This is my 3rd visit to Sri Lanka, but only my first for my ‘Me and My Mirror’ project. I’m on a bicycle again, this time, thankfully. I’m saving work in Colombo until I’ve maybe sharpened up my game again. So I rode 5 days up here to Jaffna on the very northern tip of the island-nation. Jaffna is Tamil heartland and the home of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Your Tigers are, I think disbanded; but Tigers can be secretive… they don’t generally announce when they are fucking off.
But the last firefights were not that long ago: North of Trincomalee between 2007 and 2009. Plus I was here in 2007 when the Tigers used 2 home-made airplanes (!!!) to drop a handful of large home-made barrel-bombs on the SL Air Force planes at the Colombo civil airport. They moved around in home-made submarines too. Do not mess with a Tiger.
So anyhow here I am and it’s goin’ really well. The whole NGO community has basically abandoned Jaffna; it’s not in the news, see. And they’ve moved down to Colombo (where? – see? It’s not in the news, but for the odd Horrible Giant Incoming Wave). So when the media leaves, so, by and by, do the NGOs. It kinda makes me crazy. I mean, when was the last time you read about Afghanistan? It’s not exactly ‘peaches and cream’ there, yet, after all that fucking shock and awe.
But I digress, which is what I do… Jaffna is a good place for me to work: there is plenty of ordnance still in the ground here and plenty of people mutilated by war.
Sri Lankans also seem to have a genetic pre-disposition to diabetes and other circulatory issues. That might be a naïve thing to say. But I’ve been around. I mean, their diet is not that bad (super-tasty, if you ask me… and lots of fruit… definitely not anywhere near as rich or fatty as N Indian cooking… right?) and the peeps in general do not tend toward obesity and sugar or sweets do not seem to me to be, like, hyper-prevalent and nor do they smoke much… as a rule and in general. Okay, the men can tend towards ‘paunchiness’, and sometimes to a comical degree… but a paunch is a different thing from what we see so very often in ‘Murica, and Canada, eh? So they just got a rum deal, vascular-wise. Cuz I’m treating a TON of vascular lower-limb amps. Go figure. I see people whose limbs are failing, in a vascular sense, absolutely everywhere. But that is someone else’s discourse. I just want to hit them on the head with a mirror if they are so truly unfortunate as to lose a limb. Bang.
Another week or so in Jaffna, then ride my bike down to these tough towns North of Trincomalee, where the weather right now is SHIT … there are, understandably Zero tourists… and where the last of the fighting was and the last of the bombs are.
Hopefully, this time I’ll have a tailwind.
For now, it’s 09h30 tomorrow at the ‘Jaffna Teaching Hospital’, with all the P Rehab Therapists and their #1 orthopedic surgeon. I’m stoked. That hospital, though, man, it’s like a Kafka story… a human jungle and the people are pretty much roasting goats against the perimeter wall. Which makes sense, cuz it’s shaded. And shade can be hard to find.
Urs always, Stevo
I’ve only just returned from a ‘Me and My Mirror’ combo-trip to both Lebanon and Ethiopia. And in an awful lot of ways it was my best trip ever.
I’m so happy. I’ve been bangin’ away at this for well-over 4 years now and have only now had a series of literally breathtaking breakthroughs.
First was Beirut and, though it was not the first time I have worked with/for/alongside the ‘International Committee of the Red Cross’; it was certainly the first time I have worked so complicitly with them and with their complete credulity and the estimable support of their entire Lebanese Delegation. I was brought in to present Mirror Therapy at 5 or 6 distinct yet interdependent lecture/seminar/workshops all connected to a congress the ICRC assembled called: ‘CLINICAL MANAGEMENT OF WEAPON WOUNDED PATIENTS’. It was convened in conjunction with the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the Lebanese University and, under their aegis, I was able to present to both Prosthetic and Orthotic (P&O) specialists and trauma surgeons from all over the extended region: Lebanon, Syria (both Damascus and Homs), Iran, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and others besides. I was able to present the therapy to a roomful of young Physio Rehab Therapists from ‘Handicap International’, with whom the ICRC partners, by-times, worldwide. I held forth in front of 200 rehab therapy students and the Dean and faculty at ‘Beirut Arab University’ (my favorite presentation; the kids were Totally into it and had lots of questions and quite a few trick ones).
I was able to visit the ICRC’s ‘War Traumatology Training Center’ in Tripoli, Lebanon (there’s one in Lebanon too). They have 4 or 5 Rehab Therapists there who had, unbeknownst to me, already embraced mirror therapy well before my visit. One of the guys had been to an ICRC gathering in Cambodia and seen my work there and became inspired. They had their own mirrors and, within the simple treatment, developed their own new little protocols – advancements – things I had never even considered. It was so cool. I was so flattered and impressed and inspired all at once.
Gunshots, shrapnel, landmines, propane explosions, vehicle accidents, diabetes and other vascular stuff, 3 pack-a-day smokers. These rocking therapists were using the mirror on them all and getting results; some of the patients were teaching other newer patients when I walked in the room.
One of the best experiences in the history of my little outfit.
We treated some folks in a regional hospital in downtown Beirut and a bunch up in a clinic in the infamous Bekaa Valley up on the Syrian border.
A huge amount of sadness too: a 20 year-old Ethiopian run-away and abused domestic slave who refused to allow her necrotizing foot to be taken off; the guys who stepped on mines just trying to escape out of conflict and into Lebanon (where 1 in 4 people are, now, Syrian). And the kids, man, the infants. Club foot, polio, congenitally disfigured, cerebral palsy, umbilical strangling… the list goes sadly on. And so it goes. For lots of little ones there is, of course, nothing I can do, which hurts all the more.
So, sadness and tribulation galore; but I ended my visit (my 1st to the Middle East) on the highest note imaginable and my effect – and the effect of the mirrors! – was palpable enough that I have been invited back in mid-May to present the technique at ‘The First Global Conflict Medicine Congress’, which is sponsored by, among others, the ‘American University of Beirut’, probably the most prestigious and oldest university in the Middle East. So everything is on the up-and-up… finally.
I chose to take advantage of my presence in the region to revisit one of my favorite countries: Ethiopia. I spent a bunch of time in the capital and visited the Huge regional hospital in Addis: ‘The Black Lion’, which harbored plenty of sadness too. I visited the ‘Korean Hospital’ and 2 other private clinics.
Ethiopia is convulsed right now with a lot of civil unrest and the consequent police/military lockdown, the so-called ‘National Emergency’ that sometimes never goes away.
So, both hard and probably dangerous to get around. Social Media blocked, internet disrupted, power and water outages, popular media totally controlled, trails of blood leading to disappearing paddy-wagons, firing on crowds and no rubber bullets at all.
But I was able to look around a little bit and a newfound Ethiopian friend took me down to a southern region around the town of ‘Gesuba’. It was a fabulous experience in every regard, but, in terms of mirror therapy, a heart-warming one too. I treated one woman who had somehow heard about me (after a somewhat festive night with a number of local guys). The next morning she hobbled in on a crutch, suffering from brutal phantom pain after a recent BK amputation – the result of a cut that went septic. Then came a small stream of other supplicants; I felt like the Pied Piper, and it wasn’t the first time. Very gratifying stuff.
During my last days in Lebanon I was – out of the blue – contacted by the people at ‘National Geographic Explorer’; their film documentary department. And during my whole time in Ethiopia we were exploring the possibility of Nat Geo filming ‘Me and My Mirror’ at work in Lao, a place where I have worked before and a place that America unaccountably attempted to destroy with hundreds of thousands of criminal aerial bombing missions (see: The Secret War). The possibility is now a certainty, and within the next 2 or 3 weeks we will be flying to Lao to shoot.
So, as you can see, things are going real good, and these, truly, are the days.
I have a vast number of people to thank, and they know who they are. Chief among them though would certainly be Mr Didier Cooreman, Physical Rehabilitation Project Manager for the ICRC in Lebanon, and also the entire delegation there and, for that matter, the ICRC in general. Locally, in Vancouver that is, I received a big bump of support from numerous people: Rainer Muller from Parc Retirement Living and Lifetime Daily – an online magazine devoted to providing current health/nutrition/fitness and science to active people ‘of a certain age’, David Hollands and wife Carol Prantner, Michael Short from False Creek Fuels, Kevin Nash and George Bartel of CANTRAV, who flew me there! Without help from these compassionate and generous people this trip would never have happened. Bottomless thanks are also due to the inimitable Rosemary Yip, who has supported me – with and without and above and beyond the mirrors – in every conceivable sense.
Without the support of the above-mentioned – and many others besides – the mirrors would have died an agonizing death sometime this past autumn. Thank You from the Heart! J
I’m on to Plan “B” here, but it’s a good one.
In the first week of October I will be flying to Beirut in order to take Me and My Mirror on another road-trip.
I will be working, at first, under the aegis and with the invaluable assistance of the International Committee of The Red Cross. They have invited me to present mirror therapy methodology workshops to a congress of their physical rehab therapists and surgeons from all over the world. It’s a massive chance for massive outreach and a big spike in credibility, visibility and, I hope, sustainability – there’s that magic word.
My next task there is equally exciting. The Red Cross has offered me access and support to ride my mirrors into the enormous and swarming Syrian refugee camps along the famous Bekaa Valley.
Every fourth person in Lebanon now is a Syrian refugee. They pour in daily along the 360 kilometer-long border and pour is too from the street-fighting in Tripoli and other regional conflicts. And plenty of them are wounded and plenty of those are new arrivals to the world of amputee-ism.
Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today – and is so by a Middle Eastern Mile. There are over 9 million Syrians in need of both aid and protection. I’m stoked to do my tiny bit.
There are plenty of hospitals and clinics in Lebanon where I will have access and a chance to lay down some mirror therapy and a big whack of goodwill. In addition to all this largesse, the ICRC has also given me the opportunity to present at their ‘Weapons and Traumatology Course’ in Tripoli and to take the treatment to the city’s hospitals. Major.
From there I hope to push Me and My Mirror along the road to Gaza City in Palestine and continue work with both the ICRC and Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). And if funds hold out I don’t know why I wouldn’t push on into the ‘Horn of Africa’ and try my luck with Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and the Sudans. At least those are my intentions, hell.
Okay, let’s get the ball rolling here. It’s time to saddle up and take a big batch of mirrors on the road.
A brand-new trip to some all-new places and departing very soon indeed. I’m gonna load up the cargo bike and head out on my most ambitious trip ever November 15th. A fabulous NGO called ‘EXCEED’ (the former Cambodia Trust) operate Prosthetic and Orthotic schools – a 3 year program – in 5 countries throughout S and SE Asia: Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia. The graduates are then qualified to fit, mold, assemble and design all manner of artificial limbs and orthotic supports and braces. The students generally come from parts elsewhere in the ‘disadvantaged world’ and will take their new expertise yet further afield.
Your prosthetist, the technician who builds your new limb for you after your traumatic loss; he or she is going to be one of first and most important people you will meet in your new and challenging life as an amputee. Right? If I can teach/train these technicians Mirror Therapy to combat Phantom Limb Pain in their Brand New patients… right at the beginning… how Golden is that? Maximum Dissemination to the people who Most Need It. Boom!
So that’s what I aim to do: visit each of these P&O schools in each respective country and spend, say, 2 afternoons training them in the therapy and treating whatever in/out patients are there at the time. I’ll arrive on a bicycle on my own steam – it’s a major motivational tool of mine (plus it’s a lot of fun) – with a rack-load of free mirrors which I will in turn leave behind for clinical use and incoming amputees. They can loan out the mirrors the way a library loans books. That’s pretty cool too.
Then, I’ll take the opportunity of being ‘in-country’ and take the bike and a fresh load of mirrors into the provinces and visit as many hospitals and clinics as possible, plus directly to the poorer amputees right in their own villages. Relieving amputees of phantom pain and bringing a little joy all along the way. It’s magic. The best idea I’ve ever had.
It’s bold and ambitious and totally possible and I’m going to need a lot of help. For starters, I’ll need funding; I’ll need money. There’s a ‘DONATE’ button on this page. Please dig a little into your wallet and help a man achieve a really meritorious goal. One mirror costs, like, 10-20 dollars (depending on where I make them). And one mirror can make one amputee’s life worth living again. I’d hit that! Again, departure November 15th.
Yours as ever, stephen