A handful of what ifs kept running through my mind since noon today, tugging at me from every direction, gnawing at my mind and my body. What was I to do about all of these what ifs, unanswerable questions, puzzling quandaries, startlingly new lines of inquiry… What if…
I suppose I could start with the following: What if I hadn’t woken up on Sunday morning with the worst case of strep throat I can recall, full of blotchy splotchy white spots, swollen glands, painful swallowing and a still-hidden but strongly felt, cumulating pile o’ phlegm? What if, later that day and for the first time in my approximately 15-year uninterrupted and spotless history of email usage, I hadn’t suddenly been informed that my Hotmail account was blocked – from me! – as a result of potential hacking? And what if the weather hadn’t suddenly shifted by that evening, such that constant (sometimes unrelenting) sunshine gave way to overcast skies, repeated downpours and threats thereof, all so patently uncharacteristic of the dry season?
What if: My body was blocked? My email account was blocked? The sun was blocked?
Knowing my limits when it comes to modifying climate, I let go of changing anything about the weather. About my email? I knew I could figure it out in time. But my body, now that was something I couldn’t put off.
On Sunday, I tried to self-‘medicate’ by gargling with salt-water, resting, drinking lots of fluids and (despite a pea-sized appetite), nibbling on water-softened rice and broth. In the evening, Shoko showed up with a jar with piping hot green veggie soup from Bali Buddha; a soothing balm to my inflamed throat. Nyoman, the earth-mother of the (guest)house, knocked on my door later in the evening, eager to check on my fever and wellbeing.
Monday morning brought little relief, in fact the symptoms worsened. On her way back from Denpasar, Tineke came over bearing an armful of health-inducing goodies: fresh-baked bread, a cup of ginger/honey/red onion tea (!), plain yogurt, soup, Chinese medicine and the dreaded, but necessary (or so I thought) antibiotics – available sans prescription. A true friend, indeed.
My day was spent in bed, fighting the urge to swallow, getting up to gargle or drink hot ginger; but otherwise mostly dazed or asleep. Last night, Nyoman, bless her heart, had a steaming bowl of vegetable soup delivered to me from the family restaurant (Laka Leke). And then, still feeling swollen and spent, I fell fast asleep…waking up this morning in an even worsened state – despite filling my body with antibiotics!
What if I hadn’t texted Lucinda last week, long before the slightest hint of fever or swelling had manifested itself, to book another appointment with Pak Man for this morning? What if I had gone to see him yesterday morning instead of today – before I started taking the pills? What if…?
Pak Man (aka Nyoman Arya Dunung) is a balian; a traditional Balinese healer living just outside of Ubud with his British-born partner and translator, Lucinda. They live in Kutuh Kelod, a 30-minute walk, past a village, temples, fields, kids flying kites and a laundry shop.
It was my second visit in as many weeks; enough time to erase memories of the more unpleasant parts of his treatment, and by unpleasant I mean pain-provoking in disparate points around my body – even where I thought I had none.
There we were on the front terrace, Lucinda the middle-woman, toggling between Pak Man and myself, well-versed in Balinese language and culture, but equally so in Western-style thinking and an ingrained inclination towards Western-style medicine (borne of habit); translating phrases, back and forth, about symptoms, causes, energies, blockages, viruses, healing, medicine, chemicals, release, and more. He smiled graciously, Lucinda explained, despite his dismay that I had succumbed to the Western habit of polluting my body with chemicals. Pak Man wished for me to believe in my body’s ability to heal itself, even through an infection, perhaps with a little help from nature and himself.
But was I ready?
While Lucinda snuck off to the floor above, I undressed and settled onto the cushioned mat, after which Pak Man covered me in a batik sarong. For the next hour, I lay on my back, then my front and finally (ugh), sitting up in lotus position. Periodically, he would stop and look into and around my mouth. There was flicking of energy off my body, heated hands on my throat, movement around my liver and spleen. There was coconut water to drink, the remaining droplets used in a ritualistic fashion, a topical infusion for my body.
I don’t know if I would call it massage. More like an unblocking and shifting of energies – or just healing, pure and simple. What I do know is this: As I arose slowly from the mat, began to breathe slowly and with guidance from Pak Man… I felt immensely better. Illogically better. I cannot explain it kind of better. Now what?
What if I had seen Pak Man yesterday, before heading into antibiotic territory, a cul-de-sac you enter at your own risk, exiting only after 7 or 10 days, doing who-knows-what-cumulative-damage to my body? What if I instead allowed nature to run its course, letting the energy-as-infection play itself out, but simultaneously taking excellent care of myself, resting, doing all that I could to support my body’s return to balanced health? Hadn’t I already learned this lesson when I weaned myself off pain meds, promising myself and my body that I would give it time to heal? What if I had the innate ability to unblock, release, resume – simply by respecting and paying close attention to my body?