Paging Dr. de León

Just as Florida gets ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Ponce de León’s search for the Fountain of Youth—supposedly somewhere in the northern part of the state—out comes Smithsonian magazine in its June issue with an article saying the legend is baloney. In fact, according to a University of South Florida researcher, a political rival made it up years after de León’s death to make him look ridiculous.

So with Ponce out of the picture the only two sure things left for the old folks in Florida are the early-bird specials at Denny’s and endless lines at polling places on election day, especially if they live in black and Democratic-leaning neighborhoods.

In San Miguel though, fountain of youth legends gurgle on in the minds of many residents, feeding hopes that the symptoms of aging—which after a certain age flash persistently in one’s mind like the “Check Engine” light on the dashboard of an old sedan—can be averted, turned back, cured, alleviated or otherwise made to go away.

I was introduced to this phenomenon shortly after we moved to San Miguel. Looking for something to do I signed up for a workshop on supposed Mexican indigenous healing methods.

The leaders of the discussion asked each of us to describe a personal ailment and as the question bounced around the room I heard about back pains, post-menopausal problems, arthritis, bum knees and other typically geriatric complaints. When the question reached this one woman near me she paused and just said “stomach problems” followed by  “flatulence.” The room fell silent as we all dreaded additional details. She spared us. When my turn came I put everyone at ease by blurting out “insomnia.”

The few younger people in the room, some rolling their eyes, fled the workshop at the next break. But the older folk stayed, to excitedly exchange stories of nearly miraculous cures, esoteric treatments and herbal potions, spiced with occasional complaints about how the pharmaceutical-medical-industrial complex conspires to conceal these effective yet economical remedies.

A sign at a local pharmacy offers medical
consultations for $25 pesos, or about two dollars.
However, the psychologist advertised below charges
$100 pesos for a 45-minute session and appointments
are required. 

Since then I’ve heard about not just the more conventional alternative medicine methods, such as acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation or various types of massage, or even that old standby, colonic irrigation.

Can we talk about Cranio-Sacral and Somato-Emotional Release, suggested for the treatment of everything from Temporo-mandibular Joint Syndrome, Pre- and Post-Surgery Trauma and “many other conditions,” by one local provider? Ever hear of Lomilomi massage or Zhineng Gigong medicine? Neither had I. Chelation or Environmental Essence therapies, anyone? If all these fail, and your money holds out, there’s always the burgeoning area of Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy.

But, sorry, if your money does run out you don’t get any of these treatments because none are free.

Most talked about in the past few years are stem-cell injections. As I understand it, stem cells have the ability to recreate themselves to mimic other cells so that if they are injected into a knee, for example, they can spur regeneration of a worn cartilage and give your knees a new start.

A local doctor has a thriving stem-cell treatment practice, in some cases using stem cells extracted from the placentas of sheep in Switzerland, to treat practically anything. A neighbor in his late seventies spent a thousand dollars on such interventions but alas reported no change in his life except afterward the three sheep at his ranch looked at him kinda funny.

Yet for all the easy fun to be made about some of these quack cures I ultimately sympathize with the quiet desperation felt in a community of people getting old together and feeling their bodies deteriorate. I’m there.

If Pulse Eletromagnetic Field Therapy  might conceivably alleviate your daily back pain, and you have the money, why not try it? And who can argue if afterward you proclaim that you feel better? A thirty-something medical researcher dismissing it as the “placebo effect”? But what the hell does she know about getting old?

During a recent vacation in Europe my bad feet acted up and if a street gypsy had offered me some far-fetched cure for a few euros, I would have taken her up on it.

Ultimately the wisest observation about aging may have come Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in  lyrics they wrote in 1966: “What a drag it is getting old!” 

Indeed. I wonder, though, if Mick and Keith had any idea what they would look forty-seven years later: two bony guys, almost seventy years old, their faces crisscrossed with wrinkles as deep as crevasses.

Except they’re still jumping around and screaming on stage as if they were in their twenties. That raises the question: Do those two paleolithic rockers know about some age-defying treatments that are being withheld from the rest of us geezers in San Miguel?


6 thoughts on “Paging Dr. de León

  1. I am not surprised that the Ponce de Leon quest for the Fountain of Youth was simply a rival's negative spin. But the Old Explorer was asking for it. Ponce de Leon? It sounds like the name of a Brooklyn drag queen. Like Virginia Hamm. Or Ivana Mann. I always suspected he was looking for a Florida court that had jurisdiction over name changes. He could have been Hanging Chad de Leon. But even that would get him onstage in a proper frock.Have you read Tom Wolfe's latest novel yet? You should. All about status amongst the various tribes in Miami. I suspect the concept would travel well to the exotic shores of San Miguel.


  2. J.A. Chaikin: Hi AlLoved your lastest blog! BTW I am one of those, seeking correction/rejuvenation throught stem cell therapy with OUR local doc! I'll let you know my results! Keep up the witty commentaries, one thing we can all use more of these days is LAUGHTER!BesosJ


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