My first contact was my friend Luiz Mella. He was a petroleum engineer who had worked in Caracas, Venezuela, where I had my practice. I had performed an emergency procedure on one of his sons on January 1, at 1:00 a.m., after he had his front tooth knocked out. I happened to have been at the same New Year’s Eve party, and it was impossible to refuse treatment. I was able to save his tooth, and the family had been so grateful that they showered me with new referrals and presents. When my wife and I called Luiz, he was so happy and immediately invited us to his home in Alto de Pinheiros. It was in the western area of the city, and many Americans and Europeans lived close to him. He was going to send a car to pick us up at 7:00 p.m.
A surprise awaited Dr. Finker and his wife, Daisy. After my call my Brazilian patient had called four other former patients and invited them to give us a super welcome. I considered that a great honor, and I told them Daisy and I appreciated the incredible architecture and enormous size of his house. It really looked like a mansion. It was beautiful. He now worked for a famous Brazilian construction firm and had evidently prospered since his last job. We had a ball! We drank, we ate, we danced, and after their children went to sleep, we settled down to talk.
I told them of my problem, which they must have noticed by now, and I heard several different opinions. One of my former patient’s sons was a neurologist, and he wanted me to meet with him. Another former patient, Juan Texeira, thought I should see a witch doctor, or healer, who lived in a nearby suburb and had performed all kinds of miracles. Juan spoke of a man who could not move his right arm, even after seeing many medical doctors and undergoing surgery, and he walked out from the healer totally cured.
Luiz said that there were many healers in Brazil, but there was a really famous one called John of God, who they said had cured millions, including Oprah Winfrey. He ran his house in Abadiania, Brazil, and called himself a psychic surgeon and a vehicle of God, claiming, “I don’t cure; I’m an instrument in God’s divine hands.”
When Luiz mentioned that John of God’s last name was Texeira, everyone started joking with Juan, whose last name was also Texeira.
“Hey, he is your relative! Why are you sending our dentist to a simple witch doctor and not to your cousin Texeira in Abadiania?”
Everyone laughed at this very Brazilian way of teasing.
All of them wanted to invite us to their houses, saying that their houses were better, bigger, more costly than the others’. They all gave me their cell-phone numbers. Finally, when they started to leave, I asked Juan to take me to his nearby witch doctor. I wanted to try him. He told me that he would set up a visit as soon as he got the exact information.
Luiz decided that he would drive us to our hotel. Luiz wanted to take off a few days from work and be our guide. He was so insistent that I agreed. How could I refuse? He was driving us in a beautiful new Bentley, and he wanted us to move to his mansion. I explained that we wanted to be near the downtown attractions and preferred to have some privacy.
“Please don’t take it wrong,” I said. “We appreciate your gesture.”
“Don’t worry. I perfectly understand you,” Luiz said.
Instead of taking us directly to the hotel, he drove us around the city and showed us Paulista Avenue. We drove by Jardim Botanico, Theatro Municipal, the Sao Paulo Monument, and several other places. The fact that it was late at night helped because the traffic in Sao Paulo was terrible, and it took forever to move around. At this hour all the streets were empty. Luiz described a special aura of emptiness in regard to getting cleaned and ready for another busy day.
The next morning we had breakfast and attempted to find a local English newspaper. We were surprised that few people understood what we were looking for. Finally we saw someone in the lobby reading Folha De S. Paulo. When we approached the man and asked where we could buy a paper, he smiled and took out the Rio Times and gave it to us. He said that he had read it. He invited us to sit down and asked us where we were from. We began to talk and tell him some of our goals in Brazil. He became very interested and told us that he was waiting for a friend to arrive from England, whose primary reason for coming was that his son had one day woken up with his leg all colored in red. No one had been able to determine the reason or the treatment. He wanted to try his luck with one of the many Brazilian healers. We asked him whether he lived in Brazil, and that made him start his story.
“No, I was born in Colombia,” he said. “After many years of work there and in Panama, I moved to the United States, where I started my passion: to visit every country in the world. That’s what I have been doing for the last sixteen years. So far I have been in one hundred seventy countries. I came back to Sao Paulo because my friend Frank O’Mally asked me for this favor. He has never been out of Great Britain. I have been searching for healers, and the most famous one is John of God, so I plan to take him there tomorrow.”
“Do you have an appointment?” I asked.
“No, I don’t know how this works. We plan to show up, and we have cash. They say that money talks, and Brazil is no exception.”
I really liked this man. He inspired us when he talked, and he made me feel like I had met a man of the world, someone who could instruct and advise us on our future plans. My wife and I decided to befriend him. My friends and relatives had always said, “You have the incredible ability to make friends easily, and that is definitely one of the recipes for your success.” We invited him to lunch, and he finally introduced himself as Leon Highman.
He soon became entangled in a never-ending, super-interesting conversation about the thousands of experiences he had had on incredible trips. He told us of three books he had written in Spanish: the first one of his adventures traveling with his wife and two children, the second one of his travels with his wife, and his last one of his travels alone. His wife had become tired of traveling. He promised to send us the three books or, if we wanted them immediately, to buy them on Amazon. This guy was extremely interesting. How I wished I had his stamina and quest for the unknown and the means to carry it out.
We asked for advice on where to eat, and he directed us to an Italian restaurant, Rascal. There was an all-you-can-eat salad, meat, and pasta selection. I tried that. My wife, who eats poquito a poquito, “bit by bit,” had a broccoli pasta. Our new friend, Leon, ate an osso buco, which he said was the best he had eaten in a long time. He finished fast because his friend was due to arrive from London, and we agreed to meet for dinner with his friend and his friend’s son, Otto.
We walked around the main streets. Our Brazilian friends had warned us not to look like tourists and not to carry visible cameras or phones. My wife was encouraged to dispense with her pocketbook and carry a small shopping bag instead. All major cities in Brazil were crime ridden. Poverty was at an extreme level. There were favelas, or slum areas, everywhere, and so we heeded the recommendation.
At exactly 4:00 p.m., Juan called and left a message at the hotel. He wanted us to call him back and meet him in a restaurant at 8:00 p.m. He had all the information we needed. When we arrived back at the hotel, we found the message and called him back. We told him of our new friend and the boy with the leg problem.
“No problem. Bring them to the restaurant with you,” he said.
We rested and got ready for another intense evening. These Brazilians look for any excuse to celebrate, drink, and party. Juan had told us to take a taxi to the Week Club Brazil. The hotel concierge encouraged us to go there for a special time. He said it was not too expensive, and we would see crazy people with crazy customs.
“It is superb,” he said. He must be getting a kickback from the place because he slipped me a card and said, “Tell the doorman that Alberto from the Hilton sent you.”
At 7:30 p.m. we met Leon, Frank, and his son, Otto. Otto was a really good-looking seventeen-year-old. He was the athletic type and was very friendly. Frank looked more like me—a bit overweight with acute hair loss, but with a brimming smile. It was difficult not to like him. We took a minibus taxi to our restaurant/nightclub rendezvous. Juan and his wife were already there and had prepared an outside table near the stage. We let Juan order for all of us. The food was amazing. It was a series of different small plates to taste, each one totally different and delicious. There was a combination of a bit of everything. I loved the one that tasted like eggplant, or baba ghanoush. I really liked everything. We then had some Brazilian beer called Brahma. It was cold and delicious with the food combination.
Otto refrained from drinking alcohol because different doctors had given him different diagnoses and prognoses. One physician had said that alcohol might cause the color to spread to the rest of the body. Some said the problem was gout, others said it was a strange type of cellulitis, and others said it was severe ischemia. Others blamed it on an insect bite or a blood clot. His foot was not painful or itchy; it had no neurological signs or symptoms. Over twenty physicians had seen his leg, and pictures had been sent to the major medical centers in the United Kingdom and some to the United States. No one had ever seen anything like it. The total change of skin color was the only symptom.
The show started. It was a potpourri of songs and Brazilian dancers wearing colorful garments. The young female dancers wore almost no garments. I must admit, it was a lot of fun. I almost forgot about my tremor problem and the reason why we were in Brazil. It felt like a carnival party in the middle of September. Carnival was in January in Brazil. But in this nightclub, it was carnival almost every night, or so it seemed!