Friday, June 24, 2011

The Preference for Poison

The pharmaceutical companies might not have as much to worry about as they think from vitalistic health approaches.  It isn't because there aren't non-toxic or non-pharmaceutical alternatives to most of the mainstream treatments for major and minor maladies.  I believe that there is so much we can do with whole foods in various forms to prevent and heal damage that I feel compelled to study it with devotional zeal.  No, it is because a majority tends to view the allopathic approach as the "easy way." 

I was chatting with a friend whose father-in-law has AML.  He is in chemotherapy, but he isn't interested in modifying his diet or his lifestyle, and the prognosis is not promising.  The odd thing is, he feels terrific on the chemo, and horrible off it.  Now, the way chemo works, it is true that the nadir (rock-bottom) comes after the treatment, but I would not describe the experience of toxic drug therapy as "terrific."  No; "white-knuckled and teeth-clenched, grasping at the core of health lest I spin off into black misery" is closer to it.  And yet it is easier, psychologically, to undergo these treatments than to stop eating bread or drinking coffee (and don't even ask me about alcohol).  Whyizzat?
My Beautiful Bread!  How do I part with it?
There are deep cultural and social reasons, as well as individual psychological ones.  Many of them are well documented and explained in this article, which highlights the addictive and toxic characteristics of all the grasses we eat (including rice, corn, and any monocotyledonous foods), with wheat at the top of the heap.  (See also this for an explanation of the health dangers of whole grains, aside from gluten)  Read these essays.  They are stunning arguments for an immediate cessation of grain consumption, even for healthy folks.

Sustenance is the basis of much of our human interaction.  We identify ourselves by what we eat, and our cultural rituals are rooted in it.  To stray from the norm, and again from our own place of comfort, feels a radical act.  All addictions are ritualistic, and all rituals are habitual (with apologies to Jane's Addiction).  In order to change, what we are moving towards must become as compelling, or more so, as what we are leaving behind. 

This transition happens slowly, at least for me.  Now I am moving towards a paleolithic diet, in a household where my partner is a pesca-vegetarian and my children like nothing better than bread with butter and honey (NOT toasted, thank you).  The amazing thing is, it's working!  It is working because it finally made sense, on an emotional level.

It is certainly cheaper to heal yourself with food than drugs, but the pharmas have psychology and cultural identity on their side.  Until we identify this weight, we cannot unburden ourselves from it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ritual and Replenishment: A Few Thoughts on Surviving a Hospital Stay

My day is full of rituals.  (I feel like I am documenting them in my My Time-Lapse Life project, which is cool).  I used to make coffee and an egg; now I make a green smoothie and some tea, but the idea is the same.  The hospital is full of rituals, too, that became mine: the 5:30 am rounds of the phlebotomist, the routine vitals report every four hours, the 2am changing of sweat-soaked sheets and pajamas.

In my life, I have spent approximately seven weeks in the hospital; six of them were this past fall.  It is possible to make a home within those four white walls.  Here are a few suggestions, either of things that I did or things that I should have done, to make myself comfortable.  I hope some of them can be helpful to you. 

I know there are fancy hospitals out there; this wasn't one of them.  Picture fifties-era motel in forgotten tourist locale, and you have the image.  Nonetheless, or perhaps because of this, the medical and support staff were extremely flexible and accommodating.  I cannot say enough good things about Mercy Hospital.  Some of the following were their suggestions.

-Private Room
You may not have much influence here, but it's worth trying.  Your doctor, and the staff at her or his office that are making your "reservation" might be able to help.  Ask them.  Call the nurses station before you check in (this is wise as a confirmation anyway; waiting in admitting for several hours is pretty boring), and find out if you are in a private room.  At Mercy, the oncology patients are always in private rooms, and guests are welcome to stay.

Ask the hospital if you can have one.  They like to inspect it.  This way you can keep your own food or supplements at hand.  Hospital food is no way to get healthy; I became quite dependent on fish salad and ferments. 

-Pillows, Mattress Pads
The mattresses and pillows in the hospital are made of plastic.  You know why.  Even if you don't have the sweats from your treatment, you will from the bedding.  If your hospital lets you bring your own, I recommend it.   If you are sensitive to the chemical detergents and bleach used in the linens, you can bring those as well (don't forget a laundry bag).  If you are using theirs, ask the staff to put a flannel blanket under the bottom sheet.

My skin inflames immediately if I use anti-bacterial detergent soaps.  You will probably remember your toothbrush, but try to remember your soap, too.

-Pure anhydrous lanolin
Hospital air is awful, and the windows cannot be opened due to infection risk.  My skin got terribly dry, especially my lips and around my eyes.  The hospital will happily sell you moisturizers, but they are all full of petroleum and parabens.  Get pure lanolin at the drug store, or have someone bring it to you.

-Ipod, Ipod dock
All hospital rooms have televisions, but I don't like to watch tv.  I find solace in music.  Plus, hospitals can be noisy; the more sanctuary-like you can make your room, the better.

Do you really want to be in a one-size-fits-all johnny the whole time?  Some treatments require it, but if yours doesn't, I recommend bringing your own clothes.  And even if you do need to wear a johnny, you can still have your own shorts and bathrobe.

-Outside food source
Have I mentioned that hospital food is no way to get healthy?  I found a nearby cafe that specialized in local and organic foods, and would maintain a prepaid account in my name.  This way, friends could bring up a meal without having to front the cash, and I didn't need to keep cash in the hospital.

-Bottled water
The hospital will have this, but I recommend ordering several whenever you get anything from the kitchen.  That way you will have them on hand when you need them, and not have to wait for a nurse to get them.

Label all your stuff, and don't keep anything in the hospital that you would be devastated to lose.  My hospital was very safe, but things do get stolen.  You don't need cash or credit cards when you are there; get insurance on your phone.  It can help to tuck stuff into a drawer if you are leaving the room for a procedure.

Okay, so those are some mundane details, but the larger picture I want to paint is that of getting through the day.  I found my time in the hospital to be a gift.  How often in your life do you have no job but to focus on your own well-being?  That said, the whole environment can get a bit tedious.

-Create rituals.  I had several.  My grandmother gave me an electric kettle so that I could make tea (another reason to keep extra water on hand).  A couple times of day I could make a cup of tea and sit down with some blogs or a book.

Every night after dinner I got out of bed, unplugged my iv stand, stuffed the tubing into my bathrobe and strolled the halls in my Crocs (slippers or rubber shoes are great in the hospital - the floors are gross).  While I walked I would recite my mantra to myself - writing a healing mantra is another important ritual that I recommend.  The evening ritual made it easier to go to bed.

While it isn't an idyllic meditation center in Western Mass., the hospital can still be a mindfulness retreat.  There are a million little beeps and buzzers to act as reminders, and there is plenty of time.  I recommend sitting upright or lying flat; the semi-seated position that hospital beds encourage is not good for your spine or your energy.

Of course, I had books and magazines and movies too.  It all helps.

-Make friends with your nurses and support staff.
It isn't their fault you are sick; they are trying to help.  I liked the people I saw every day, and having their encouragement did make a difference.  Plus, when you are soaked in sweat at 2 in the morning or waiting for someone to empty the commode, you don't want to be on the wrong side of the staff.

-Pay attention, if you can.  If you can't, make notes.  If you are engaged in your treatment and ask lots of questions, especially when getting a medication, you will be more informed about what is happening.  Mention everything when the physician's assistant or doctor makes rounds - they don't always know what the nurses are suggesting and they might disagree.

The strange thing about in-patient chemotherapy, at least for me, was that I was usually feeling totally fine until they started medicating me.  My mind would be alert and active, my body would crave exercise.  Instead, I would be tethered to a machine in a tiny room.  Despite all that, I found ways to make my stays bearable and even restorative.

Please feel free to add any additional suggestions.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Right Now: My Time-Lapse Life

I sat down to write this post and this was in my blogroll.  Cancer is curable; please consider helping this young woman corral the funds she needs to tackle her illness outside of the toxic assault paradigm of allopathy.  No gift is too small; some of the largest and most powerful presents are just in the healing energy you can send.  Trust me, I know.  If you don't have any money, sit down and take a focused moment to envision her raising this money and getting well. 

She has moments to live.  So many.  I have often written about the importance of staying in the present.  Yesterday I began a new project with that in mind.  It is a Twitter-based micro-blogging art journey called Right Now: My Life In Time Lapse.  Or My Time-Lapse Life.  I'm still working out the bugs.  Each hour I take a single photograph from my phone.  Low-fidelity, no editing, no effects.  Point.  Shoot.  Publish.  If you are on Twitter you can follow it here.   I will be blogging the project once a day at

Never fear, I will still be writing my weekly Nourishing Path musings and nutritional adventures!  My Time-Lapse Life is part of my path right now, and this project is already amazing!  I hope you will join me!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grit Into Gold Dust: The Gift of Right Now

There was a time in my life when I thought I might be an engineer, or a pilot.  Perhaps I could have been a lawyer.  I have pictured myself as a professor, comfortable in a sinecure somewhere, elucidating the vagaries of Misesian praxeology or describing the subtle distinctions between Rembrandt's etchings and those of his followers.  At one point I was quite certain that I would be an equity analyst in some large New York firm; I chased that dream to the towers of lower Manhattan before backing slowly away.

Somewhere in the current of that stream I got married and had two children.  The life I pictured began to have other people at its center.  Wallace sawing away on a tiny violin, my children participating in the musical culture that is the center of our social life.  Staying up late watching nature documentaries with the older child, while John and the baby sleep, sharing fantasies about sailing to exotic places.  Someday, preparing food and offering solace to people struggling with the illogic of serious illness.
In my picture, my children don't attend school.  We sleep late on a Monday, make a snowman and a bowl of soup on a winter Wednesday; we never have the Sunday Blues.  So when I found myself too sick and too exhausted to be the primary source of a social structure and activity that my older child was craving, I fought against the option of offering him the local pre-K program; my children don't go to school.  As I began to look forward to the end of my treatment, though, I imagined recovering slowly, caring for a young toddler and a five year old without the amazing assistance upon which I had been so dependent during the Fall.  I suggested the school to my then-four-year-old, and was startled at his immediate embrace of it.

The school in this town makes it hard to be hostile to school.  With only about a thousand permanent residents and a strong social fabric, its little pre-K-to-sixth grade school is responsive, transparent, and nurturing.  Wallace can attend as many or as few days as he would like (this continues past pre-K, as well).  The peer environment is much like the ones I witness in families of many children, where everyone is a new friend and the older children willingly take the younger ones under their wings. 

With some trepidation, I enrolled him one day a week.  At his request, he is now up to three.  I think he would go all five if I encouraged it, but I miss him.  Childhood is short; I don't want him to spend his somewhere else, and I don't want it to end before it needs to.  That said, he is thriving, and he adores it. 

I woke in the quarter-light of pre-dawn the other morning, struggling with a strange conundrum. Why, if my child is so happy in school, and the school is such a positive place, am I still so resistant to it?  What are my fears?  As I began to parse them out, I realized that, although there are specific details and rationales, the root of it is that I had a different vision.  By spending my time in some other place in my mind, I forgot to be in the place where I am.  The place where everything is working, and everyone is happy, and every problem seems to solve itself.  That is always this place, when I remember to stay here.   

The person in the mirror always looks a little different than the one in the photograph; I struggle to reconcile the images.  It's like looking at one of those Magic Eye pictures, crossing my eyes until the real Sarah Thompson emerges (she appears to have crossed eyes).  A close friend once remarked that referring to past gaffes is a way of distancing ourselves from them, desperately hoping that the ability to recognize the errors proves that we are "cool" now, incapable of similar stumbles.  I think it can go the other way, too: by imagining a fantasy future we can fall into the trap of treating the grit of our present as a shortcoming from which we plan to escape.  The thing is, it only looks like grit beneath the broom; if I hold it in my hand, it turns to gold dust.

Do you experience friction between your reality and your vision?