Looking back at my school days, and that’s a long distance look indeed, the subject of health was among the least of my favorites; unless, of course, that particular day the subject was sex ed. We usually knew that was coming because they’d split the class up by gender. But I digress, and my subject of choice today was really more about actual health issues. The older I get, the more it seems to matter and play an undeniable roll.
My first wakeup call was over a decade ago. I was feeling increasingly ill and then when copious amounts of blood showed up in my stool, it was time to seek professional help. Folks around me had touted the doctor in town, including my father who has always been a bit particular about his doctors, so I went in to see what he could see. Unfortunately, doc was out that day and his assistant saw to me. I had not particular problem with that, but she found nothing other than high blood pressure, and also focused in on my description of an steady increase in heart burn. Must be acid reflex right? That seemed to be the malady of the month at the time, judging from the drug commercials plastered across the TV. So I left the office with very little distinct diagnosis and a prescription for blood pressure medication and indigestion meds. At that point, I figured I was on my own, as I was not ready to dedicate myself to meds such as these the rest of my life.
The alarm caused me to look closely at my habits and lifestyle and as far as stomach issues were concerned, it seemed like my habit of a couple coffees in the morning, and nothing else, was about as bad for me as anything. So I went back to one of my previous breakfasts that always seemed appropriate and also made me feel good: yogurt, walnuts, grapenuts, some type of fresh fruit (apples, oranges, banana, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry were standards depending on the season) and more walnuts! It should also be noted that for the most part, the rest of my diet was fairly decent, well above average for an American. Lots of fresh veggies, very little if anything fried, lots of grilled chicken and fish with occasional ‘meat’ in between. Probably the worst habit is cheese. I love all kinds of cheese, and the fattier the better! But wine counters that, right!? Right. It took a few months of this diet, but slowly, steadily, I could put the over the counter meds away. First the Prilosec, which had some bad side effects for me, and then the Tums, which worked without the side effects, but required many multiple doses to effect my cause. Within a half of a year, I was not doing any type of heart burn med, and feeling rather well.
As for high blood pressure (which my Mom has suffered from for most of my adult life, including several bypasses and other complications), I began monitoring this at home and it was showing a bit high, but with a slightly better diet and little focus on extra exercise, this was under control too. My quality of life returned to what I was use to. But just what had I gotten use to at this point.
Back up a little, then we’ll fast forward to one of my main points. Back in 1986 I had contracted a disease the very few people had heard about. Within our circles, we had never heard about it. It was a tick borne disease, named after the Connecticut town of Lyme. My daughter’s Mother, Lynn, happened to have read an article in a magazine about it, and matched all the symptoms that I had been experiencing. The fever I pushed off on a sport event played in the rain. The first pains felt like a stone bruise, aggregated by a long drive across country; and back. Then the pains grew, and migrated. I worked as a technician/supervisor in a factory at the time. Lots of hand work. Lots of climbing on machines. Lots of time on my feet. Every joint that I used was being attacked, and eventually, within a few weeks period, this attack was quite severe. I was new to the area and the job, so folks didn’t know that I would not typically complain about aches. Hell, I was just barely 30 years old, I really didn’t ever have aches. But the label was quickly put upon me as faker/complainer. But it’s hard not to talk about why I couldn’t where boots anymore; because my feet had swollen to the point that untied sneakers was the only option. And it’s also hard not to talk about why I could no longer perform much of my job. That I had to roll out of bed when the pain had awakened me at 4am, to dose up with Ibuprofen and soak in the tub until the pain had subsided enough to get dressed and go to work. It was by far the worse pain that I had experienced, not that I had ever had that much, but I was an athlete, albeit an amateur. Not only was the pain intense, but it was also measurably increasing. At the rate it progressed, I was certain to be bed ridden within another month. I felt that death was knocking and would barge in even if I didn’t answer.
Being a young family, daughter Julie was only 2 years old, we watched our pennies closely, so going the route of our company insurance was the only sensible choice, at first. So hitting the HMO doctors, they gave me proper diagnosis of arthritis early onset. Yes, arthritis was in the family, but that made me familiar with it. This was not what my grandmothers and grandfathers had experienced. The symptoms where indeed arthritic, but the voracity and pace was far beyond anything anyone else had described. I never watched anyone die from arthritis, and that felt like the only outcome.
Not being satisfied with the HMO docs diagnosis or treatment (see a trend here?) of serious pain killers and nothing else, we finally bit the bullet and I went to see an old family doctor. Well, he wasn’t practicing anymore, guess he was old, so I saw his prodigy, Dr. Cambell. After the previous treatments, I stopped shouting out that I had Lyme when I walked into the office. Instead, I let Dr. Cambell go thru a full examination; family history? must be early onset arthritis After all that, I asked if it could possibly be Lyme. “I don’t think so” so I went home with yet another prescript for some kick ass pain killers. Later that evening, the phone rang at home. It was Doc Cambell, “I did a little research and I believe you are right about the Lyme.” There’s a penicillin prescription for you waiting at Walgreens. Within several days the pains were no longer increasing. Within two weeks, the pain was subsiding. This continued over the next several months, and even years, though all the pain never went away. I figured that the damage had been done, and I was stuck with this volume for the rest of my life. Which was much brighter of a picture than thinking there wasn’t much life left in me!
Fast forward to 2010. Decades of pain had made me rather use to it. I’ve always thought it a bit interested how the mind reacts to such chronic pain. To begin with, it was always a lot less pain that I had first experienced with it, so it was somewhat tolerable But I had convinced myself that this was a residual thing. Pain is there, usually, to alert you to a problem. But this was no longer a problem, so ignore it. For the most part, I could ignore it, though there were times when it built to levels that could not be ignored. I’ve always enjoyed physical type of work, and winemaking fits that description much of the time. And the largest part of the intense work occurs during harvest. The situation I put myself in was requiring very long and intense hours to get all the necessary tasks completed in this, the most crucial season of winemaking. A little crutch I had was Coke Cola, which I had grown up with, much like anyone else I knew. Little did I know that I had been directing and intensely poisoning myself. A little bump of “Coke’ always helped me get thru those 16 hour days of crush.
Then kT and I happened to stay at a small, nondescript B&B in Carbondale IL. The owners I would describe as original hippies; as opposed to latter day hippies. Many of the original hippies end up finding an occupation that is self employed. No real comment here, just an observation; some might claim it to be a self observation. Anyway, the gal there was chatting with kT while her husband kept me busy with conversation. In between her stances, kT’s partner would step out onto the back stoop to have a cig. We all have our vices, and strong points, but I do tend to take less medical advice from someone who doesn’t seem to practice good health habits. But kT later filled me in on part of their conversation, how High Fructose Corn Syrup causes ‘gouty arthritis’ in some people. Of course I had heard bits and pieces about some peoples opposition to HFCS, and on such issues, at the time, I would probably stand more on the political end (don’t get me started) than on any direct health issue. But through our conversation, kT and decided it would be interested to try it out. How much HFCS could be in my diet anyway. How hard could this be?
Well, as we started looking, paying attention, turns out this is a very difficult task! Seemed like everything we looked at had HFCS in it. From Catsup to sweet pickles, to salad dressing to, you guessed it Coca Cola. As we quickly weeded out any of the HFCS products form my diet, the arthritis seemed to subside at the same rate, and levels. I would report back that I’m down to 50% of the pain, then 30%, then it’s almost non-existent. Pretty much miraculous for me. After decades of tolerating the pain, I was now virtually pain free. I was living in bliss now for several months with a level of maybe 8-10%. This meant full function-ability Something I never admitted to anyone, the pain did prevent me form performing quite a few of my typical tasks from time to time. I had learned to just adapt and modify the way I gripped things, or handled certain jobs. That was to be no more; at least until real arthritis sets in at hopefully an ripe old age, like it’s suppose to!
I suppose toleration had become part of the my way of life, because I was more than willing to accept that 10% or less threshold. Then we went on a short, one week vacation and at the end, I noticed that I was virtually 100% pain free. Something was still in my diet causing that level of pain, was our conclusion. And the shats of it was, I had been aware of it, but thought, eh, how much HFCS could be in sliced bread! Well, turns out, it’s enough to cause about 10% pain in my joints! At this point, I’m like a walking HFCS monitor. If you want to eat anything outside of what you make on your own, you’re going to ingest some HFCS from time to time. Think about it; hamburger bun! bbq sauce! salad dressing! croutons! catsup! just to name a few of my favorite things! By the next morning, I can tell you relative volumes that I have consumed by the level of pain in my joints. With some items, the pain surfaces much faster.
Take home from here; most likely HFCS will not, does not, cause the same reaction in you as it does in me. More than likely, my symptoms are a combination of the uric acid that is created from HFCS consumption and the previous condition I experienced with Lyme Disease. But I have to wonder, just what other types of problems are being caused that do not manifest themselves in such a direct, almost instant, and detectable manner?! Possibly nothing.