“But I’m not sick, Daddy. I just can’t breathe.”
“That’s still like being sick, honey. Your body probably doesn’t want you to breathe something that’s bad for you.”
"But it's allergies! How can plants be bad for me?"
"Your body knows what’s best for it. It's an amazing machine. It has evolved throughout thousands of years to care for and heal itself. Don’t fight it.”
Year after year, allergy season after season, that conversation repeated.
Dad and Mother were parents who flouted conventional science and treatment options, favoring instead unproven faith or non-chemical cures. With enough faith or time, they believed that God or the big Juju in the ether or nature would heal the affliction.
We were minimally immunized and children’s medications were rarely dispensed. There was a brief period when we were allowed children’s Bayer aspirin, then I got into it one night and ate all that delicious orange “candy,” and they never bought it again. Tylenol was the “most trusted” until the big tampering scare of 1982 and then that was never seen again in our home either. My brother was punched at a party when he was 15, two front teeth broken. Dad’s remedy? “The teeth will take care of themselves or die off and fall out.” Not a pleasant prospect for a young man. When my sister gave birth at 16, my parents argued with the physicians to deny her an IV or any medications (because my mother never needed them so why should my sister?). Toothaches were treated with clove oil or Jack Daniels applied to the gums. Headaches with orange juice. And allergies? “Your body will take care of itself.”
In 1994, my mother’s step-mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (except she and my parents couldn’t call it breast cancer because that was indelicate and apparently they thought we still lived in the 1940s). She was just sick. Enter Christian Science.
For month over month that my grandmother was ill, she and Mother poured over Christian Science materials together. Books littered our kitchen table with images of steepled hands over a background of light and sunrays with words such as “HEALTH” and “HEALING” boldly presented.
Grandma died. The message Mother took from that? Her faith wasn’t strong enough to save the only mother she’d ever known and she went through months of emotional self-flagellation, atonement, and inebriation for her past sins.
Ten years later, I was heavily pregnant and giving birth to my first son. Things went awry. Yes, with the benefit of hindsight, I see things that could be done that might’ve yielded a different outcome. But there I was, lying on a bed, prepped for a C-section. Within a short time, I was the healthy mother of a healthy son. When I called my dad, he asked “how was delivery?” I was ashamed to answer that I’d had a C-section, a feeling confirmed when he said, “Oh, honey. How could you do that? Don’t you know that having babies is what your body is made for?”
“Well, Dad, things weren’t going very well.”
He heaved a sigh. “I told you to stay away from doctors. They’ll always push you into these things.”
In spite of my two-day struggle to give birth and my infant son’s in utero distress, I felt Dad was right and that I was no more capable of making decisions than the baby I was nursing.
Three years later Dad was feeling run down, not too surprising for a 74-year-old man running a ranch and rental properties who subsisted only on orange juice, bacon, filtered cigarettes, Jack Daniels, and large salads with bleu cheese dressing. So he did what he always did: He tried to eat himself healthy. Suspecting a urinary tract infection, he swallowed half gram vitamin C horse pills twice a day chased with Ocean Spray cran-raspberry juice. Let the body do what it did best. It’d heal itself.
A few days later, he felt horribly constipated, probably the result of too much sugar and too little fiber, so he binge ate dark green salads with tomatoes and steamed beets. Eat the body healthy. It’ll be fine.
A few days later he was in intensive care. He had advanced colo-rectal cancer with tumors the size of a woman’s fist. They’d probably started growing 5-8 years earlier and could’ve been easily detected if he’d gone in for a single exam in the last several years. Dad had never had a physical exam, not one his entire life.
Once Dad was diagnosed, he went whole hog for medical science. If the cancerous tissue had been discovered earlier, it might’ve been removed minimally invasively, like a stealth military action with a tiger team of a few troops. By the time it was discovered, it took a platoon of troops with heavy artillery to treat him aggressively. He eked out another five years, most of which spent in pain, leaking fluids and gasses, or asleep. Had he known this is how life would be, he wouldn’t have made the same choices, even though it would’ve cost him time with his family.
After Dad passed, everyone took their own meaning from it: Mother believed she didn’t pray for or love him enough. A couple of sisters believed that Dad never exercised enough. One person believed it may have been Dad’s bad karma. A brother believed it was Dad’s drinking and smoking. Only a couple of us have said, “regular physical examinations could have saved him.”
So this leads me to my point which is to offer you these five golden rules of health, guidelines born of a family’s struggles to live healthily without becoming absorbed by the health system. They apply to anyone and everyone, no matter your health or faith philosophy.
- Get a second opinion. That second opinion is a physician. You may know your body best but a physician knows how bodies, in general, best. They also know diseases. You may think it’s no big deal and hopefully you’re right. Chances are, you are. But get a second opinion.
- Get a third opinion. Doctors make mistakes, no matter how good they are, because they’re human and that’s a fundamental flaw. Whether your physician prescribes something aggressive or conservative, get the opinion of another physician.
- Just because it’s suggested doesn’t mean you have to do it. I go through this with my husband all the time. We take one of the kids to the doctor and discover a chest infection or similar. The doctor often says, “I’m going to prescribe you a cough suppressant that’ll make him sleepy.” My husband always fills the prescription and dispenses. Me, I feel I have a choice. We always have a choice. The physician’s role is to inform us on what our choices are.
- Eat healthy, live healthy, think healthy, do the best you can. Books of epic length are written on this. There’s nothing new I can tell you. You know what you need to do.
- Don’t be afraid. Most people I know who are into faith healing, avoid doctors and question conventional treatment are that way because they’re afraid of death and illness. They want to bargain their way with God out of it or find that special holistic cure that will save them. There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way, but don’t let fear be the motivation because it’ll prevent you from informing yourself thoroughly of all available options. The bell tolls for us all eventually. Accept and embrace it.
Bottom line? I’m not against faith healing and I’m certainly not against seeking alternative therapies and questioning conventional treatment. But these are components, not the exclusive solution. Information and keeping an open mind is key.