A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW
Everybody knows medicine can be yucky. We even have the expression “take your medicine” which means to do something which is unpleasant, but necessary for your good. Mary Poppins (okay, yeah, I’m dating myself here!) sang about mixing in a “spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go do-owwwwn.”
One of the pills we have to take here on Palawan (unfortunately all too often) is Chloroquine, which is a malaria medicine. Chloroquine is bitter. Very bitter. Make-your-body-shiver bitter. Everyone here has their tricks for taking it. For sure, you wipe off the pill so any loose powdery Chloroquine dust is not there for your tongue to taste upon contact. (Why oh why, I ask, can’t the drug companies make COATED Chloroquine?!!) People have various foods, etc., they use to mask the taste. My personal Southern California strategy involves salsa… Tabasco, actually. Swish a drop of Tabasco on the tongue, then take the Chloroquine quickly. That works for me. Of course, if you hate hot stuff or can’t stand the burning taste buds, this wouldn’t be much help to you.
MEDICINE AND WORLDVIEW
Through the years, as we’ve done medical work among the Palawanos, giving medicine and prescribing needed treatments, we’ve encountered frustrating differences in worldview. Here are some examples:
Western Medicine: Bathe a person with a fever to bring their temperature down, and give them fluids.
Palawano Worldview: wrap a fevered person in blankets and don’t give them anything to drink (cool drinks and bathing will “drive the fever inside and kill them.”) We can’t tell you how many feverish babies have shown up on our porch in convulsions, who suddenly (and surprisingly to their parents) got better when we took away the blankets and bathed them.
Western Medicine: Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria and requires a long therapy of antibiotics; to stop before completing the full treatment makes the bacteria drug-resistant.
Palawano Worldview: Tuberculosis is causes by someone poisoning your food; as soon as you start to feel better, or if the medicine makes you “feel funny,” stop taking it.
We Westerners often want to help, but don’t realize the underlying worldview issues. A US-based aid organization once gave out hundreds of bottles of free vitamins to the Batak tribe here on Palawan. They volunteers went home naively rejoicing at how they had helped the Bataks’ children to be more healthy. Meanwhile, the Bataks walked home, dumping the vitamins in the river, rejoicing at the really nifty free airtight jars they’d just gotten to keep their salt and betel nut supplies in!
Another thing happened recently. One of our church leaders took two white pills one evening, thinking they were ibuprofen to help his body which was aching from plowing all day. By mistake he had taken two of his wife’s asthma pills (bronchodilators) which made his heart race and kept him up all night with a worse-than-caffeine buzz. I won’t elaborate, but we could also say that he wished he had indoor plumbing that night, too. More on why this story is relevant in a moment.
Recently a sad situation came up in here. Three adult Palawanos upriver from us have a form of leprosy. They’d already lost some fingers and toes. Our partner Tim ran them around town to see doctors, get a diagnosis, and to get free medicine from the WHO office on Palawan. It took a lot of time, but for once, there really was free medicine. It was worth the effort. The patients went home with the medicine, happy and grateful. All we had to do is email the WHO doctor every 2 months to get a new supply of medicine.
So this month we sent the next batch of pills up to their village with Abil. He came back and told us that two of the patients were no longer taking their medicines. They refused to continue, saying, “The medicine makes our sores hurt more. We’d rather die of the sickness than to die of this pain.”
You see, leprosy actually affect the nerves, deadening their ability to feel pain or any other sensation. So the numb extremities get injured because the sick person cannot feel that they’ve burned their hand or that they’ve walked until their foot has a blister. Then they cannot feel the sores because of the numbness. What was happening was the medicine was working; feeling was returning to their nerves. But since the sores were not all healed, the patients now felt the pain. Of course you and I know that if they’d continued with the treatment for even a week or two more, the sores would have healed and their restored feeling would have been only a blessing. They could have felt pleasurable sensations. But they made a bad decision based on their worldview.
LESSONS TO LEARN HERE
I was so saddened by this. But as Abil said, “If they were children, we could try to get their parents to make them take the medicine. But they’re adults. We cannot force them.”
I thought about this situation and shared some spiritual insights in church here the next Sunday. Taking medicine is much like applying the Word of God to the “sickness” of sin in our lives.
If we don’t “take the medicine,” that is, if we don’t apply God’s truth to our lives, we will not be cured. Or if we take the wrong medicine (as Abil did that night), it won’t cure the disease. The world lives on in pain and misery, with broken relationships, loneliness, guilt and sadness because of sin. Yet so many refuse to be “treated.” Many try to treat themselves with the wrong cure… drugs, drink, pleasures, money, fame… and eventually they find that this does not solve the problem, but only makes it worse.
But even when we take the medicine… it is often painful. Working through the agony of a broken relationship, or having to face our failures and confess them is painful. It might seem easier to ignore the problem, or to run away from having to deal with it. But that is no solution. And the promise of the cure is there, if we let the divine physician take us through his path to healing.
PRAY WITH US
Please pray with us as we work here with the Palawanos. Pray for situations like the one where medical patients unwisely refuse to endure small discomfort in order to experience healing of their disease.
But even more, pray as we labor to see the Palawanos realize that their real sickness is due to sin, and that the only cure is the gospel of Jesus Christ. So many are trying other false cures… animistic ritual, drinking, gambling, adultery, pursuit of financial gain, etc. And pray, too, as we teach the Word of God to the believers here, that they would apply it to their lives and let the Lord heal them of jealousy, strife, lack of forgiveness, “spiritual anorexia” and all the other issues that Satan uses to wreck their lives and hinder the work of the church.
There may be differences in worldview, but the battle is the same. Human nature and the enemy’s schemes are the same in this jungle as they are in the jungle where you live.