The Bloods, Crips, and Basil

Posted: Aug 14, 2012
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I get to meet some very interesting people on my ER overnight shifts. I realize that my role is often that of an educator – but frequently I learn something from them.

I recall one client. He was homeless. After I introduced myself he advised me that he was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, infected with hepatitis C, and suffering a wicked tooth root abscess (which was why he was drunk and also taking pulls from his whiskey bottle during the visit). He was mostly lucid for our discussion and was very forthcoming about his lifestyle. I was intrigued. He spoke about how important it was to protect his dog’s paws from the dangers of the pavement (gasoline, oil, glass). To ensure that she and he stayed warm at night they would share his sleeping bag each night – so it was equally important to keep her and her feet clean.

If and when either of them suffered scrapes or minor lacerations, he had a homemade first aid kit to remedy it. He would chew up basil leaves to form a poultice and pack that in the wound, changing it as needed. Basil leaves? That fragrant herb is a mainstay in my kitchen – but my medicine cabinet?

A quick (and trusty) google search (I did a google scholar search so, umm, pretty trustworthy) and a PubMed (because I am a nerd like that) revealed informative support of the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of this plant as well as most other herbs that any Italian would have in their garden. This guy wasn’t crazy! He was brilliant! Getting back to ancient roots, he was a true urban nomad.

I thanked him for his enlightening conversation. He thanked me for helping out his canine companion. He then informed me that in all fairness he had to tell me the truth: 

“I’m in it with the brothers.” He whispered with wide eyes. I admitted that I had no idea what he meant by that. He gave me a condescending glare before he continued, “I owe the Bloods and the Crips several hundreds of thousands of dollars for my porn industry that went belly up. That’s why I’m taking my jet to New York tomorrow. I felt you should know since it’s very dangerous.”

I thanked him for the information and, realizing that our time was truly up, quietly slipped out of the exam room to type up his discharges. Through the peep hole in the door I could see him shaking his head, quietly sipping his whiskey.

Tsai et al. Immunomodulatory effects of aqueous extract of Ocimum basilicum (Linn.) and some of its constituents on human immune cellsJournal of Medicinal Plants. Research Vol. 5(10), pp. 1873-1883, 18 May, 2011