All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for August 2003

In sickness and in health

If I wrote a book that promised to share the secret to vitality and long life, it would be called Dumb Luck

Monday, August 4, 2003 - Page A14
Saskia de Boer
The Globe and Mail

Every time my raw-foodist mother-in-law comes to visit, we know we're in for it -- at least 24 hours of testimonials, about how sickly she used to be, how energetic she is now, all thanks to her strict diet of raw "living" foods. She dismisses conventional medicine and is convinced that she's found the Holy Grail to health. I don't mind making room in the fridge for her portable garden of sprouts. I don't mind tasting her raw and "living" bread, or hearing her sighs of disappointment at the tofu and vegetables sizzling in my stir-fry. She loves her diet, and she's the one who has to eat it.

The breaking point came when she suggested that should I commit to a raw-food regime: my heart's conductive system would repair itself, my complete heart block would become unblocked, and I would have no more use for the pacemaker that's kept me ticking for the last 11 years. I tried to explain that cooked food wasn't to blame, that life had dealt me a pacemaker, and I'm okay with it.

I know she meant well; she thought I might rejoice at this ray of hope she offered to be perfectly healthy, naturally. And that's the nuance that irks me every time I hear someone boasting about their robust health, and how they have achieved it. As though good health is something to be proud of, a personal feat, and that the best do it naturally.

I won't say that surgery is good fun or that I look forward to rounds of pharmaceutical drugs, and I'm not against the natural route. I eat well and exercise, at least in part to avoid any future ills. But as a battery-operated being, I do take offence at a particularly smug faction that has manifested from our privileged, health-obsessed culture. The folks who brag about how they don't take antibiotics, how they cure everything with vitamins, or the sheer power of their mental focus.

The story goes that there was a time when the human body was perfect, selecting only the finest natural ingredients and knowing exactly which weeds, roots and flowers to dry out and sip in a tea when anything went awry. Those were the good old days before the monster we now know to be "Western" medicine bullied its way in with its cold instruments and chemical solutions.

Of course, natural remedies are valuable, and they often work. But when the insinuation is made that the natural way is the better way, I am metaphorically left for dead, as are many others who've endured illnesses and injuries that the health-proud can't begin to comprehend. The all-natural self-healers often mistake their good fortune for wisdom, and leave the rest of us to reflect on where we went wrong. As though they have supreme control over their bodies, steering clear of the misfortunes that befall the rest of us.

There are plenty of theories, backed up by some statistics and glorious accounts of recovery available to anyone looking for a cure-all. I've spent much of my life sick and I've done my share of research. When my father was in the middle stages of the unpredictable and undeserved illness that eventually killed him, I even bought a book by New Ager Deepak Chopra. Who wouldn't latch onto the hope, given the circumstances, that if he could just concentrate really, hard, my Dad could persuade his body to whip up the right concoction, mobilize the armies and heal? But that wasn't the cure-all, and obviously, nothing else we tried was either. If I wrote a book that promised to share the secret to vitality and long life, it would be called Dumb Luck and the subtitle would be "How to Stay Pleasant Whether You've Got It Or Not."

We all run into health difficulties, but some of us get stuck with the junk that simply couldn't be helped a hundred years ago. Heart block for me, multiple sclerosis for my 24-year-old friend, yet nothing worse than seasonal colds for many others. Can I trace the cause of my misfortune? All I know is that there is now something called a pacemaker that can save me and it's tucked safely inside my body. As for living naturally, had I been around before this age of modern medicine, with its cold and calculated solutions, I might have simply dropped dead in the field one day. People would have nodded sadly and concurred that, indeed, I'd been born with a weak constitution.

Ask someone in their 90s how they did it, and I bet no one answers that the key to longevity is living a purely natural life. They might start by listing all the illnesses -- Spanish flu, tuberculosis, polio, smallpox -- that they were lucky enough not to catch. They haven't got cancer or Alzheimer's disease. They just keep going. Maybe they eat fruit for breakfast, or drink a nip of gin before supper. Whatever it is, they know they're lucky.

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