Note: The Clinic Memoirs are based on real experiences from Occupy Medical clinic, a free, integrated health clinic that serves patients primarily, but not exclusively, in Lane County, Oregon since 2011. The names of the patients and a few personal details are changed to protect patient identity.

When Gabriel wheeled into clinic, he had given up the idea he would ever be able to use his feet again. His legs were red, swollen and blistered. His feet were a yellowish gray. He couldn’t move them. They felt like plastic lumps at the bottom of his legs to him. He suffered from both diabetic neuropathy and poor blood flow.

Gabriel’s diabetes had taken a heavy toll on his body and his spirits. He slumped despondently in his chair. He had a lost look in his eyes. He was sullen and short tempered but he was here. Our clinic was, to him, a last chance to save him from surgery. His doctor told him they were playing the waiting game until his feet worsened enough to justify amputation. He’d seen other diabetics lose their feet. He knew it was a slippery slope he might not recover from.

Our clinic nurse set to work with him right away. The herbal team had a pre-brewed tea containing calendula and a few other herbs to fortify the foot baths we offered. The nurse was a little skeptical about the viable use of herbs in a clinic setting such as ours, but she was willing to work with what we had to offer.  She was an experienced wound care nurse. She rarely saw recovery when feet were as bad as Gabriel’s were. The herbs, in her opinion, couldn’t hurt. It certainly followed the “do no harm” model of medicine.

As Gabriel soaked, he began to brighten. He watched the staff flutter around as we attended to other patients. He began to loosen up and share his own stories.

After his feet were dried, the nurse coated his legs with a calendula salve. The calendula salve had a short list of ingredients: calendula, almond oil, beeswax and a few drops of essential oil. Petroleum bases simply coat the skin. Beeswax and natural oils soak in and bring the power of herbal healing to the core. Calendula salve was easy and effective relief for his diabetic leg ulcers. The topical treatment was coupled with internal supplements and dietary suggestions.

Gabriel showed up every week for his foot treatments. He was a joy to be with. He greeted us all with a smile and engaged those who had to wait for care in interesting conversations. In a month, the nurse pulled me aside.

“Did you see Gabriel’s feet today?” She asked excitedly.

I shook my head.

“He can move them from side to side now. The skin is turning pink again. He moved his toes too. I think he’s going to make it.”

Our nurse beamed with pleasure, then hurried back to her station. She stopped halfway back to the tent with her wound care supplies and turned.

“I need more of those salves.”

I nodded obediently. “I got it. More are coming.”

Calendula was turning her into an herbalist as well.