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Maybe we need the root doctor

Growing up in Savannah, one often heard snitches of conversation about the root doctor. I remember wondering what or who the root doctor was and where he stayed. Fortunately, back in the 50s and 60s when I was there, Savannah had an excellent school system. Students took Georgia history every year and you learned it backward and forward before you moved on to the next grade. Severe, steely eyed, gray-haired teachers you would never even think about talking back to made sure of that. For punishment, they would make you clean erasers by beating them against a brick wall outside the school until you couldn’t breathe for the chalk dust. I’m sure there must have been cases of white lung. Through that excellent curriculum, we eventually learned about the Gullahs and others who became root doctors. Their ancestors were mostly slaves who were forced to learn how to treat themselves with herbs, roots and other medicinals found in the wild. I located accounts of two indentured root doctors who saved their white masters from rattlesnake bites with concoctions their ancestors had brought with them from Africa or picked up from native Americans. Those two slaves were freed. I remember being fascinated by the thought of going to the root doctor. It seemed somehow more civilized than the visit to the man with the stethoscope who would grab a boy’s nether regions and tell him to cough. Roasted hickory nuts rubbed with burnt lavender and mint seemed a much better option. As I got older, I grew out of my root doctor fascination. Lo and behold, my dad got transferred and we moved 90 miles out into the country and lived in a town of about 350 people. It didn’t take long in my new school before I heard the root doctor mentioned again. There were two there – a man and wife – way out on Old River Road. My new classmates were all too ready to fill me in on all the local legends regarding the root doctors. The art had been passed down to the man for generations and he had trained his wife who was half Indian. Their ramshackle home lay at the end of a long driveway which was likewise at the end of what seemed to be the last stretch of dirt road before the land dropped off into the Oconee River. Once, several of us made an approach. We saw people lined up to be seen. Some carried chickens in cages presumably to trade for treatment. Others had baskets full of roots and herbs freshly cut from the woods. The looks we got from those in line encouraged us to get out of there and I never went back. Seeing all those people made me sure of one thing, however. These folks must have had a great success rate in doing whatever it was they did. Our nation is now in the COVID-19 stranglehold and all our critical pharmaceutical manufacturing has been farmed out to China where the virus originated. We get mixed messages from the experts. Masks work. Masks don’t work. Lockdowns work. Lockdowns don’t work. On-and-on, ad nauseam. Hydroxychloroquine showed promise but that soon became a political football and you were nothing less than a traitor if you tried it. Now there is the drug Remdesivir on the horizon but initial clinical trials with it have had some bad results. Some experts say we will get a vaccine (most likely a very expensive one). Others say there is no possibility of vaccinating for COVID-19. Who are we supposed to believe? Maybe its time to turn back to traditional, root doctor medicine. I don’t think that would involve copious amounts of hand sanitizer and masks. Perhaps the root doctor would strike out against the virus world’s closer, but American science is batting .000 right now, too. Certainly our modern day shamans would be more interesting than the pint-sized mafia don and his assistant with all the scarves who are advising us now. Postscript: The country root doctors from my high school days had two children (or, perhaps, grandchildren) who were students at UGA when I was there. The old man died and his wife called the students to tell them her husband had died. Both answered, ‘But he was here just now.’

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