Recent discussion of Canadian Naturopathy caused this old memory of mine to surface, regarding a friend who nearly died because he had a treatable illness but was attended to only by a Naturopath. A stupid, badly dressed Naturopath who couldn’t drive for shit.
I won’t say his real name, because he’s reasonably well known, and I’m not sure how much he knows I know about this story. He was pretty private about it at the time, but when he was in the hospital still unconscious after the emergency surgery, his wife told me everything, much of which I already knew by observation, some I already knew by inference.
For years, John had the odd quirk of needing to eat alone most of the time. If he and Gwen were at my house or someone else’s house for dinner, he would eat, but not much. If we were at John and Gwen’s house, we would all eat together, but at some point John would disappear, like a character in The Indiscreet Charm of the Petit-Bourgeoisie, and come back later having fed in private. John was avant-guarde in some ways, but he was also very down to earth and I never thought of him as strange in his ways. True, he was a male hair dresser back when being a male hair dresser was culturally identified as ‘different’ but he had studied with some French guy named Vidal Sa-something-or-other (who would later gain significant fame) and he offset any sense of oddballness by being totally down to earth, clear in his thinking, and always charming.
I knew another guy at the time who’s name I’d happily mention if I remembered it. He was short, had long dark hair a full beard, wore a bowler type hat and a mumu-ish mexican print wardrobe. He was famous among those of us who knew him for having had the worst vacation ever in Mexico. He got a VW van, drove across the border down by Tubac, and immediately ran into some guy’s prize bull. The bull was killed, van was totaled, and bowler mumu guy spent several months in jail. Then, I think they were tired of him and they let him go. His motivation for going to Mexico to begin with was to commune with the Payote eating Indians of the region, as part of his studies in alternative ways of being. So it was not so surprising when he returned to New York and embarked on studies to become an alternative practitioner.
He became a Naturopath. And as it turns out, he was treating John for an intestinal disorder.
John could not eat more than a few morsels of food without eventually vomiting. He could eat anything as a very small quantity, then eat nothing for an hour or so, then eat again. But if he ate a stomach-full of food, within an hour or so he would experience intense discomfort and eventually throw 80% of it up.
It didn’t start out that bad. It got bad over the course of about a year or perhaps a bit less. The Naturopath treated John with various herbal and homeopathic medicines, and recommended other treatments such as massage. But during the last few months, John had become weaker and weaker, threw up more and more often, and despite a marked increase in the herbal treatments (which, unfortunately, were not particularly homeopathic, and thus not guaranteed to be as harmless as water) John started to lose weight at an alarming rate. This was before the AIDS epidemic and it was before any public awareness of eating disorders, so even though this was not an eating disorder or AIDS, the alarm signals that may have caused Gwen, or John, or any of us to urge a hospital or doctor visit were not overwhelming. I did not see John at all for the last few weeks of this decline in health, and neither did anyone else but Gwen. He was keeping himself hidden, and Gwen was simply not getting the fact that the Naturopath, who was now appearing daily and ‘treating’ John more and more ‘aggressively,’ needed to go away and John needed to be brought to a real doctor.
Then one afternoon John laid down for a nap but instead slipped into a coma.
I heard about that the next day, and went to the hospital to find Gwen waiting around for more news and clarification. During the night, a few hours before, John had gone under the knife. The surgery was fairly simple but very invasive, and he was still recovering, and tests were being done and consultants were being consulted. But a basic understanding of the situation had emerged.
John had a gut obstruction in his small intestines not far from his stomach. This was causing very little food to exit his stomach and head on down the digestive tract. He was absorbing only small amounts of nutrients, and the situation as worsening over time. Fixing this was not a very difficult thing (as surgery goes) and diagnosing it wasn’t that hard either. But Naturopathy wasn’t doing the trick. All Naturaopathy was doing was causing John and Gwen to delay doing anything useful.
John did not die. He almost died, but not quite. He got better, and eventually put aside cutting hair and became an artist. Well, he had always been an artist, and I had always been impressed with his work, and I always thought that John had one of the best senses of design of anyone I knew. He could have been an architect, a designer, a sculptor, whatever. He was, and in fact still is, incredibly talented in many ways.
And he’s alive, because of the surgeon’s knife.