This morning I straddle my bike and ride to Sellwood, eleven miles with the wind at my face. My naturopath meets me at the door with a hot cup of nettle tea, invites me into her stucco kitchen, toys strewn across the floor. You see, my child has been playing. Then we sit at her desk as she gathers her papers, small hands fluttering, white sweater pushed up on her forearms. We’d sent various bodily fluids of mine into the lab for testing a few weeks ago and the results have just come in. After four months, five years, three hundred full moons, a century of waiting, now she has the papers, now she knows everything there is to know about everything that is wrong, and has ever been wrong, with me.
MY PANCREAS. My pancreas is broken. I’d always suspected that it was held together with baling wire, plugging along on one rusty cylinder, and now I have the science to back it up.
“Chymotrypsin is a marker enzyme for pancreatic endocrine output. A low Chymotrypsin value is suggestive of poor pancreatic output of all enzymes.”
The “low” rating is 4 to 9. “Abnormally low” is <4. My rating is <3.
Basically, my body no longer makes digestive enzymes, so now I have to take them. A lot.
Parasites- Blastocystis and Endolimax, single-celled organisms that took up residence in my colon back in June, when I accidentally swallowed some water while swimming in my favorite Alaskan lake, the lake which I had nicknamed “lake lonesome”, because it had no name of its own. The lake where I swam every hot afternoon, where I parked my van after work, in the dust, and stripped down to nothing and swam the entire circumference of the lake, every day for six weeks, the lake where bank swallows fly low over the water, flashing their white undersides, and mallards raise their young, and the red-tailed hawk (sometimes two) will watch the ducklings from the top of a bunched and knotted spruce, and sometimes it would be windy and there would be little waves, and the waves would hit me in the face as I swam, and I would swallow water.
Funguses- also in my colon. A rhodotorula species and two saprophytic species. We look up “saprophytic fungi” on wikipedia, me leaning over the desk at Adriana’s computer as she clicks, and it says that saprophytic fungi are fungi that grow on felled trees, cow patties and fallen leaves. I imagine fruiting bodies in my colon, bulbous red with white spots, smurfs-styles. A forest! A forest in my colon. Felled trees and fallen leaves. Dappled shade.
Adrenals- My cortisal and DHEA are depressed, no, exhausted, and as a result, my body is overcompensating with norepinephrine, also as a way to regulate my blood sugar, which my pancreas is struggling with- and too much norepinephrine can cause, among other things, anxiety and insomnia, both of which I have struggled with chronically for the last four years. Also, according to wikipedia, norepinephrine can cause a decreased heart rate, which the chiropractor noticed, listening to her cold metal stethoscope, when I went in a few weeks ago to at last, AT LAST get my spine checked out, my spine which is doing some weird things that can also, according to said chiropractor, be attributed to adrenal exhaustion.
As my naturopath finishes telling me these things she pulls out a paper scrawled with notes and I say,
“Can a lot of trauma in a person’s childhood exhaust their adrenals early on? Like, exhaust them for the rest of their life?”
“Yes,” she says, looking at me. “yes, yes, yes.” She turns away to open a file cabinet. “yes, yes, yes.” she keeps saying it. She looks back up at me. “yes, yes.”
I want to cry.
“I had a really traumatic childhood,” I say. “I don’t even remember nine years of it. I ate trauma for breakfast, and pixie sticks for dinner. I always figured that was why my pancreas was busted, too.”
“Yes,” she says again. “Yes, yes. I know. I know! I had a traumatic childhood too. I know.” She puts the papers down on the desk. “I know.” Adriana is from Mexico City. Her mother was here last time I was over, making tamales in the kitchen. I’d asked her, then, how it was growing up in that city. “You get used to it,” she’d said. “you get used to it.”
Now I look over the paper she’s set in front of me. She zips up her black down vest, refills her teacup from a small ceramic pot. “The side door was banging open,” she says. “It took all the heat from the house.” She reaches out and runs a manicured fingernail over the words on the paper and explains each line to me, what the supplement is, how much I am supposed to take, and why. She stops halfway down, asks if its alright to go on. “I don’t want you to get overwhelmed,” she says. “this is a lot of stuff. If it’s too much we can just do some now and work on other things later.”
“No, no!” I say. “I’m not overwhelmed. I’m excited!” I want to dive headfirst into the paper like it is some warm secret bay and my seat is a barnacled, salt-crusted pier, half rotted into the sea. I want to savor this moment, draw it out, milk it for hours like an unexpected Christmas in mid October. I have been lost! I am stumbling, I have been lost in the wind-blown mountains, sheer rock all around me, and this is my topo map, the only topo map than anyone has ever offered.
Adriana resumes reading, and this is what she tells me-
THINGS I MUST DO
Take L-glutamine, five grams a day, six white capsules, for four weeks. it is the precursor to such-and-such and just might fix my stress hormones. (did you know, says Adriana, that most of our serotonin is stored in our gut? Did you know, that our gut is our “second brain”?) (If I feel wired after taking it I must stop immediately, a magnesium deficiency is possible)
Digestive Enzymes- always and forever, because I do not make my own. 1 with each meal and 2 on waking and 2 before bed without food and also 30 minutes before each meal and 1 ½ hour after also
Oil of Oregano- The most burniest stuff that every came from plants. See below.
Broad Spectrum Complex- small white bottle. Contains barberry bark, goldenseal, wormwood, garlic. Used in conjunction with Oil of Oregano. A barrel of gasoline to toss upon the quaint thatched homes of the protozoa, a book of matches with which to light them afire.
Fish Oil- is the Magic Snake Oil of 2009. I already take it, and will continue to do so.
Apple Cider Vinegar- 1 teaspoon ten minutes before each meal. To acidify the stomach, and to coax a few frail thrusts from the last rusted piston of my pancreas.
Probiotics- All the way baby, as intensive as it gets. Small foil packets sold in the refrigerator section, 25 bucks for seven. Each packet contains ten billion microscopic foot soldiers, strong young country boys from good homes, raised on yogurt and sauerkraut, armed to the teeth with munitions, ready to do battle in the only place it matters, anymore- your colon. Take no prisoners, raze those protozoa villages to the ground.
Tea- made from slippery elm bark, chamomile, fennel seeds, thyme leaves, the curled sticks of cinnamon. The consistency of egg whites, tastes surprisingly hot and good going down, reminds me of the time I made lube from flax seeds. 4 to 5 glasses a day.
Licorice tincture- for my dear adrenals. Two droppers in the morning for two months. Also, any and all adaptogens I can get my hands on- ashwaganda, astragalus, devil’s club (this one I can harvest myself), ginseng, gotu kola, Rheidol, rhemania, alma, Indian gooseberry.
And last but not least,
The Most Incredible Multivitamin I Have Ever Seen.
Adriana pulls it out from beneath her desk, a great hulking bottle, and pours me some in the bottom of a teacup. I drink it- it tastes, amazingly, like cloudberries- these small, dimpled, salmon-colored berries which grow here and there in the bogs of interior Alaska and actually, I noticed this summer, taste quite a bit like rhubarb pie- and instantly I get a bit of a body high.
“You need a good quality liquid multi-vitamin. This is what I take.” Adriana rotates the bottle on the table in front of me. “I don’t sell it to my patients because it’s too expensive and I don’t want to feel like I’m ripping them off. But this is very, very good.” I take the bottle from her and turn it over, squinting my eyes to read the ingredients. My brain has suddenly, somehow, cleared, and I feel GREAT. According to the label, the multivitamin contains, among other things, mustard greens, oxygen, and gold.
“I’ll take it,” I say, clapping my hands together. “How much?”
“Fifty-five dollars,” says Adriana.
I grin and nod, somehow happy, no, elated, to be spending this much money on a multivitamin. I cannot WAIT to drink my two tablespoons, first thing in the morning, just like Adriana. I cannot WAIT to see what happens.
I push money towards my naturopath and lift up the sheet with my lab results on it.
“Can I have a copy of this?”
“Yes,” she says, and slides it through her printer. I stuff my new supplements in my backpack and she hands me my copy, walking me to the front door. I hug her puffy down jacket.
“Let me know how you are,” she says. “I want to know how things are working out. I want to know what happens!”
“I’ll let you know,” I say, as I walk through her garden to the street.
“Where’s your bike?” she asks.
“It’s locked at the corner.”
“You know you can always bring it in the backyard.” she says, from the doorway.
“Ok,” I say.
I smile again as I cross the street to my bike. I turn the lab results over in my hand, and see that she’s copied them onto paper from her recycling, and on the back is an article on “Columbus’s role in constructing the fabricated history of the indigenous religions of the Caribbean”. Adriana’s clicking accent is still ringing in my head, the cadence like a two-step. The sun has come out for a moment, through the blustery clouds, and I am crossing the street in Sellwood with the big sunflower painted in the intersection, and there are ridiculously cute cob benches there, and ornate glass-paned free-boxes, and even a thermos of coffee and chipped old mugs that hang from little cob hooks, and a blackboard with some chalk on which, last time I was here, I wrote my favorite quote, from Keats, and which is now scrawled all over with hearts, and endearing, rain-faded hippie clichés- and I smile, and my chest is like a flock of crows, and I know that there is nothing wrong, I know that there is absolutely nothing wrong at all.