A Homeopath on Vacation

  From The Archives .....

In the professional life of every homeopathic physician there comes a turning point.  With growing confidence, trust and skill in the homeopathic method the physician closes the door on allopathic thinking.  Taking homeopathy to heart, it is a point of no return, an existential turn.  Homeopathy then penetrates into other aspects of one's life beyond the daily clinical practice.  The method of healing becomes a way of understanding the world.  The similimum is not only the patient's constitutional prescription but also a metaphor for understanding spouse, children, family and friends.  The remedy as type brings to light possibilities of behavior, strengths and weaknesses.  The homeopathic appreciation of those around us fosters understanding and tolerance.

So it was on a recent trip to Italy that I began to contemplate the virtues of travel to the practice of homeopathy.  Freed from the demands of office hours, telephone calls, the ever present beeper and the polemics and dogmatism of homeopathy itself, a vacation provides a most pleasant opportunity to open yet another aspect of life to the homeopathic mind - travel!   To participate no computers are necessary.  One needs only time, awareness, a destination and Boericke's Materia Medica. Italy is a very long boot shaped peninsula stretching from the cold mountain climate of the Alps to the warm waters of the Mediterranean.  The descent brings with it drastic changes in topography, culture, language and people. This trip was to the "mezzogiorno" region of Italy, that section below Rome.  Here land becomes increasingly flat and dry ending in the semi-arid conditions of Calabria and Sicily. In clinical practice it is sometimes useful to consider the ethnic background of a patient since it may hint at a possible constitutional remedy.  However, nationality is not the point since a nation's borders are often the arbitrary result of historical struggles.  Latitude is the central issue, that is, the land's location on the planet, its relationship to the equator and hence the sun.  Southern Italy, baked by the sun and fanned by the hot scirocco winds from North Africa is decidedly Sulphur.  The sulphur mines of Sicily and the volcanos of Etna and Vesuvius attest to the validity of the homeopathic metaphor.

My trip was to the province of Bari in southeastern Italy bordering on the Adriatic.  The most recent of several trips, it was the first to the maternal homeland as a practicing homeopathic physician.  There the overall sulphur nature was readily apparent.  The hot, dry weather, the hot tempers of the overheated drivers as they struggled through the narrow streets, the parched, wrinkled faces of the farmers as they took their evening stroll in the piazza, hands behind their backs, hunched forward under the weight of decades of labor, smoldering cigarettes permanently clenched between ancient fingers as they philosophized endlessly on a wide variety of topics served to imprint the image of Sulphur on the homeopathic mind. One remedy can metaphorically represent the land but never all of its people - that would be reductionism unworthy of homeopathy.  Southern Italy, part of the Spanish empire in the 1500's, and conquered repeatedly by various European powers throughout its subsequent history, provides in its people an ample representation of the materia medica of the polychests.  There was, for example, the sensitive, intellectual cousin suffering from alopecia who needed a sweater on a warm, balmy evening (Psorinum).  The cousin, who as part of his daily ritual,had to have his cigarette and espresso to complete his morning toilet (Nux Vomica).  The long suffering aunt who became a diabetic after the sudden death of her husband (Ignatia).  There was also the sickly, narrow chested and restless cousin with the porcelain skin (Tuberculinum).   I mustn't forget the cousin, the perpetual student, son of a wealthy jeweler with fine features, weak chin and a chronic indecision that has already led him to several careers in his youth (Silicea).  Reconfirmation of one's acquaintance with the polychrests in so lovely a setting is truly a source of pleasure but the learning need not stop there.  The list of Latin and common names of remedies in Boericke's Materia Medica can be the starting place for an appreciation of those remedies seldom studied and rarely used in clinical practice.  The appreciation of the local flora and fauna of a foreign country one is visiting on vacation provides a relaxed learning experience to be cherished, savored and remembered.

The day begins early in southern Italy.  The cool dawn air is pierced by the pungent smell of burning wood.  A farmer has gathered the rare pieces of the dry, gnarled and ancient wood, the fallen branches painstakeningly retrieved from the surrounding orchards of almond and olive trees miles outside the sleepy Italian village.  Boericke tells us on  page 47 to compare Amygdalus Persica(the peach tree) with the Amygdalus Amara(the bitter almond), useful in tonsillitis with dysphagia, vomiting and a painful cough.  No mention is made of its local use as a soothing drink which quenches the hottest summer thirst in these parts. Of the olive, that ancient biblical food there is no mention whatsoever in Boericke.  Ripe fruit for a future proving.  Morning also brings the slow and steady exodus of the local farmers to the orchards and plots of ancestral lands beyond the confines of the town proper. There are grown the most wonderfully tasteful fruits and vegetables.  Among them Parsley,Petroselinum, a urinary remedy par excellence, rivaling Cantharis and Sarsaparilla. Here also is found the chick pea, Lathyrus, useful in diseases of the lateral and anterior spinal columns.  Polio, lateral sclerosis post influenzal paralysis and perhaps cerebral palsy are conditions which may call for its use.  Found in abundance in the farmer's market and sold dried by the kilo it can be eaten as a dry snack or cooked with pasta.  Of dandelion, Taraxacum a common weed cultivated as a vegetable to be eaten as a side dish or with pasta, Boericke tells us on pages 633 -634 that it is of use in gastric headaches, biliousness and bladder cancer.  It has the sensation of bubbles bursting in the abdomen.  In cancer he recommends 1-2 drams of the fluid extract.  After the abuse of too much wine and rich foods it is savored here as a food remedy for the liver. With the possible exception of the French, Italians are almost obsessed with the condition of their livers.  And what of cayenne pepper, Capsicum, the spice that gives the heat to many dishes in this hot part of the world?  Recently the allopathic world has discovered it, made a topical cream of its extract and uses it for post herpetic neuralgia, arthritis pain and applied intra nasally it controls the suffering of chronic migraine.  No wonder Boericke tells us of its use not only in mastoiditis but also bursting headache, herpes labialis, and joint pain including sciatica! Where would any self-respecting Italian espresso drinker be without his Anisette or Sambuca, a strong liquor made from anise, Illicium?  Boericke tells us of its use in flatulent conditions, the "three months' colic", with much abdominal rumbling.  It has the peculiarity of pain in the region of the third rib one or two inches from the sternum and generally on the right side. If the symptoms fit, it may be useful in that stubborn case of costochondritis you haven't managed to cure.  It is also useful in hemoptysis, dyspnea and palpitation.  A little anisette mixed with a glass of water will not only refresh the palate, quench thirst but also soothe abdominal cramps and flatulence. Every Italian grandmother knows that.  This semi-arid land abounds with cacti of various types.  The most conspicuous is the Opuntia or Ficus Indica, the fruit of which is known here as "ficci d'India", Indian figs.  In the U.S. they are known as prickly pears. They are readily found in the farmers' markets or as a food sold at the many religious festivals that abound here throughout the summer.  They are cherished for their use as a laxative, a fact which is easily understood because of their high seed and fiber content. If you consult Boericke, on page 488, however, you'll find that Ficus Indica will treat diarrhea even in potency because in crude form its overuse can cause diarrhea.

Early morning is also the time of the fishermen. Hunting octopus in shallow waters with bright flashlights during the night, a ride to the coast reveals the ritualistic pounding of their catch on the huge rocks lining the beach.  The cool morning sea breeze signals the start of another day for the fish vendors, their tables stacked with the fresh catch of the day.  The cuttle fish, Sepia is there for purchase ink sack and all.  The ink is sometimes served on pasta a fact not lost these days on trendy New York City restaurants. There is an endless variety of fish and seafood to be found including a kind of crawfish.  Is it Astacus Fluviatilis which Boericke describes on page 94?  I couldn't find out but read about it anyway and of its use in urticaria, enlarged cervical glands and jaundice.  It may be worth a try on that patient with the severe seafood allergy or the patient who had an anaphylactic reaction to a contrast medium during a radiological procedure.  Then again there is always eel.  Cooked or preserved it is savored by Italians at Christmas time and New Year ’s Day.  If your case of atrial fibrillation didn't respond to Digitalis, you may want to try Anguillar Ichthyotoxin or eel serum.  You'll find it on page 254 of Boericke where he mentions its use in decompensated valvular disease.

After a simple breakfast of bread or cereal drenched in a mixture of milk and coffee, the Italian day begins.  Slowly the temperature begins to climb and the activity of the day reaches its peak just after noon.  Lunch is the major meal of the day and much of the domestic morning is geared toward its preparation and consumption - something the Italians accomplish in a manner unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Much of the Italian menu centers on a new world food, the tomato. Solanum Lycopersicum Boericke tells us on pages 596 - 597 is a remedy useful in rheumatism, influenza, hay fever when the patient is very sensitive to dust, bursting headache, and explosive cough.  There is sharp pain in the right deltoid and pectoralis muscles.

After lunch, at the height of the sun's intensity life grinds to a halt.  Shops close, offices shut down and all work stops.  Day becomes night as the metal blinds are lowered to seal the sun's rays from all windows.  The thick stone walls and marble floors add coolness to the darkness as happy and sated Italians sleep away the hottest part of the day. The second half of the work day begins after the siesta and continues past dusk. Dinner is a minor meal of leftovers, or bread, cheese, meats, salad and fruit and is generally consumed around 9 or 10 pm. After dinner there is coffee and desert and time to visit friends and family or stroll the piazza in the coolness of the dry evening air.  Manicured gardens with fountains abound in these small southern Italian villages with neatly trimmed hedges surrounding a bandstand or some central statue to a local historical figure. Ever present in the gardens and by the roadsides is the oleander, Oleander – Nerium Odorum.  It has significant action on the skin treating corrosive eruptions of the face, scalp and the ears.  It treats asthma and palpitation with oppression of the chest as well as paralysis of the limbs with a kind of burning stiffness of the extremities.

History tells us that Hahnemann was an accomplished student of several languages, Greek and Latin among them. For his motto he chose the words, "Aude Sapere", dare to know. Of the several Latin possibilities for the word, know, he chose "sapere".  "Sapere", however, means more than an intellectual kind of knowing.  It means to have the flavor or taste of, to have the smell of, to have a sense of taste, to have sense or to be sensible and wise.  It is in the spirit of this complete meaning of "sapere" that we must dare to experience, taste, and savor the world for all that we need on this earth to heal is all around us.  To his command to us almost two hundred years ago may I humble add, "Aude Iter Facere" - dare to travel abroad!