Finding New Hope for Community in the Pharmacies of Old

When you think of a pharmacy, what do you think of?

Community? Herbal remedies? Discussions about the events of the day and issues facing the neighborhood?

I certainly don’t think of my local pharmacy that way. In fact it’s about as far away from those things as I can imagine. However, this was not always the case. Not that long ago pharmacies were a place for all those things mentioned and more. They held a vital role in the community beyond simply a place to get medicine. People of the neighborhood came to learn and share. They came for healing. They came for information about what was effecting the community as a whole.

Very different.

For the next month I get the chance to travel around Puerto Rico. Before you grit your teeth and curse me, there is a work component. Not all beach combing and sun tans if that takes the sting away a little.

Part of the trip is focusing on health and wellness, learning from different healers as I travel around the island. As a result I am searching out interesting spots that may not quite be on the general tourist to do list. I’m like that anyway, but for this trip I am making an extra effort.

When my wife and I looked at things to do in Old San Juan, something curious caught my eye. Museo de la Farmacia showed up on one of my searches. I thought how perfect. A Pharmacy Museum. I have to check this out for Dr. Miller and Organic MD.

Why? Well Puerto Rico has a long heritage in the use of medicinal plants and natural remedies for healing. I wondered what a museum like this would show in terms of these remedies and what role the pharmacy played in the history of the island.

The Museo de la Farmacia is part of another museum called the Casa de la Familia Puertoriqueno del Silo XIX. Basically it is a model of a 19th Century home showing what life was like for a family in Old San Juan at that time. As with many homes of the era, the first floor often was the business of the family living upstairs. In this case, the pharmacy served as the family business for many years.

Currently the 19th century home part of the museum is closed for renovation, but not the Museo de la Farmacia. Our guide Yolanda spent an hour weaving the story of the actual pharmacy that existed in the space and the day to day rituals that occurred there. At that time in history, a pharmacist often had extensive training and education. More education than the average member of the neighborhood. Because of this the community relied on the pharmacist for a number of services in addition to what medicine to take for a condition. The pharmacist assisted with teaching children reading and writing, conveying important health information through classes and community meetings as well as playing a role in the political events occurring for the neighborhood.

An aspect we found most compelling was the community that grew around the pharmacy. To understand this you might want to dispel the idea of the chain store pharmacy we are accustomed to now in the United States. In fact the chain I’m thinking of has many products to sell outside of their pharmacy component that seem to have little to do with health and wellness. If I truly have a health related question, this store would fall at the bottom of my list of places to go for information.

A reason why this notion of community support and education stuck me connects to what we try to do here at Organic MD. Our hope is to be a resource for people. A place where people can find support with their health and wellness. Where they can get safe, reasonable suggestions and not feel alone in their process.

Community is essential for wellness. To see and be seen. To have our challenges welcomed and explored from several different approaches. Given how much wisdom exists in the world around health, it’s good to have a place you can go to learn about that wisdom. People for thousands of years have used holistic methods to recover from illness. They use a variety of remedies that support the body to find healing. Our hope at Organic MD is to be a place for people to come to link into that wisdom so they can flourish.

Yolanda shared that the pharmacy of old was a special place. Although an aspect of this is gone, it is not lost. She said there are places in the city still keeping the spirit of the local pharmacy alive. Places that encourage education and knowledge about wellness and openness to natural remedies. We felt reassured about this.

If you’re ever in Old San Juan, check out the museum. It’s not a big museum but if Yolanda is working you will feel like it is. Her hope is to restore interest in this lost aspect of her culture and we hope she succeeds. You can call the museum at 787-977-2700. It located at 319 Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan. They are generally open 1pm-4:30pm Wednesday through Sunday. Check out this page for info on all the museums in Old San Juan (click here).

What is your pharmacy like where you live? We’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let us know.

Be ready for further updates on the Puerto Rico adventure.

Until then – To Your Health

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