Susto

Susto is a folk illness with strong psychological overtones defined as a "fright sickness" and (literally) a loss of soul from the body. A more severe and potentially fatal form is called espanto. Studies have confirmed that those individuals suffering from espanto do indeed have a higher index of morbidity and mortality when followed for five years or more. Diagnoses at the time of death have included diabetes mellitus, carcinoma, or liver disease. Those most likely to suffer from "susto" are culturally stressed adults--women more than men. Occasionally children suffer susto as well. The cause is a sudden frightening experience such as an accident, a fall, witnessing a relative's sudden death, or any other potentially dangerous event. Symptoms include nervousness, anorexia, insomnia, listlessness, despondency, involuntary muscle tics, and diarrhea. A diagnosis is made by the symptom complex and the associated history of a traumatic event. Oral remedies can be attempted such as teas of orange blossom, brazil wood or marijuana. An oral solution of figs boiled in vinegar is also felt to be advantageous. However the most effective treatment for susto is a ceremony known as the barrida or "Sweeping". The barrida should be done immediately after the traumatic event occurs and is optimally conducted by a curandero in his/her home. During the barrida, the patient recounts the details of the frightening event then lies down on the floor on the axis of a crucifix; the curandero may or may not have the crucifix outlined with aluminum foil or other shiny material. The patient's body is then swept with fresh herbs such as basil, purple sage, rosemary, or rue; an egg may also be used. While the sweeping is occurring, the curandero and other participants say ritual prayers in groups of three. The curandero exerts the frightened soul to return to the body. A single barrida is not enough; this ceremony is usually repeated every third day until the patient is healed. Wednesday and Friday are felt to be optimal days for barridas. In some areas, the curandero may also jump over the patient's body during the ceremony. Since an individual may be more susceptible to susto when away from home, a preventive measure is to carry a whole nutmeg during journeys.