Archive for December, 2014

The end of a typical year for me is a sprint … finishing up work projects, shopping for gifts, preparing to leave town for the holidays, etc.  It’s a high-energy month.

The end of this year has been more of a limp.  My dad died two weeks ago and was cremated soon after, but his memorial service isn’t until Sunday.  My mom was understandably drained at the end of that experience and didn’t want to deal with the arrangements for awhile.  The Older Brother had to undergo knee surgery for a torn meniscus (same procedure I had two years ago) the next day and was out of commission for a spell.  So two weeks after the fact, there’s no real sense of closure.  Maybe Sunday will fix that.

(By the way, my dad told me years ago that when he died, he wanted us to dump his ashes in the water hazard on the 17th hole of the Lincoln Greens golf course — that way he could spend eternity with all this golf balls.  I doubt my mom was able to honor that request.)

I took a few days off from work after my dad died, then worked from home for a few days, then went back to the office.  Two days after that, I got socked with a head cold/sinus infection/ear infection or whatever the @#$% it is.  Haven’t had anything like this one in years.  The megadoses of vitamins C and D didn’t work their usual knockout magic.  Maybe I was overdue, maybe it was bad luck, or maybe emotional stress weakened my immune system just enough.

I still have the infection, and it’s been seriously zapping my energy.  I sleep 10 or so hours per night, then need a nap in the late afternoon.  Back in the day, I would have gone to a doctor, who would have prescribed an antibiotic, just in case the infection was bacterial instead of viral.  Now that I’ve learned quite a bit about the importance of the gut microbiome, I’m choosing to just wait it out.  I don’t want to decimate my gut flora unless absolutely necessary, which means I’ll only take an antibiotic when I’ve got a dangerous bacterial infection.

I’ve tried sit down and write a post or work on the book a few times, but my brain refuses to cooperate – probably because it doesn’t like residing in a head jammed full of gooey stuff.  So I’ve been going to work and then coming home and vegetating in front of the TV – after a nap, if need be.  I managed to get to the gym once for a workout, then came home and slept for two hours.

So like I said, I’m limping towards New Year’s this year.  We’ll attend the memorial service on Sunday (driving to Illinois and back all in one day, since we have dogs, hogs and chickens who need tending), then Chareva’s relatives start arriving on Monday for the holiday.  I apologize for the long absence, but I don’t expect to take up active blogging again until after New Year’s.

So to the Christians out there, Merry Christmas.  To the Jews, Happy Hanukah.  To followers of the Master of Sinanju, Merry Feast of the Pig.  And to everyone, Happy New Year.

See you in 2015.

p.s. – Thanks to all of you who posted kind comments about my dad.

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My dad passed away early this morning after a years-long fade from Alzheimer’s.  We knew this was coming, but I’m nonetheless not exactly in a blogging mood.  There will be a memorial service in Illinois at some point, but arrangements haven’t been made yet.

I posted the following letter/essay on my other blog some years ago.  Since that blog is currently dormant, I’m posting it again here while I take some time off.  I don’t plan to deal with comments other than to click the Approve button, so I’ll thank you all ahead of time for your kind thoughts and good wishes. 

Dear Dad:

It’s impossible to explain a father’s influence on his son in something as measly as a letter.  I could write volumes and still have more to say.  So let me just talk about your shoes.

Although more than forty years have passed since I was a little boy, I still remember waiting for you to walk through the front door at night after work.  You were HUGE.  You wore dark suits and serious business shoes, usually black or brown wingtips, polished to a high shine.  You always struck me as being in a bit of a hurry, and when you strode across our wooden floors, those shoes went BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.

I wanted to grow up as soon as I could and wear shoes like yours.  Sometimes I would pull a pair of wingtips out of your closet and remove the wooden stretchers – which took some effort for a skinny kid like me – and slip those big shoes over my feet.  I’d try walking in them, stepping carefully to avoid tripping.  I wasn’t big enough to make them BOOM, but I liked the way they looked.

I knew the wingtips were your working shoes.  I didn’t really understand what kind of work you did, but I knew working was how you took care of us.  I knew the dark suits and the booming shoes and the daily trips to your office were the reason we lived in a nice house, and also the reason we didn’t look like the shabbily-dressed kids we saw when Mom took us along for her charity work.

Now and then you took Jerry and me to the office on a Saturday when you needed to catch up on some paperwork.  We enjoyed those office trips, partly because of the old-fashioned soda dispenser, the kind with rows of metal rails that held the bottles upright by the necks. For a dime – you always seemed to have dimes in your pocket – we could slide a bottle along those rails and out the side to release it. The lid was heavy and you had to hold it up for us.  But that was easy for you because you were HUGE.

I liked the way your office smelled … like paper and ink.  I liked the starkness of the fluorescent lights.  I liked looking at the photo on your wall of someone handing you a plaque and shaking your hand.  I knew that whatever you did, you were good at it, good enough that people wanted to shake your hand.  When I sat and did math exercises at my desk in school, I pretended I was in my own office, doing important work that would make someone want to shake my hand.

I don’t know exactly when I decided I didn’t want to grow up and be just like you. Certainly by the time I enrolled in college, I knew I’d never be happy wearing dark suits and working in an office.  I rejected your advice about majoring in accounting.  I explained, somewhat hesitantly, that accounting might appeal to you, but I’d be bored out of my mind.

That’s when I began to realize you didn’t want me to grow up and be just like you, either.  When I chose pre-med for my major, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you.  When I switched to psychology, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you.  When I switched again to journalism as a junior, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you.

I’d like to say you were simply doing what any father would do, but I already knew that wasn’t true.  I had a girlfriend whose father disowned her when she switched her major from business to art; without any support from him, she graduated swimming in student-loan debt.  In high school I had a classmate who’d been told from birth he was going to be a doctor like his father, period, end of discussion.  He flunked organic chemistry in college and committed suicide.

When I had some humorous essays published after college, your golfing buddies told me how much they enjoyed reading them.  I was proud to be published, but more proud to know you’d been bragging about me to your friends.  When I announced I was going to quit my magazine job and go freelance, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you – after all, you had quit a comfortable corporate job to run your own business and understood the drive to be independent.

And so, in a fit of optimism, I struck out on my own … and fell flat on my face.  That’s when I found out what “support” truly means.

It was embarrassing to spend part of my adult life living off loans from you, loans I knew you would never let me repay.  It’s still embarrassing when I think about it.  But I believe things happen for a reason; and even if they don’t, we can find our own reasons in them.

Unlike Mom, you were never comfortable being affectionate. Until you became a grandpa, it took a couple of tall drinks to pry the words “I love you” from your lips.  I knew you loved me, but I didn’t fully understand that you love me, period, no matter what, just like Mom.

I kept expecting one of those loans to come with a lecture attached, firm instructions to wise up, let go of my childish dreams, go get a real job as a sales rep.  But that never happened.   When you said anything at all, it was along the lines of, “Don’t worry.  Do something you love, and be the best at it. Things will get better.”  Those years, painful as they were, finally made it clear to me that you didn’t just support me.  You supported me.

I’m happy with my life, Dad.  It’s been a thrill to play in a band, act in plays, publish humor in magazines, travel the country as a standup comedian, and produce a film.  But without you behind me, encouraging me to pursue my dreams, I wouldn’t have done half of those things.  At some point, I would’ve given up.

I once asked another comedian what his parents thought of his act.  He said they’d never seen him perform.  They didn’t think standup comedy was a respectable career, and they weren’t going to encourage him by showing up.  He asked if you and Mom had seen my act.  I just said yes — I didn’t think it would be polite to say, “Yes, many times, and they bring their friends.”

You didn’t choose my path, and I didn’t follow in your footsteps.  But when I look back, I realize I’ve worn your shoes many times.

When I left a secure job to pursue my own goals, I was wearing your shoes. When I wrote clearly and powerfully, I was wearing your shoes.  When I made people laugh out loud with a witty observation, I was wearing your shoes.  When I worked and re-worked a programming project to get it exactly right, believing that “good enough” isn’t good enough, I was wearing your shoes.  Every time I returned money to someone who accidentally overpaid me, or gave to a charity, or helped someone in distress without expecting anything in return, I was wearing your shoes.

These past few years have not been kind to you, Dad.  Cancer, Alzheimer’s and age have diminished your body and your mind.  Your quick steps have slowed to a shuffle.  I’ve had to hold your arm and help you navigate the single step from the garage into the house so you don’t trip over it.  On some days, you don’t recognize Mom and have to ask who she is.  I know the next time I visit, you may not know who I am.

But I know who I am.  I’m your son.  And in my mind, you’ll always be huge … and you’ll always BOOM when you walk.

I love you, Dad.  Thanks for the shoes.

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Dr. William Davis has a PBS special based on his book Wheat Belly Total Health that’s currently airing in several U.S. cities.  Here’s a list of times and stations.

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A few years ago, I read a book titled How Doctors Think.  The author (a doctor) described the case of a woman who was rail-thin and complained that eating made her feel sick.  She went from doctor to doctor, at least one of whom suggested she was anorexic and needed to see a shrink to get over it.  Some of the doctors instructed her to eat more pasta, bread and other grain foods to get her weight up.

[Wait … grain foods cause weight gain?  Does the USDA dietary committee know that?  Anyway …]

A dozen or so doctors later, one finally thought to test her for celiac disease.  Bingo.  Eating had been making her sick because she was eating the foods people with celiac disease should never eat – on the advice of doctors.  She was rail-thin because even when she did choke down a meal, she wasn’t absorbing nutrients very well.  Yet doctor after doctor never suspected celiac as the cause of her condition – and their advice was making her worse, not better.

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis told me over dinner that his next book will explain how to protect yourself against bad advice from doctors – in part by leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds.  I’m currently reading a pre-release copy of Dr. Malcolm Kendrick’s upcoming book Doctoring Data, in which he explains the statistical funny business employed to promote drugs and procedures few of us actually need.  That book includes a chapter titled Doctors can seriously damage your health.

I’m sensing a trend here.  The doctor-as-god attitude held by so many people in previous generations is on its way out – shown the door in part by doctors who are dismayed by the ignorance and incompetence of their colleagues.  (I almost used the word peers instead of colleagues.  Sadly, Drs. Davis and Kendrick have few peers.)  But plenty of non-doctors are hastening the trend by the simple act of offering non-medical advice that actually works.

Here’s an example: a co-worker at BMI told me his wife used to get frequent migraines.  Half a dozen doctors could only suggest different drug therapies, none of which worked very well.  But at a dinner party one night, a friend of a friend suggested she try giving up wheat and other grains.  So she did.  That was the end of her history with migraines.

As my co-worker put it to me, “I’m glad she finally found the answer.  But why did we have to hear about it from some Joe Schmoe at a party?  Why didn’t we hear about it from one of her doctors?”

They didn’t hear about it from any of his wife’s doctors because doctors can’t pass on what they don’t know.  I seriously doubt these doctors were being dishonest or sneaky.  They were simply following the guidelines of the medical establishment – which for the most part views diseases as bad things that just sort of happen and then must be treated with drugs, surgeries, or medical devices.  If you’d rather identify and remove the root cause of a disease, you’re more likely to find an answer in the crowd.

Here’s another example from within the family:  Chareva’s aunt happened to mention in an email that her husband was suffering from neuropathy.  She wasn’t asking for advice, because at the time she was unaware of Fat Head and our interest in diet and health.  With the aunt’s permission, I’ll tell the rest of the story through portions of emails we all exchanged.  (I’ve changed their names.)

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Actually, I am fine, Chareva.  John, however, is not.  He has been diagnosed with Severe Nerve Damage (Neuropathy), and after FIFTEEN Specialists and too many tests to count, has been told that there isn’t anything they can do for him.  His present neurosurgeon … formerly from Mayo Clinic in Rochester … will try two surgeries for his hands and lower spine, but no one has any word of hope for us.  The last two years have turned into a nightmare.  He uses a Rollator Walker now, but we may be graduating into one of those Scooter chairs soon.  We just don’t know.

Thanks for asking…
Charlotte

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Try eliminating all gluten from his diet. Wheat, oats, barley, rye. Especially wheat. It’s insidious – lurking in almost everything – so read labels. We’ve been grain-free for a couple of years and all sorts of little health issues have cleared up.

We spent a week with Dr. Davis, author of Wheat Belly, last year on the Low-Carb Cruise. (Tom was one of the guest speakers).  I also spent an hour talking to a woman who also suffered from neuropathy. She is a nurse. She went to countless doctors and none of them were any help. She eliminated grains from her diet and the pain stopped.

Google ‘neuropathy’ and ‘wheat’ and see what pops up.

Please try it for two weeks and see if it helps.

Love you,
Chareva

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Chareva…thank you for the FIRST sensible suggestion I’ve had from anyone here…or anywhere else!

I’m going to check out the link you sent me … and I guess I am NOW our Gluten-Free Dietician … at least for a couple of weeks.  I’ll let you know how it works out.

Thank you SO MUCH for caring, Dear Niece!

Love you, too, dear girl!
Charlotte

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This has been VERY interesting, Niece!  This morning, I just threw out TEN of John’s favorite cereals!  Glad you warned me about the “wheat” because in every one of those bad boys the wheat was hidden near the bottom of the list of ingredients.

This is so amazing … I’ve known about celiac disease and gluten difficulties for years (friends & co-workers who turned their lives around) … I just never put that together in John’s case.  AND, NEITHER DID ANY OF THOSE DOCTORS he has seen!

The really good news is that (and this is only 5 days since you wrote!) he is telling me he’s actually FEELING better already.  He has more energy.  And he is walking better, and his balance is starting to improve.  Is that possible, to see changes this soon?  I hope so … because THAT is what is keeping on this change of diet.

Thank YOU so much for your suggestions and ideas.  I’ll keep you posted.

Love,
Charlotte

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Charlotte,

That is great news. And yes, it CAN happen in a short amount of time. There are a slew of books and blogs written by people who have given up wheat and their lifelong illnesses have cleared up.

Tom wanted me to pass this on to you: Avoid processed vegetable oils at ALL COST (vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil). They also produce inflammation.  We eat butter, olive oil, coconut oil and bacon grease. Coconut oil and omega3 fish oil actually reduce inflammation. Good stuff.

Tom recommends two books:

Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint (what you should be eating and why).

Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis (a cardiologist).

Outstanding news. Keep us posted.

Love,
Chareva

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Chareva…

Three more improvements.  Two weeks ago, we were in the office of John’s neurosurgeon for another consult…and the dr. asked John to stand up for him.  John tried … but couldn’t do it!  This morning, he showed me that he can NOW stand up easily … and went around “trying it out” on several other chair heights!

He also showed me that his balance is even BETTER than it was a few days ago.  He can stand and move around, and not “totter,” the way he used to.  ALSO … he is now walking with a MUCH more erect posture than he has in months!  Up until this change in his diet, he would walk all bent over his cane, and said he couldn’t stand up, or he would fall over.

Today is just one week since you first suggested gluten-free.

We are FINALLY feeling some hope, thanks to you two.

Love you, too, dear!
Charlotte

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Chareva & Tom …

I just had to share:  very early this morning, John told me that he can now make a complete fist with his right hand, and an almost-there fist with the left one.  He hasn’t been able to do that for almost two years!

Also, he told me that yesterday, he “just noticed” that the pain in his shoulder that’s given him a LOT of pain for the last six months is now completely gone!  (Several of his doctors told him it was either arthritis … OR bursitis…OR more neuropathy … OR, “hell, we don’t know!”)  They gave him shots, Lidacane-treated patches, more painkillers.  In 2-1/2 weeks on this diet, the pain is gone.

Can you tell how excited we are feeling?  Chareva, my dear niece, we owe you & Tom a big one!

Hugs,
Charlotte

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Sorry it was such a long and painful journey, Charlotte.  Once I dug into the research for my documentary and my blog, I lost of a lot of respect for the medical profession.  I’ve met some outstanding doctors who look for causes instead of merely treating the symptoms, but sadly they’re a minority.

Cheers to you and John.  Keep us posted on his progress.

Tom

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Hey, Tom!

Did you read about Dick Van Dyke’s “mysterious” neurological disease he’s been fighting for 7 years?  He’s done all the tests that John had … catscans, MRIs, spinal tap, and, I’m sure lots of EMGs.  They all test-out “healthy,” so the doctors are saying the exact same thing John’s doctors did:  “We don’t know what this is or what caused it.”  In HIS case, his symptoms seem to be extreme fatigue, and what he calls “a banging in the head when I lie down.”

Any of this sound familiar?

John continues to get better … and STRONGER … every day.  He, too, suffered from that “fatigue,” but he tells me now that he can feel his stamina coming back.  It’s a real relief for him, because he’s getting a lot of new customers for his custom tile furniture, and now he knows he can keep up with the orders.

Thanks to you guys.

Love to you both,
Charlotte

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Tom …

Your movie arrived today, and we are looking forward to watching it this weekend.

Today, we cancelled the surgery that was scheduled for next week for John’s hands (actually involving “unpinching” a nerve in his elbow) because his hands are getting better, and the surgeon had told us that this was what he called “a Hail Mary” procedure, and couldn’t promise much of anything.  THIS from a dr. we actually like & respect (he’s formerly from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and VERY respected in the field of neurosurgery!)  John talked to the dr. himself, and although he was kind & unfailingly polite, he made NO comment when John told him about his change of diet & how much it’s helping.  Typical, isn’t it?

Much love,
Charlotte

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Yes, the doctor’s reaction was typical.

Grains?  We don’t know nuttin’ ’bout grains birthin’ no diseases!

Years of debilitating pain, fifteen specialists, no answers — except a suggestion for a “Hail Mary” surgery that might not work.  Then they found an answer because Chareva’s aunt happened to mention her husband’s condition in an email, and Chareva happens to be married to me, and I happen to have read Wheat Belly as part of my work as a health blogger.  I’m the Joe Schmoe in the crowd who had an answer.

That’s why “white-coat awe” is (I hope) a fading phenomenon.  Back in the days when information didn’t flow quickly and freely within a worldwide crowd, doctors could get away with having no answers, or even with wrong answers.  It’s not going to be so easy anymore.

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