May 22, 2012

Story to Share: Frozen Sphincter and Ethnobotany

I love the idea of ethnobotany.  I see the work of ethnobotanists as incredibly interesting.  I think of them as being on the forefront of discovering different medicines by way of finding medicinal plants that are used by different cultures but yet undiscovered by mainstream Western pharmacology corporations that manufacture the medicine.

I have no background in this area but I find it intriguing nonetheless.  From a Lao studies perspective it's even more interesting because home remedies, medicinal plants, and medicinal folklore are still heavily utilized throughout Laos.

Having grown up in Canada (though I am Lao), when I went to Laos I was a bit skeptical of the local doctors and in particular the home remedies that involved plants.  Perhaps the skepticism is simply fear of the unknown.

When I lived in Laos for a short period, I got sick from things I ate quite a number of times.  I was very adventurous in trying different things but can you blame me?  I love Lao food.

When I did get sick from what I ate, I got was diarrhea, stomach aches, bloating and all that.  And of course while going through those symptoms, my immune system seemed to weaken and I ended up getting a cold or red eye (conjunctivitus).  I would like to say that I am normally quite a healthy person who normally only gets sick 1-2x a year.

There was this one time I was going to the bathroom (diarrhea) a lot due to something I ate.  So I took one of those pills that helps to stop or slow you down from going to the bathroom so much.  The one unforeseen and unexpected bad side effect of this was that it completely froze up my sphincter!  That's right...a frozen up a-hole.  The meds were a little effective shall we say.  For the life of me I couldn't pass gas.  Sorry if this is TMI (too much info) for some of you.

Literally the gas was building up inside me.  You take passing gas (flatulence, farting, or dtot as we say in Lao) for granted until your sphincter literally because un-useable and completely tight.  Sitting on the toilet and waiting did nothing.

It got to the point where I couldn't sleep and my stomach had become incredibly tense and bloated.  My grandmother suggested a home remedy she had in mind and I said no thanks.  Admittedly, I thought that the remedy couldn't help due to my own skepticism.  As time went on, the situation became a bit more dire and it became later into the night.  My stomach was becoming more and more tense (just imagine a balloon blown full with air).

By this time it was midnight.  So finally I relented and said "yes grandma let's try your remedy, quickly please!"  So she goes into her garden and pulls out a plant.  She chops off the stem.  She takes its thick root (think of a piece of ginger) and chops it in half after determining that amount should suffice.  The other half she crushed with a pestle and mortar keeping the pulp and juice.  She made me drink perhaps 2 tablespoons of the juice.  And the remaining pulp along with the other half of the root she covered and massaged my stomach with.

I sat in front of a clock.  Waiting to see when it would work.  My eyes remained glued to the clock counting the minutes as they passed.  And wouldn't you know it!?  Within 10 minutes I had to go the bathroom to do my business.  And I tell you it felt great!  After that I was able to go to sleep.  It was amazing.  It had actually worked and it only took at most 10 minutes to take effect.  Ever since that, I have forever remained opened to home remedies and medicinal plants used in Laos.  I understand some people may be skeptical as to the 10 mins time to take effect but I can only say that it worked for me in that time frame.

There is something to be said about all this - about medicinal plant remedies.  I mean if millions of people utilize these remedies how can they all be wrong?  How could I be so skeptical?  In fact they are not wrong but quite right.  Clearly it must be working (at least in most cases) and therefore effective.  Though there are probably some remedies that are perhaps questionable in their effectiveness out there.

Doubts aside, my stomach and sphincter were most thankful!

The plant is called vahn fy in Lao.  It translates into sweet fire.

- Story submitted by VM

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