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Oils to the Rescue in Egypt

by Susanna White(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 45 - October 1999

There was an accident just waiting to happen. Sloppy tour guides abandoning us in temperatures of over 40 degrees and dodgy coaches. Thank goodness I'd brought my essential oils!

There is something intriguingly magical about Egypt that has fascinated travellers for centuries. Having read about the great temples of Luxor and Karnak, my sister Charlotte and I were looking forward to seeing them for ourselves. As an aromatherapist, I was doubly interested. The Egyptians used aromatics both in cosmetics and embalming, where oils were used to slow down the processes of decay. I even hoped to see papyrus documenting their medicinal plants.

I little thought I would have to use my own skills whilst out there. This was a holiday after all!

Susanna (left) & Charlotte White in Egypt, August 1995
Susanna (left) & Charlotte White in Egypt, August 1995

Sightseeing began immediately. Watched over by colossal statues of Rameses II we gazed awe-struck at the ruins of Karnak and Luxor. Tomorrow, however, was the big day – the Valley of the Kings. It was here that the trip went badly wrong.

Our troubles began at Hatshepsut's temple. Despite being told we weren't on the coach, the guide left us behind. Distraught, surrounded by hawkers thrusting artefacts in our faces, we managed to persuade another guide to take us on their coach to the Valley of the Kings. We knew that our group would eventually arrive there during the morning. All we needed to do was wait.

The trouble was the sun. An old Egypt hand on the plane had warned us about dehydration and heat stroke. Despite wearing hats, we'd been out in the sun all morning. We had also missed the visit to the marble factory with the opportunity to rest and have a cold drink. By the time we caught up with our group, both of us were exhausted and thirsty. This had a direct effect on what happened next.

Leaving the coach, Charlotte slipped on some loose carpeting, lost her footing and fell down the steps.

"I can't see properly," she complained, staggering to her feet and almost passing out in the process. Images of spinal injury flashed through my mind.

"Don't worry," the tour representative reassured us. "There's a doctor on board the boat."

Unfortunately, the "doctor" turned out to be the ship's captain. Confronted with Charlotte's condition, he declined all responsibility.

"I am not a practising doctor," he said. "But the nearest hospital is at Esna."

"Great," I thought. "What do we do in the meantime?"

As her vision returned, it became clear Charlotte was mildly concussed and suffering major bruising and muscle sprain.

Her back looked like something out of "Die Hard". The skin on and around the sacral and lumbar areas of her spine was broken and red. I expected massive bruising to develop over the next few days. Movement in both her pelvis and shoulders was agony but at least nothing appeared to be broken. With no first aid kit available on board, I wondered what on earth I could do. The holiday was a complete write-off with Charlotte in this condition.

Then I remembered I'd packed three essential oils ostensibly to ward off mosquitoes and the like – Rosemary, Lavender and Lemon.

Rummaging in my luggage, I found the Rosemary oil. As an analgesic, it is excellent for muscle pain but also stimulates the nervous system. Lavender is an excellent all purpose oil but it's particularly good for muscle pain and reducing inflammation. Finally, lemon stimulates the white corpuscles and promotes healing. There was one snag, however. Essential oils should never be used neat and especially not on broken skin. Three drops of essential oil to 5ml of carrier is the usual proportion. Rosemary especially should not be used in large quantities because it can cause fits or poisoning. As a haemostatic oil, lemon can be used neat on cuts to stop the bleeding, but only in small quantities as it can irritate the skin. The only exception is lavender. It is also recommended that a gap of a few days, preferably a week, is left before each treatment.

I was therefore faced with a dilemma. I had no carrier oil. Not surprisingly there was none on board either. I needed to treat Charlotte immediately for maximum benefits and because oils are powerful antiseptics. In hot climates, wounds fester quickly.

I decided there was only one thing I could do – break the rules.

To reduce the swelling I applied a cold compress soaked in Lavender and Rosemary and then set to work massaging her shoulders and back with a neat concoction of all three oils. I remember concentrating on my hands and trying to channel the pain and inflammation out of her body. Leaving her to rest, I took the risk of repeating the treatment before bedtime.

The following morning I took a look at my handiwork and was amazed. Apart from suffering none of the expected contra-indications, Charlotte's cuts and grazing had almost vanished. There was only a little trace of redness but none of the anticipated bruising. Mobility in the lower back and shoulders was also very much improved. Rest and repeated massage meant that by the time we got to Aswan, we were able to achieve a lifetime's ambition – a camel ride.

Aromatherapists will argue there is nothing new in using lavender and rosemary for muscle sprain or bruising. What was so totally unexpected was the fact that used neat, there were no contra-indications and the speed at which the injury healed was nothing short of miraculous. I've always had good results with oils before, but not like this. I was trained to accept that oils cannot cure, they can only alleviate symptoms. Since the Egyptian Incident, I have been forced to question this.

I believe that oils do have the potential to cure and this needs further research.

Or maybe there was some magic in Egypt of which I was unaware.


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About Susanna White

Susanna White has always been interested in alternative medicine and after gaining her Diploma in Aromatherapy now practices part-time along with writing. Susanna prefers to concentrate on specific problems. She says: "I prefer to put my skills to a practical and beneficial purpose. Giving a person a massage is one thing but seeking to help a deeper seated emotional or physical problem is a challenge I enjoy."

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