The Snake Dance

Vatsala Sperling
Written by Vatsala Sperling

A beautiful story that won third prize in the First International Homeopathic Short Story Competition.

I had just returned from a two month stay at a homeopathic research center in India and have seen the meaning of a ‘busy’ practice. Could I ever get that busy? Personally, I could handle a busy practice, but my office manager, Nancy, would feel pulled out of her comfort zone if the practice got that busy.  So, I was learning to be content with a ‘slow’ practice and enjoying the rhythm of life dominated by Nature. Spring: Think about new beginnings. Beware of mud and deep ruts where your car can get stuck. Watch daffodils bloom. Wipe the dog carefully after every walk or else your house will look and smell like a mud pit. Plant your garden.  Summer: Look out for deer flies, noseums and the hornet nests hidden in the ground. Swim in the rivers. Fall:  Enjoy the changing colors. Rake leaves and then rake some more. Dig out potatoes. Put the garden to sleep. Wait for the first frost and the freezing rains. Winter: Shovel snow. Watch for ice on the roads. Keep the fireplace running. Keep hope alive. Know in your heart that seasons always come to an end. It is a cycle. One must come and must go to make room for the others to come and go. It is Nature’s Law. You don’t question it, fight it, like or hate it, you just surrender to it.

This was a fall day. Most leaves were off the trees and on the ground. The trees stood naked, their brownish gray branches and trunks blending with the ominous sky that promised a lot of slow, cold rain. I saw a tiny leaf detach itself from the birch tree by the park across from my office, swirl in the breeze, and land gently and with great precision, quite in the center of the window pane that faced the village green, it’s yellow, smooth, upper side facing me.


Just as the seasons changed, the cases I saw changed too. Spring: Colds and flu from staying in-door, and from being reckless about cold nights and warmer days. Summer: Skin complaints, digestive troubles, bites, stings, ear infections, and aches and pains from hiking, biking and gardening. Fall: Colds and flu again. Winter: Weight gain, seasonal depression, lethargy, falls, pulled tendons and ligaments from shoveling, skiing and snowboarding. Sprinkled here and there were chronic cases with various complaints and a life-long history of medication. Some old folks in my practice were in their eighties and they came by once in a while. They always said they were getting better, but they felt that could use some extra help here and there and that my remedies helped them. They asked me if it would be okay for them to pay me in kind sometimes, say, a fruit cake just after Xmas, a few bottles of home-made jams using berries that they harvested from their own kitchen garden, a few cases of freshly laid eggs?

For now, my patients were settled.  I had received the seasonal gifts of apple pies, and home baked cookies for making them well. Children in my practice were over their soccer season. Their sports-related injuries were healing. They were happy in their schools and waiting for the winter when they would make a snowman and go skiing. This seemed like the perfect time to call in Nancy and make travel plans.

Next morning, Nancy greeted me bright and early, ‘You are leaving this Saturday and arriving in Rio Piedra, Costa Rica, on Sunday, by 4:00 PM. I have asked Gary Russo to attend the call-in sessions three times per week. His ex-girlfriend will be house-sitting for you for the eight weeks you will be away. She needs forty dollars per day from her house-sitting job so that she can pay her dog-walker. She has five Great Danes. You do not want them romping in your building and sitting on your furniture. Rio Piedra does not have a homeopath. You could set up an office at the cottage of your host family that I found on the internet. They have agreed to the clinic on the condition that you would treat them for free. I am packing your remedy kit and have asked Helios to air-mail you remedies that you do not happen to have and may require. They will airmail remedies to San Jose and from there it is up to you to get it somehow. Your rental car is booked.”

I loved Nancy’s efficiency and meticulous attention to details. Only, I could not take her with me. She had a husband at home who thrived only when receiving her adoration and affection, and while he did not want any kids, she had succeeded in making him a father of four brats. Her family needed her a lot.

As I drove my rental car from the airport to Rio Piedra, I noticed a sign by a gravel dirt road that led into the village, “Baby plants. Warm café. Talk English.  For sale”. I nodded to the sign, ‘I speak English’ and made a note to myself that I would stop by within the next few days.

Rio Piedra in Costa Rica turned out to be quite rural and not very different from the little village where I lived in the US, except that at this time of the year, there was no snow and freezing rain to think about. It was warm enough. I did not need anything more than a very light jacket. The center of the village consisted of about thirty houses scattered on sprawling fincas that dotted the highlands way above the river bank. A tiny, handmade bridge with no railings, dangled across the river. The residents of one side walked over to the other side of the river after crossing this bridge. The local church was on one side, the one and only grocery store was on the other side, and so, people used the bridge throughout the day. This was the downtown part. The suburbs consisted of farms and pastures spread over thickly wooded and hilly terrains further away. Beyond that, on one side there was an un-disturbed swath of rain-forest that was assigned by the government as a reservation for Maleiku, a tribe of Costa Rican native Indians. On the other side there was a man-made lake that produced electricity for the country and supplied water for irrigating the dry lands by the beaches. A two-lane, immensely potholed, partially and very thinly paved road ran right through the middle of the village, alongside the river, and this road was the only highway that connected Rio Piedra to the rest of the country, and the world.

It took me less than an hour to settle into the cottage that Nancy had rented for me. It was just enough for one person. The front deck led into a small sitting area that served as my clinic. A kitchenette was in the adjoining room in the back. Opposite this I had a small and cozy bedroom with an attached bath.

My host family had several children all quite close together in age. The parents, Mrs. and Mr. Gomez seemed rather young to have had all those children. I learned later that the household was actually multi-generational. A few of Mrs. Gomez’s daughters lived in the same house. Some of the very young ones were in fact Mrs. Gomez’s grandchildren. This large family lived in a brightly painted, very neat house quite close to my cottage. As if the kids were not enough, they also had a few horses, goats, cows, chicken, pigs, dogs and cats. There was an enclosed greenhouse where tropical birds could fly about but not fly away. There was a little pond for the animals to drink water from. Mrs. Gomez raised a few ducks as well as fishes in there. This family enjoyed gardening very much. There were several compost piles and patches of vegetable garden scattered all over the land.  In all, this setting resembled a very happy-looking-zoo-and-working farm combo where the animals and children roamed freely all over the place. My hosts had agreed to provide me with three meals, laundry and housekeeping services for a very modest amount that Nancy had pre-paid. I was supposed to eat with the family. As I drove in, I smelled coffee being brewed and within a few minutes a little boy appeared at the door, knocked gently and said, “Quiere cafe?” I learned that Costa Ricans drink coffee all the time. It is rude to say no when coffee is offered, unless you could produce a doctor’s certificate saying you had bleeding stomach ulcers and coffee did not agree with you.

As I unpacked and placed my remedy case over my desk, I recalled how, in the US, where I worked as a full time homeopath, I had to explain to people about homeopathy because they often asked, ‘what is it anyway?’ As I tried my best to make an interesting explanation I had often noticed the questioner’s eyes glaze over and dreamily focus on some distant object in the outer space. In Costa Rica, as I would learn soon, I did not have to explain. Rural Costa Ricans did not ask many questions. When I asked them questions like ‘Stomach pain – how does it feel? Where and since when do you have it? What time of the day or night? What makes it worse or better? What was going on in your life when your stomach pain started? What else is happening besides your stomach pain? Could you tell me a bit more about how your stomach pain feels? Is it burning, sharp, pulling? What part of your stomach hurts? Could you tell me little more?’ the Costa Ricans’ eyes would glaze over as they would mumble under their breath, ‘es este loco’ and then say, ‘No se’ to all my questions and then say, ‘Just my stomach pain. Can you fix it now –right now?’

About the author

Vatsala Sperling

Vatsala Sperling

Vatsala Sperling, RSHom (NA), CCH, MS, PhD, PDHom was the Chief of Clinical Microbiology services at a children’s hospital in Chennai, India, where she published extensively and conducted research with WHO, Denmark. On moving to the USA to start a family, Vatsala pursued an education in homeopathy in Misha Norland’s school. An author of eight books ( and many essays and articles in the field of homeopathy, spirituality and health, Vatsala continues to study with several teachers as well as Drs. Bhavisha and Sachindra Joshi and practices classical homeopathy in Vermont. She has served on the board of directors of North American Society of Homeopaths and she is currently volunteering in the case review committee of Council for Homeopathy Certification. Vatsala can be reached via her website (


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