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November 30, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Battling Back

The reinforcements have arrived. The herbal witchdoctor is with us.

I will be the first to admit that I know very little about herbs and essential oils and all the physical or metaphysical aspects of wound care. There is an entire field of herbal healing out there now. Who knew?

It seems there are schools for herbologists. Back in the ancient days (and in Mexico today), you could apprentice with a Curandera or your local doctor, many of whom knew and practiced the old country remedies. You could learn the intricacies of herbal medicine. This being the United States, of course, there are now schools that teach herbology. You can take extensive training, either by correspondence or hands-on, to get certificates in Herbal Medicine, in Advanced Herbal Medicine, even to become a Master Herbologist. (I think that is the right term).

As a student of the trade, you have to learn the names and properties of hundreds of different herbs. Once you have mastered the basics, you go on to learn where to find them, how to collect them, how to press and dry them, how to store and preserve them. Then there are the intricacies of how they work, what they do and how they interact with each other. It is a complex field with many amazing success stories, and its share of eye-rolling skeptics.

As they work toward their advanced degrees, Herbologists have to find patients to practice on. It’s usually family members who don’t mind trying out some salve or poultice, some concoction of  leaves and roots, or some mixture of powders and oils. Mom, of course, is a perfect candidate.

It’s not that we are making Mom into a guinea pig to experiment on. But I needed help. I had gone as far as I knew how, following the directions from the Health and Energy store. And Veronica, the best caregiver ever, had even brought over an ancient book on herbal remedies that she had used in Mexico.

The Butcher’s Broom, the White Willow, the Stop Ache, and soaking Mom’s leg in Marsh Mallow Root seemed to have made a difference. Rubbing the bottom of her feet with Cayenne pepper in olive oil appeared to be working. The swelling was down, the sores on the side of Mom’s leg were healing, even if only slightly. The problem was that the toes were still turning black.

So, I called in the expert. She is, without doubt, tremendously knowledgeable. After years of practice, she knows what to use and how to use it. She is currently working on her Master Herbologist certificate and was willing to come down and try some of her magic on Mom.

What she asked, however, gave me pause. “How much do you want to do?” she asked. “How far do you want to go?” I had no idea. “Just make her comfortable,” I told her. Can we actually reverse the necrotic tissue? Of course not. Can we make a difference? Perhaps.

She maintained that there was so much we could do. She recommended investing in Frankincense—yes, there really is such a thing and, just as in Jesus’ day, it is tremendously expensive—and half a dozen other esoteric essential oils to make a salve to put on the sores. And if that didn’t work, we could go on to try other remedies. But when do we stop and say, enough?

Today, the medical profession does not like to admit defeat. They don’t like to have that hard conversation about death with the patient’s family. There are always more tests to perform. More lab work to order. More procedures to try. More surgeries that may or may not work.  At Mom’s advanced age of 98, we chose not to go that route.

And yet, here we are. Struggling mightily to make a difference. My witch doctor is applying salves to the sores. Boiling down the Marsh mallow root to make a thicker paste so that it can be applied to the leg. Giving Mom capsules of herbs to take and tea to drink.

Mom did seem to draw the line at four cloves of garlic every three hours. She may be demented, but she knows what she doesn’t like. Can’t say I blame her, either. I’d have a hard time swallowing that. This may be like that ancient remedy, Castor Oil. My grandmother always claimed that the worse it tastes, the better it is for you.

She also won’t lie still long enough to apply the hot poultices. The hope had been to soak Mom’s foot for an hour at least. The herbalist would like to leave the Marsh mallow root on for several hours. Mom won’t put up with that either. So, the witchdoctor is doing as much as she can with a demented, but very knot-headed and stubborn patient.

Fortunately, or perhaps not, Mom doesn’t realize what is happening. To my amazement she can look at her blackening foot and not understand why it hurts. She seems to hear us explaining what we are doing, but I don’t think it is sinking in. She’ll do what we ask, take pills, drink the teas, (not the garlic, however) but she doesn’t respond with any sort of awareness.

I’m not sure when to stop bothering Mom. I’m certain the rubbing, pushing, lifting and moving is not comfortable for her. She just wants to sleep. Should we stop harassing her? If the herbs and oils are not going to make a hill of beans of difference in the final outcome, why do it?

It is easier, I think, although certainly less consoling, to sit back and accept fate. Perhaps leave the issue of Mom’s gangrenous leg in God’s hands. Not do anything. Just sit and watch the purple creep up her leg and the toes turn black. I shiver at the thought. It is not a pleasant option. But maybe the herbs will make her feel better and that will help.

Elderly Mothers , , ,
About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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