Medical Travel: Bimini Colt & the Healing Powers of the Wieliczka Salt Mine – Part 2

In Part 1 of this interview, Bimini Colt already shared with us her past travel experiences and a previous trip to Switzerland that helped save her life which was in peril due to a congenital heart defect. Having suffered from serious asthma since she was a child, Bimini travelled to Poland in January of 2014 to get help from the treatment centre at the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow. These treatments have had a near miraculous effect on her health, and continue to have positive after-effects even after her return to  Canada.

1.                   What kind of effect did these treatments have on you while you were in Poland? And what kind of long-term health effects are you experiencing from these medical treatments? The effects of the salt mine on my lungs were immediately noticeable. Because I was breathing shallowly, the top part of my lungs felt immediate improvement. However, before long, I began coughing. This was a good thing, and meant that parts of my lungs that were always unused began working! My peak flow meter just prior to the first treatment was a frightening 70. The average for a healthy non-asthmatic woman of my age and height is 402-410. By my second week, I achieved and surpassed my goal – to get to 402.  I have maintained that reading with very few exceptions, even after my return to Canada. The key to my lungs still being stable is that I now know how to identify warning signs, even before my chest feels tight.  With the slightest feeling of being “off”, I will start the methods that I learned to clear mucus from my nose and chest, and soon enough, it clears up, and I’ve even been able to avoid a chest infection.  Because I still do get the odd asthma attack, it’s not considered an official cure, but to me, being able to control it when it does is come is worth its weight in gold… or should i say worth its weight in salt?

Bimini in a group hug with her doctor, physiotherapist and nurse at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Bimini in a group hug with her doctor, physiotherapist and nurse at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

2.                   What was your daily routine during your stay in Wieliczka? I would eat breakfast at 7 am, then commence a 10-15 walk through a picturesque pedestrian walkway to the Regis shaft of the mine, where all the patients met up before descending. Then around 8 am, we’d go down the elevator to the mine itself. 135 meters underground, and we’d walk a few minutes together to the treatment chamber. Once there, you can do whatever you want until the start of the physiotherapy group sessions. There are 2 of them, 1 right after the other, and most patients choose to do one or the other. Since it was very beneficial for me, I got into the habit of doing the 2 groups. They didn’t mind! After the group exercises, the nurse would administer the nebulizer (the mask with super fine salt mist to inhale) for me, and after that, the physiotherapist on duty would apply chest percussion therapy to help my lungs clear. This is done by the health professional cupping one or both hands and clapping on my back and sides of chest, usually accompanied by me either making vibrations through sound, or exhaling forcefully. Then I was free to enjoy the rest of the day until we went back up to the surface at around 2 pm. I feel it is important to note that these salt mine treatments are effective  for children, and indeed, from the age of 4  they are welcome there and have their own special group activities.

Bimini with Magda, her physiotherapist

Bimini with Magda, her physiotherapist

3.                   Please tell us about the accommodation and meal arrangements for this trip. Did you do any sightseeing as well? When you book a treatment with the salt mine, they include one of 2 hotels, the “Salt Mill Guest Rooms” which is the cheaper option, and the fancier “ Hotel Grand Sal” as well as the meal plan which either includes breakfast, lunch and dinner plus an optional “bag lunch” to bring to the mine. Or the half board which is breakfast and dinner with lunch on your own (you can also arrange for dinner on your own while taking lunch). It’s important to note that you can (for a very low price) purchase a hot meal when you are in the mine, so in my humble opinion, it makes full board unnecessary. And yes, I did do excursions. When you book the package, they include one free guided tour of the tourist section of the mine, so I of course took advantage of that. It will never get old. It’s fascinating every time I go down. I also went to the famous Catholic pilgrimage site of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa (1.5 hrs from Krakow). As a Catholic, I could not resist! I also did a very different tour of the mine. Far removed from the ordinary tourist route, I even mined my own salt. Totally amazing! I also went to the mountains near the Slovakia border. This was perfect for being at one with nature.

The breathtaking Chapel of St. Kinga inside the Wieliczka Salt Mine

The breathtaking Chapel of St. Kinga inside the Wieliczka Salt Mine

4.                   You mentioned that you had great experiences with the people in Poland, both with the other patients as well as the medical staff. Please tell us about some of the positive experiences and long-term friendships that blossomed. Oh , where to even start? The people of Poland touched my heart more than I could ever have imagined. They are kind and warm hearted, not to mention generous. My Polish of course leaves much to be desired, so it was difficult to properly communicate, especially with the patients who usually didnt speak English. But as I discovered when I was sick one day, distress and affection needs no language as most of the group tried to comfort me.  The staff was truly top of the line. All of them were amazing. As is the case many times in life, I bonded more with some than others, though truly, I will never forget any of them. Ones I’d like to mention are: Dr Marek Koprowski, whose soft-spoken, gentle manner and knowledge of the respiratory system I have always very much appreciated. He’s gone above the call of duty by actually speaking with me after hours, calming me down, helping me through breathlessness by being there. He even gave me an origami bird he made himself to symbolize my safe return home. I will never forget him. I could use up an entire interview of the people I love in Wieliczka, but I’ll try to keep it short.  If I don’t mention someone, forgive me. There is Magda, who was my main physiotherapist. I just adore her. Her quirky sense of humour and skill with the chest percussion and her kindness make me proud to call her a friend. Agata is a new physiotherapist who will go far in her field. She is sweet, skilled, gentle and hilarious, not to mention patient! I have actually made life-long friendships and I couldn’t be more blessed.

Dr. Marek Koprowski

Dr. Marek Koprowski

5.                   Please tell us of your spiritual experiences in Wieliczka. My first spiritual experience came when I went to the shrine of the Black Madonna, 1.5 hours away from Wieliczka. The whole place is deeply spiritual, with several churches and cathedrals, but the main attraction is the cathedral where the painting of the Madonna is unveiled, and literally hundreds of people are there, on their knees, praying and worshipping. It is sublimely beautiful and very moving. I got to attend mass there, take communion, and even received the blessing from one of the priests. Secondly, when I took the tour of the mine’s tourist route we visited several underground churches. I must explain… Mining was a tough living, and from the beginning, the miners looked to God to protect them. So they began building churches from the salt they mined, so they could pray there. The most spectacular of these has to be St Kinga’s chapel, which features chandeliers made from salt, polished salt floors, and religious statues all carved of salt, and backlit. To make it even more intense, when you are there, they shut the lights off and start classical music, and light up various statues in succession. It is completely impossible not to be moved by it.

Chandelier inside St. Kinga’s Chapel, all made of salt

Chandelier inside St. Kinga’s Chapel, all made of salt

6.                   You mentioned that you would love to visit Wieliczka again. What are your plans for another visit? And what other travel plans are in store for you? My dream is to go back to the salt mine. The place did wonders for my lungs, but a top-up is definitely recommended. I am planning a visit possibly for June, but it is not set in stone yet, so we will have to wait and see! It will be wonderful to be back there, especially now that I have become friends with the people. I miss them. As for plans, I won’t really know till I am there, when I travel, I let the mood hit me and I  simply see where it takes me!  Travel to other countries, nothing is planned, but you know, in the travel business, that can change very quickly. I’d like to end if I may with the traditional miner’s greeting in Poland…”Szczęść Boże” which means the simple but touching phrase “God bless”.

Bimini with a bouquet of paper flowers, a goodbye gift from her Polish friends

Bimini with a bouquet of paper flowers, a goodbye gift from her Polish friends

Thank you, Bimini, for sharing this inspiring story of healing and cross-border friendships with us. We wish you all the best for the future and hopefully you will be able to visit Wieliczka again in the near future.

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