It’s amazing how easily health can slip away, and all that you know, all the confidence you have to do something as simple as eat a piece of cake or have a cup of coffee, is lost. Something wasn’t right. My morning latte was literally taking my breath away. I looked suspiciously at my coffee and milk mixture but refused to blame this old friend. Around that same time, especially late at night, a feeling of impending doom often coiled in my chest and throat, like a tube tightening from within, which I eventually learned was acid reflux, and about one day per week I’d be completely wiped out with this debilitating, mysterious fatigue. At first none of this concerned me. I’d gained some weight by then and assumed the problems would go away on their own if I just shut my pie hole and lost the extra pounds. It wasn’t long, however, before I felt as if I were at the precipice of death’s door after every meal, struggling to get air into my clogged lungs.
I woke up angry.
The gastroenterologist who shoved a camera-tipped tube down my throat to scope out my heavily sedated body waddled into my room.
“You’re awake,” he said. He was built like a dishwasher, lethargic and sad, and moved with the swiftness of an insomniac. He didn’t exactly instill confidence. I wondered if he secretly suffered from fatigue, too, exhausted from having to deal with so many digestively-challenged patients, all sick from the Standard American Diet (SAD) and way of life. Apparently there were limits to what you could do to your body. With no natural predators or competition for food, nature still found a way to humble its inhabitants if self-discipline failed to come into play, proving the body was inseparable from the planet.
I tried to sit up and regain my senses. I felt as if I’d been violated, my body treated like a soulless corpse. I’d treated it that way myself, so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to end up on the surgeon’s slab. Now I knew how the planet was feeling, full of industrial byproducts it could no longer handle. The only question was whether or not the planet or I could be repaired to once again hum along in a balanced state, or had we been too badly damaged?
I remembered the endoscopic procedure like a bad dream, confused and unclear about what was real, like one of those nights I’d had as a teenager hallucinating on too much PCP, back when I’d treated my body as if it, too, were a planet I was disconnected from, but happened to temporarily reside in, and was good for experimenting with chemicals.
“You were a handful,” the doctor said, chuckling.
“Oh, we had to fight with you during the entire procedure.”
“Is that right?”
“Yep. Everything looked good, though.”
“Seriously? No issues?”
“A little irritation maybe, but no sign of Barrett’s esophagus. So that’s good.”
“So what now?” I asked, still a little groggy.
“Well, let’s do the manometry and twenty-four hour pH test and go from there, but since the drugs aren’t working I think surgery is going to be your only option.”
The surgery involved twisting my stomach around my esophagus to add esophageal pressure, choking off any uprising of acidic gas. How would this bring my body, I wondered, back into its naturally balanced state? Wasn’t this similar, I feared, to the Corps of Engineers putting in a damn without understanding all of the ecological ramifications down the road, causing an unknown number of problems?
“So how would this operation end my fatigue?” I asked the surgeon.
“You must have something else going on.”
I wondered how the two severe symptoms could be so disconnected within the same body. Wasn’t everything connected and influencing each other?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Let’s worry about the reflux first.” He patted my hand and was so calm and reassuring that it was tempting to believe him.
“What about changing to a whole foods diet?”
“Diet doesn’t matter,” he sighed, suppressing his exasperation from a frequently heard question.
By then I’d read enough articles from alternative medical publications to at least ask the question. Certainly a man in his position, who had devoted his entire life to the digestive system and sliced people open, risking their lives, had thoroughly studied the option of diet to come to this conclusion, hadn’t he?
I balked. Something wasn’t right. I’d always been suspicious of the god-like reputation bequeathed to doctors, especially surgeons, wondering if they were so focused on their specialties that they’d become glorified mechanics for the human body, understanding the functionality of parts – which was great for serious trauma – but with closed eyes and minds to the whole. They looked at symptoms like heartburn and shortness of breath and determined rising stomach acid was the cause – due to the failing esophageal valve – so they devised drugs to suppress the acid and surgery to tighten the muscle. But had they failed to view the entire picture?
What caused the muscular valve to fail?
Had the surgeon given up too easily on holistic repair (or even considered it), such as simply changing ones diet, and dismissed the possibility of processed foods or allergies combined with stress to wreak havoc on the digestive system as a whole, or how the entire system could get stuck in a continuous loop of negative signals from an anxious brain and cause the entire digestive tract, which the valve was part of, to weaken from all the duress and the body to grow tired? Maybe I just needed to cleanse the body in the same way our atmosphere needed to be cleansed of carbon dioxide (though hopefully my task would be easier).
I had to find out for myself if a lifestyle change was the answer before I let him so easily have control of my body. I went to the grocery to stock up on real food. I bought beans and rice from bulk bins, along with zucchini and carrots and apples, grass fed beef and naturally-raised chicken, all of it organic, and hoped they would act as a silver bullet solution, and not become a permanent lifestyle change, because I still wanted my old life back. I wanted whole foods to heal my body in a week or two so that I could continue with all of those favorite addictive substances that had practically defined my identity.
I didn’t want to change my ways, despite nature’s warnings: climate upheavals and the loss of species for the earth, trying to open our collective eyes, fatigue and loss of breath for my body, trying to open mine. But no one wanted to hear the planetary message, especially me. I’d never dealt with restrictions well. I wanted more, even to the detriment of the planet. I wanted the party to continue – the forces of growth rebelling against the desire for balance.