Long before the term “alternative medicine” came into vogue—and we’re talking about centuries, not merely decades—New Mexicans were using herbs, potions, massage, and incantations to cure what ailed them. They came not from acupuncturists, aromatherapists, or biofeedback, but from Hispanic curanderas, medicine men, and other native healers who have long been an integral part of New Mexican society.
Some of their therapies—Echinacea and goldenseal for colds, for example, or St. John’s Wort for depression—have been “discovered” in recent years by traditional Western medicine, much as Columbus “discovered” an America that had been home to Indians for centuries. Those particular remedies are so common these days that you can usually find them in your local Walgreens.
At last count Santa Fe was home to six licensed schools of alternative/natural/holistic healing and massage, many of them with international reputations. Northern New Mexicans seem comfortable with foregoing the customary white coat, black bag, and medical degree of European medicine for less institutionalized healing methods such as acupuncture, Ayurvedics, herbs, and bodywork—no doubt because non-Western doctoring has a formidable history here. Of course, Santa Fe has always been a beacon for alternative lifestyles and ideologies; hence, its nickname, “The City Different.” But long before some smart marketing person came up with that sound bite, both the ailing and the healers made northern New Mexico a destination to fulfill their medical destinies.
For some, fulfillment may come in more conventional settings such as hospitals and doctors’ offices. While Santa Fe has only one hospital—Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center—there are a number of medical centers and clinics in town as well as a healthy list of M.D.s from which to choose, whether you’re looking for a general practitioner or a specialist. And choice is certainly the operative word. St. Vincent has a number of publications that rate New Mexico physicians, including one put out by Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen called Questionable Doctors: State Listing for New Mexico and The Best Doctors in America: Central Region, by Steven W. Naifeh. (For more information about St. Vincent’s medical library, see the entry for Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.) Or you can pick your doctor the old-fashioned way—by word of mouth. If you can’t wait for an appointment, you can get same-day medical care at a number of locations, including Christus St. Vincent, Lovelace Health Systems, and La Familia Medical Center; see the write-ups in this chapter for more information. In the meantime, here are a few places to start: