The outdoor pharmacy

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I was coughing viciously and constantly. We were 250 kilometres from any sort of modern medical care, and in the final days of filming deep in the wilderness called home. The director was getting a little annoyed at my unrelenting haranguing cough, which ruined many a scene. I was the sound guy and in charge of pyrotechnics (which meant chopping wood and feeding the wood stove). For several documentaries at the time I was a “mechanic” – you name it, I fixed it.

But I couldn’t fix my cough. The Elders we were filming, however, were harvesting several medicines to prepare for the documentary. My hacking and external noises interrupted key shots and we knew we had to get these shots or else face execution executive-style from the big bosses!

The nice Googum, I’ll call her, made several concoctions, explaining all the steps of preparation and recommended dosages. She mentioned one particular medicine that if taken too much, would make you very sleepy. We all had a good laugh over that one. Then, after her presentation on prepared Cree medicine, she offered me a small spoon of each one. Amazingly, my cough and cold and anything that made me feel bad disappeared within 15 minutes! Nor did I catch any colds or flu for a few years too. Ahhh, those old cures are still often as effective, if not better, than modern-day medicines.

The nice thing about our traditional medicines is that you have to be out on the land to get them. With a nice packsack, you can pick up a lot of good stuff out there, not to mention mushrooms, berries, grouse, rabbit, partridge and fish. It’s an outdoor pharmacy and fresh-food grocery store all rolled into an outdoor package of fitness, wholesome living and all those other healthy wealthy lifestyles we often pine (or whine) for.

The side effects are pretty obvious after a while – no danger of heart conditions, obesity, lung cancers and exposure to other lethal modern concoctions that quietly shorten your lifespan. Also, a good gastric system and leg muscles and shoulder strength from paddling all contributed to the side effects of this type of lifestyle. Plus, a greater appreciation for what is still around for our children to benefit from ­– the legacy of a Cree way of life in our environment.

But is this happening in real life? In this age when medical evacuations outnumber regular passengers and self-inflicted miseries surround us, it’s a wonder that our way of life is still hanging in there. This age of convenience that has made it all too convenient to shift towards the easiest and shortest way has its own set of side effects. These are reflected in our actions resulting in the consequences we live to regret or replay over and over again, creating an inner pain in need of a cure. The cure is often more dangerous than the actual inflictions – read the fine print at the bottom of your screen and listen closely to the side effects, which may lead to death! Go figure, medicine needs curing too.

But I’m not the one to debunk hospitals and nurses or even the health system. The system has saved my life numerous times from food poisonings, tonsillitis, bad toenails, and an appendectomy or two. All have contributed to several near-death experiences which are too gory to explain in front of the kids. If it weren’t for hospitals and the health system we have, I’d probably be pushing up daisies for a number of years already. But lucky me, I’m still around bothering people here and there, safely couch-potatoing away.

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