If there is one ailment that always gets the goat of anyone minding my mother's small drugstore in Lianga, the dreaded "panuhot" is definitely at the top of the list.
"Can you please recommend to me a medicine for panuhot?," asks one elderly woman just the other day. She had one of those tattered, wide-brimmed buli hats that marked her as coming from one of the town's more remote, farming villages.
The sales clerk shrugged, suppressed a sigh of exasperation and headed immediately for the section displaying painkillers and muscle relaxants. It's the only thing she can do and has, in fact, been instructed to do. For in the whole of modern Western pharmacopoeia, there is no specific drug cure for a disorder that, as far as modern medicine is concerned, does not officially exist.
The panuhot is considered, in the traditional belief systems of the rural folk, to be the primary cause of a wide variety of symptoms which may include muscular aches and pains, swelling of the affected areas and sometimes fever, general body weakness and malaise. It is explained by practitioners of folk medicine as the negative effects of the entrance of hangin or wind and cold temperatures or bugnaw into specific body tissues or nerves where it accumulates and causes pain and discomfort.
The concept of the panuhot is intrinsically connected to the idea of the piang which like the latter has been known to bedevil rural doctors who have tried to disabuse the rural folk of such persistent traditional beliefs in favor of modern advances in scientific and medical knowledge. The piang (as differentiated from actual bone and skeletal fractures) refers to a supposed "fracture or dislocation" (whatever that means) in body tissues or nerves particularly in the back and chest area and is often cited by rural mothers as the main cause of coughing and other respiratory ailments in their children.
The hilot or masahista who uses massage as a part of traditional folk healing is said to be the only one able to diagnose and alleviate the pains and symptoms of both the panuhot and the piang. The body areas where such conditions are detected to exist are often vigorously massaged and anointed with medicated oils and liniments as part of the accepted treatment regimen.
Many doctors and medical professionals in the rural areas have blamed the stubborn adherence by their rural patients to such outmoded medical concepts for preventing the early detection and treatment of many serious and life threatening respiratory disorders such as pneumonia particularly in the young. While they accept the role of massage techniques as part of a holistic approach to the treatment of some musculoskeletal disorders, such methodologies, they insist, may have little curative effect in other totally unrelated diseases and bodily disorders.
Some months ago, I woke up with a dull, throbbing pain in my left shoulder that radiated occasionally to my elbow and left forearm. The pain persisted as the weeks passed despite painkillers and muscle relaxants and began to force me to restrict movements of my entire left arm. My old yaya or nursemaid when I was a child (bless her seemingly immortal body) is a noted hilot of some local repute and after palpating with her fingers the area around the affected shoulder, she pronounced that I had been struck by the classic panuhot.
Using strong kneading motions with the fingers of both hands, she explained that she was endeavoring to expel the air withing the swollen muscle tissues. Then she continued the massage on the entire affected arm from the fingers up while tracing with her fingertips what she said were the proper placement of nerves, muscle ligaments and tendons. Aiding her dexterous manipulations was a special secret liniment made from a kerosene base into which have been dissolved the essential oils of more than a dozen medicinal herbs and spices.
The improvement on my arm and shoulder after the single treatment was, to my astonishment, spectacularly dramatic. In a couple of days I had almost full normal use and full range of motion in the affected limb. Only an occasional twinge in the shoulder remained of the original pain, and even that disappeared after another week of rest.
Did I really had the panuhot in the first place? Was it just a simple case of a pulled muscle perhaps or ordinary muscular sprain cured by a brisk yet effective massage? Or was it just a case of a temporary painful muscular condition that was destined to cure itself naturally over a period of time? Could it have been something in the secret liniment itself?
All I know is that now, upon my old yaya's advice, I now make the effort to change shirts when my back becomes wet with perspiration. I don't sleep with the electric fan's wind or the air conditioner's cooling air flow focused on my body or my exposed back as I used to do. I avoid going out the house very late at night or very early in the day when the tun-og (morning dew) and the early morning chill can get to me. Finally, I try to keep my body covered all the time to avoid unwanted, unhealthy breezes. After all, one cannot be too careful.
What if I happen to have an undetected piang somewhere in my chest or torso? What if I got careless and suffer another case of panuhot but this time exactly where the piang is? That would now be a case of punuhot sa piang which from just the dreadful sound of it cannot be anything but something very bad indeed.
Susmaryosep! Just give me the common cold anytime.