Are we all not working towards the same goal, to improve the lives of those who are sick or in pain? And if this is the case, why do we place so much emphasis on "cure"?
In this instance, the patient knew the consequences of opting out of medical intervention but found peace in the fact she was going to be in constant pain and would likely not be able to move again without the help of her family. Yet, her positivity was inspiring. She insisted that one day soon she would walk back down to our clinic for treatment. I wait for this day with optimistic anticipation and welcome the powerful benefits that this strength of faith offers to so many. -- Kim Shepherd