Tuesday, 28 July 2009

From MoPoTsyo to Middle America

What is a Oriental Jewish doctor from Melbourne doiing at the second oldest european settlement in Nebraska? at a Church Hall?
PM is a patient of mine, and had impressed me with his curiosity about his medical condition and his willingness to try various natural remedies to combat the diseases of the civilization which was forced upon him. His curiosity combined with generous medical help from the Indian Clinic and his faith were a good combination for me to talk to him, soon after I arrived from Cambodia after witnessing the Peer to Peer Programme run by Maurits van der Pelt.
Couldnt PM get together a group of people in the village he lived in, educate them with the fact he had learned from his curious wanderings over books and Internet and from us in the clinic? On my next monthly visit to the Clinic, there was a message from PM wanting to talk to me, would you, as you promised me come and talk to my group? Your Group? yes, i have gathered together seven people from my village and we have met two or three times already where we discussed health related matters, how to prevent diabetes if we dont have it, and how to prevent complications if you already have diabetes...and educate ourselves about nutrition outside the channel of conventional nutritionists, the dangers of plastics.. in short the dangers of living in an artificial food environment.. among other things. would you come and talk to us about Sugar.
I was very proud fo him, a new begining among the ordinary people, who are tired of the propaganda of big companies and their emissaries in the medical profession..
I arrived as promised at 7 30 pm, I had asked only for fifteen minutes to explain to them the various sugars, sugar additives and sugar substitutes.. but the talk went on for one hour with multitudes of questions and a grateful small group of people, connected to each other through their faith, their isolation and their integrity..
Do you eat more sugar now than in 1980? the pastor replied, they put it in everything now.. yes sugar substitutes are added to everything, but the actual amount of sugar, as it was known before the 1970 corn revolution, has actually decreased per capita in the united states to the tune of about 35 pounds per person per year...
I explained to them the various sugar additives, all derives from the plentiful corn in their backyard.. The dangerous artificial additives.. High Fructose Corn Syrup, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Corn syrup solids, Crystalline Fructose, Corn syrup solids... all affecting our metabolism in unpleasant ways.. why invite unwanted visitors to our bodies? Then i told them the stories about sugar substitutes and the american model of stressing calories without revealing the ingredients.. One such example was a package of Stevia powder in packets sold in bulk at Walmart Supermarket.. on the cover was words like Natural, no sugar and other ornate words to fool the audience.... with caloric content displayed prominently.. then if you look under ingredients... Maltodextrin appears.. Why like in a bottle of Peanuts sold as Dry Roasted peanuts, this corn by product of hydrolysis, the effect of which on our bodies are at best dubious appear? What drives the manufactures to pollute peanuts and stevia?
I gave them a guarantee, try avoiding these artifical foods and also hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and especially palm oil and within a month, a sensation of well being will overtake them.. I told them it would be difficult to do, since an average american consumes 75 pounds of these products per year per person...
This hour spent with these kind and gentle people of Bohemian and european origin, children of dreamers who left Bohemia for a better life in America.. now being poisoned.. was so satisfying to me.. as i drove back to the Indian reservation where I was to spend my last night of this visit to them, I felt a glow inside of me, matching the fading lights of the horizon and i thanked Maurits van der pelt of Mo Po Tsyo in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Kaddish for Cecil Helman the best Clinical Medical Anthropologist

Cecil Helman - Photo by Doron Swade.
My good friend, guide and teacher in Medical Anthropology with whom I spent wonderful hours in London, Cape Town and New York died recently after a brief illness. He had been diagnosed with LMN disease but was told it was a mild form and after a trip to Israel, he was admitted to a London Hospital with respiratory dificulties and he died soon afterwards. This news has come as a shock to all of us who knew him and respected him. An intellectual with an abundant curiosity, deeply rooted in his south african and lithuanian jewish traditions, he made you feel that your particular life story is so interesting.. like the Bushmen/San people would say.. i am waiting for a story to come to me by the wind... and as Michel Foucault had said Madness is the absence of ones story.. But Cecil made each and every story of the person he met absorbing and point out the cultural aspects which made some cringe in rememberance.. He was a good teacher and one fo the best clinical medical anthropologists. He was my teacher when I took up Medical Anthropology and later on we became friends and had a chance to see each other in Cape Town and New York in addition to London, I have stayed a few times at his house and the last time we had a nice turkish meal together at a Kurdish restaurant nearby. I will truly miss him and for those physicians with an interest in cross cultural medicine, he was a giant indeed...

Cecil Helman was born in Cape Town, South Africa into a medical family, and qualified as a doctor at the University of Cape Town Medical School. He left South Africa because of the apartheid system, and then studied social anthropology at University College London

Over the years he has combined several different careers into a creative synthesis: family doctor, anthropologist, university lecturer, writer and poet.

After a brief spell as a ship’s doctor in the Mediterranean, he worked as a family doctor for 27 years for the National Health Service, in an around London, combining his clinical practice with a distinguished academic career.

His recent memoir Suburban Shaman: Tales from Medicine’s Frontline’, was described by Oliver Sacks (author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) as ‘a beautifully written, devastatingly honest, and often very funny, account of an audacious and adventurous life’ It received widespread critical acclaim, and was given the rare honour of being selected by the BBC as a ‘Book of the Week’, and then serialized on BBC Radio in March 2006.

Dr Helman is an international expert on medical anthropology – the cross-cultural study of health, illness, and medical care – and on the many different forms of healthcare and healing found worldwide. He has done research on primary health care systems, and on traditional healers, in South Africa, Brazil, and elsewhere.

His textbook Culture, Health and Illness has been used in more than 40 countries since it was first published in 1984, including in over 120 universities, medical schools and nursing colleges in the USA and Canada. He has also published academic papers in medical journals, including The Lancet, British Medical Journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, British Journal of General Practice, and Medical Humanities, He has received several prestigious international prizes and awards for his work.

He has been a Visiting Fellow in Social Medicine and Health Policy at Harvard Medical School; a Visiting Professor in the Multi-cultural Health Programme at University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; and Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. He has also been a guest lecturer in many universities, including those of Cambridge, Oxford, London, Durham, Geneva, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Leuven, and Cape Town, and has given the David Rogers Health Policy Colloquium at Cornell Medical School in New York, and the Cabot Lecture at Harvard Medical School.On the literary side, he has published both non-fiction and fiction, including a memoir, a book of essays about the body, an anthology of stories about doctors and patients, a novella, and several books of prose poems. He has always been fascinated by prose poems, and by their similarity to traditional myths, legends, allegories and midrashim. His poetry and other writings have appeared in many anthologies and literary journals (including London Magazine, Ambit, Paris Voices and Tikkun), but he has also written for British Vogue andThe Observer Magazine.

Dr Helman lives in Britain, but re-visits South Africa frequently, and is currently working on a sequel to Suburban Shaman. He lectures to medical students, doctors, and nurses, teaches courses on cross-cultural health care, and has run creative writing courses for doctors. He is particularly interested in the humanistic side of medicine - especially the role of stories and narratives in medical care, and what they reveal about the inner worlds of both doctor and patient. Among his other interests are the role of metaphors and symbols in our understanding of the human body, in both illness and health; and what the Western industrialized world can learn from the healing systems of more traditional societies, when dealing with different aspects of human suffering.