Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Week that Changed My Life

Twenty-four summers ago, I had an experience that changed my life forever.  Upon the recommendation of my next-door neighbors (Peg and Anne, I can never thank you enough), I became a camper at Camp Tecumseh.

I will never forget my first check-in at Camp T.  I made the journey to camp in my mom's blue mini-van with my mom, my brother Brian, his best friend Scott, and Scott's mother Carolyn.  Most of the journey was pretty unremarkable, but as we turned onto the winding hills of Springboro Road, the heavens opened up and an intense hailstorm began.  Chunks of ice the size of quarters pelted our car as we navigated the camp roads for the very first time.  We were basically driving blind.  Even once we pulled into the makeshift parking lot set up in Main Field, no one was able to get out of their cars until the storm was over.  The storm was so heavy that the all-camp picture from that night, taken hours later (after dinner), still shows large piles of hail on the benches in front of Mount Wood.

If I'd known anything about God back then, I might have thought that He was trying to get my attention.

While not every Tecumseh camper has a story that dramatic about their first check-in, I think my first week at camp was pretty typical.... in that it was utterly amazing.  I was in Catawba cabin, and Stork and Kristen were my counselors.  I was a pretty shy and awkward kid, but they made me feel so loved and accepted that I immediately knew that Camp Tecumseh was something really special.

I remember opening campfire and standing up to cheer for "our neighbor to the west, the great state of Illinois!" (a habit which became so deeply ingrained in me that I still sometimes find myself standing and cheering for Illinois at opening campfires, even though I have now lived in Indiana for 17 consecutive years).  I remember clinic raps and subsequently choosing to try archery for the very first time.  I remember discovering that the tree outside Catawba cabin was laden with fresh mulberries and eating them straight from the tree.  I remember the delicious coolness of a soda during pop stop, somehow unmatchable by any other drink at any other time of the year, and the amazing anticipation of being able to pick any treat I wanted during Trading Post time.

I remember learning and laughing over the silly songs of flagpole.  I remember going on a campout in the woods and waking up to Stork singing "Alligator!" at the top of her lungs.  I remember learning about hoppers and shared responsibilities.  I remember singing graces in the dining hall, holding that "Ohhhhhhh" what seemed like forever at the beginning of the Johnny Appleseed blessing.  And oh, I remember those meals in the dining hall, where a picky eater like me pretty much subsisted on bread for the week (this was long before the introduction of today's improved menu and awesome salad bar).

I remember the hike to the lake, which seemed to take an impossible, breath-draining for-ev-er at the beginning of the week, but made me feel strong and at home by the end of the week.  I remember how "the Braves had the beat" and we proudly stood on our chairs to announce it.  I remember trust hikes through the dark of Main Field and feeling intensely close to the other girls in my cabin.

I also remember chapels in the Green Cathedral, reading song lyrics out of dogeared blue folders.  I remember feeling something stir inside me as I looked out at the sunshine over the Tippecanoe River.  At night, I remember sitting with my cabinmates around a flickering candle for devotions.  I learned about the "I Am Third" motto for the first time--putting God first, others second, and myself third.  I remember my awe the first time I saw "the coming of the great chief" and heard the reading of the Sagamore Creed at closing campfire.  I remember learning more about the heart of God and His love for me during that one week than I had in the rest of my church-going life combined.

I remember: "The flicker of the campfire, the wind in the pines. . . . For love is for those who find it, I've found mine right here, just you and me and the campfire, and the songs we love to hear."

Perhaps most importantly, I remember being "Welcomed to the Family."  Even twenty-four summers later, I still get a lump in my throat ever time I sing those words, as I think of all the campers and counselors that have gone before me and will come after me.  More than anything else, Camp Tecumseh is family--generations of family that go on and on, loving each new set of campers with the love that has been passed down to us.  And that's what makes this place so amazing.

And all of that is why I came back here as a counselor in college, and then dragged my college boyfriend along for the ride, and then that college boyfriend and I got married and brought our kids to live here full-time.  But today, all of that is why I am so, so excited that twenty-four summers after I first drove up Springboro Road, I will be pulling my own blue mini-van up to Catawba cabin to drop off my oldest daughter, Bryn, for her very own first resident camp experience.

Even though she lives at camp, I know that this week will be an experience like none other for Bryn.  She'll be cheering her heart out with her cabinmates at opening campfire tonight (which is a distinctly different experience than sitting in the back with me).  Tonight, before bed, she'll join her cabinmates in devotions over candlelight, led by counselors who love God and have felt their own lives changed by the goodness of this place.  She'll be sitting front at center at chapel tomorrow morning, getting that perfect view of the sun over the Tippecanoe River.  And on Saturday morning, when I pick her up, I know that she will be a better version of herself.  That's the power that camp has.

There's no way that my parents and I could have known that  a week at camp, twenty-four summers ago, would change my life.  But see, now I know about Camp Tecumseh.  We are in the business of changing lives.  I would dare to say that every kid who comes to camp leaves changed--because we serve an amazing God, and He uses us to change each precious life, each in exactly the way He desires.  Love does amazing things, and Love overflows here at camp.  Some kids will go home with a deeper sense of faith, some will go home more self-confident, some will go home with new and lasting friendships, some will go home changed in ways that I can't begin to predict..  I can't wait to see what camp will do for Bryn.  She's about to embark on an experience to last a lifetime.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Witch Doctor

As those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time (or know me in real life) know, my health has been deteriorating for.... well, pretty much forever.  What started as a "mystery illness" in college was later diagnosed as chronic thyroid problems.  The thyroid problems then proved to be just the tip of the iceberg when I moved into my childbearing years, and said thyroid problems resulted huge chemical problems that resulted in three miscarriages.  My four successful pregnancies were accompanied by PUPPPS, slipped discs, a misaligned pelvis, severe anemia, pinched nerves, varicose veins so intense that I had to be on bedrest for 13 weeks, and, of course, migraines that appeared during my first pregnancy and haven't gone away since.  These migraines have elevated to the "chronic" level to such an extent that I now take 3 daily preventative medications, carry 3 different migraine meds with me at all times for the still-not-preventable at-least-two-migraines-a-week (one of these meds is an injection for the really bad migraines), am prohibited from holding a full-time job, and am pretty much besties with my neurologist.  Meanwhile, I can't seem to shake the spare 50 pounds that I've put on, no matter what magic diet/exercise combo I try.  In the last year, I've also developed high cholesterol and have started displaying severe allergies to foods and environmental triggers that have never bothered me in the past.  I am also exhausted beyond reason all the time... like so tired that I can barely make it through the day, no matter how much sleep I get or how much caffeine I consume.  My quality of life is absolute crap.  But whenever I try to say any of this to any general practitioner I have ever encountered, they respond with, "Well, you have a thyroid problem.  That accounts for all those other things."

But basically, I feel like one big old mess.

I should also point out that on a daily basis, I take 15 pills (some RX, some vitamins, all prescribed by my various doctors) to manage my various medical conditions--thyroid, migraines, cholesterol, etc.  It seems to me that if I'm spending all this time and money on "getting well," I shouldn't feel like absolute death all the time.

Which is why I let me friends Katrina and Jen talk me in to going to see Dr. Benzinger at Indy Health and Wellness.  Katrina is very into homeopathic treatments for everything.  As should be obvious from my 15-pill-a-day regimen, I am, uh, not.  So I was rather skeptical when she told me about Dr. Benzinger, who uses acupressure points, dietary remedies, and supplements to reset your internal system to health.  But then my friend Jen also went to see him.  Jen also suffers from chronic migraines.  She told me that he had her change her diet dramatically, and that while she did feel worse before she started feeling better, she is now experiencing migraine-free weeks for the first time in 17 years.  That sold me and I made an appointment.

The first few page of Dr. Benzinger's patient information form was similar to most, but when I got to the "balancing body chemistry" section, I started to realize anew what an intensely hot mess I am.  Do I have headaches over my eyes? Yes.  Do I feel nauseous or queasy very often?  Yes.  Do greasy foods cause me distress?  Yes.  Do I experience head congestion?  Yes.  Do I crave sweets or coffee in afternoon or mid-morning?  Yes.  Do I get shaky or light-headed if meals are delayed?  Yes.  Am I especially vulnerable to insect bites?  Yes.  Am I a worries, feel insecure, and/or highly emotional?  Yes.  Do I have "splitting" type headaches?  Yes.  Have I experienced my memory failing?  Yes.  Do I experience abnormal thirst?  Yes.  Have I experienced weight gain around my hips or waist?  Yes.  Am I especially intolerant of high temperatures?  Yes. Do I have difficulty losing weight?  Yes.  Am I experiencing reduced initiative and/or mental sluggishness?  Yes.  Am I easily fatigued or sleepy during the day?  Yes.  Am I sensitive to the cold or have poor circulation in my hands and feet?  Yes.  Am I experiencing excessive hair loss?  Yes.  Have I experienced weakness and dizziness?  Yes.  Weakness after colds and slow recovery?  Yes.  Nails weak and ridged?  Yes.  Perspire easily?  Yes.  Crave chocolate?   Yes.  Tendency to anemia?  Yes.  Reduced or lost taste or sense of smell?  Yes.  Susceptible to colds and/or infections?  Yes.  Shortness of breath with exertion?  Yes.  And about two dozen more "yeses" that I'm not going to take the time to list here.  As I said, HUGE MESS.

Once I entered the exam room at the office, Dr. Benzinger's nurse took my blood pressure and vitals, the same as any other doctor's appointment.  But then she told me that she was going to measure the energy levels of my internals systems by through the acupressure points in my hands and feet.  Say WHAT?  She pressed what looked like a metal stylus to various points on my hands and feet, and it fed different readings on a bar graph into the computer.  I had no idea what any of them meant.  She told me that some were for my kidneys, large intestine, etc.  Crazy that they could get all that information from points in my hands and feet!

Then she left and Dr. Benzinger came in.  He looked at the energy graphs on the computer and said, "Well, I can tell a couple of things about you right away.  For one, you must be an incredibly determined person.  For two, you must have a very high pain tolerance."  I think my jaw must have dropped a little, because he continued, "Only someone with an absolutely iron will could come in here an introduce herself to me with a smile while displaying levels like that."

Um, thanks?  So what do those levels indicate?

Well, it seems that a "normal" person would display energy levels at 95.  Across the board, mine leveled around 15.  He said, "Frankly, I'm surprised that you could drag yourself here today.  With levels like this, you honestly shouldn't even be capable of getting out of bed in the morning."

So I have something going on besides just a thyroid problem?
Oh yeah.  Way more than just a thyroid problem.

Next he glanced at my blood pressure reading.  It should be mentioned that for my entire life, I have had low blood pressure.  EVERY SINGLE DOCTOR that I have EVER seen has gotten a low blood pressure reading on me, and none of them have ever considered it to be a problem.  In fact, about 90% of them have said, "Oh you have such nice low blood pressure!  That's so great!"  Dr. Benzinger, on the other hand, took one look at it and said, "Wow, your blood pressure is really low.  Is this typical?"  When I told him that yes, it's always that low, he said, "Well, that's explains why you often feel dizzy or lightheaded.


Then he said, "So based on your symptoms, I'm going to assume that you have primarily German heritage.  Is that correct?"  Wow.  Yes.  "And you probably also have English heritage, right?"  Wow.  Yes.  Right again.  He then told me that the reason I crave salt (which was one of many food-related statements I had checked in the food portion of the background section of the patient info form) was due to my genetic heritage, and that I should listen to what my body is telling me.  He said that if I ate more salt, it would raise my blood pressure, and therefore I wouldn't be so dizzy all the time.  So therefore, he said, I should eat all the salt I want, as long as it's sea salt.

So within 5 minutes of meeting me, this doctor had figured out more about my medical problems than any other doctor I had ever seen, identified my ancestry based on my medical symptoms, AND provided me with a basic solution to an ongoing problem.  I was totally sold.

We then talked through my medical history.  I told him all about my thyroid and my migraines and how I had a family history of both of those.  Then he asked me how long it's been since I felt really, truly healthy.  I reached back in my memory.  Far, far back.  I remembered back to junior high, when I started getting intense headaches every Sunday afternoon as I stressed out about the week to come.  I remembered talking on the phone to my best friend Melissa and saying, "I'm just to tired of feeling sick."  And I realized that my initial answer of "I started getting sick in college" (which is when my thyroid disease started to manifest) was actually incorrect.

And while this was completely surprising to me to realize, it somehow was NOT surprising to Dr. Benzinger.  Instead, he said, "I see that was around the time that you had your tonsils and adenoids removed.  Can I assume that you had severe sinus problems leading up to that?"

Me: Well, no, my brother was the one with sinus problems....
Dr. B: But children don't have surgery for no reason.  So why did you have your tonsils removed?
Me: Well, I guess because I had a lot of sore throats growing up.
Dr. B: How many is 'a lot'?  Three a year?
Me: Yeah, 3 or 4.
Dr. B: And how did your childhood doctor treat those?
Me: With antibiotics.
Dr. B: So I'm to understand that you were given penicillin or one of its cousins 3 or 4 times a year from roughly preschool to sixth grade?
Me (doing the mental math and realizing them implications): Yes....
Dr B: Well, that's the root cause of your problems right there.  Your system started to be compromised when you were overmedicated as a child.  It introduced all kinds of toxins to your system.  When you had your tonsils removed, your body reacted by starting to make you physically sick in other ways because the toxins couldn't follow the same paths as before.  By this point, you've got so much damage that you're basically full of poison.  I'll bet you've even started having allergic reactions to foods that you've never had problems with before, right?
Me:  Um, actually, yes.  Severe reactions.  Several times in the past few months.
Dr B: I'm not at all surprised.  But we're going to get you re-balanced.

And the heavens parted and the angels sang.
Not really.  But that's certainly what it felt like.  I actually felt hope on the health front for the first time in about 20 years.

Next we went into another room across the hall.  He did another acupressure reading.  This one was slightly different, in that I had to hold a metal rod in my left hand while he did the acupressure points on my right hand.  It measured base point readings for lymphatics, lungs, nervous system, endocrine system, liver, stomach, and tons of other organs and body systems (30 in all).  Again, the stylus fed the readings into the computer.  This time, the readings fed out on a bar graph that showed how "balanced" these systems were.  The bar graphs all came out with specific numbers, but also color-coded for easy reading.  Red meant "stressed," yellow meant "weakened," and green meant "balanced."  Dr. Benzinger said that a healthy person would show 80-90% green and the rest yellow.  I showed 1 green (which he said was actually somewhat of an accident), 4 yellow (at least 1 of which was because it was being controlled by my thyroid medicine), and the other 25 red.

Have I mentioned that I am a huge, HUGE mess?

What's cool about this system, though, is that while I continued to hold the metal rod, Dr. Benzinger was then able to put an assortment of vitamins and supplements onto a pad attached to the computer and we were able to watch as my systems "balanced."  The program was set to recognize what each kind of supplement does for the body and calculate how to create order out of the chaos within.

This was the point when I decided that if Dr. Benzinger had lived at any other point in history and had these skills, he totally would have been burned at the stake as a witch.  Don't get me wrong--I think he's absolutely amazing.  And I literally think that the information I learned from him during that appointment is going to save my life.  Because I truly do not believe that I could have continued on my medical trajectory without dire consequences.  But the information that he was able to uncover simply by using a metal rod was scarily accurate.  So when I call him a "witch doctor," I mean that as the absolute highest form of compliment (even though I know it doesn't sound like it).

So after looking over my results, Dr. Benzinger said, "So I saw on your chart that you don't exercise very often--maybe once a week.  Can I hazard a guess as to why that is?"  Sure.  "Is it because it makes you feel physically sick?  Like headaches, stomachaches, lightheaded, like you're going to faint, takes several hours to recover?"  YES, actually it is!  I just feel really stupid saying that to people--oh, exercise makes me sick, I can't do it.  It sounds like such a whiny-girl, loser excuse.  But no, it's actually true.  And here's this doctor, telling me that I'm spot-on right, and furthermore, that I should listen to my body and NOT exercise, at least for the time being.  And here's why: My body is so full of toxins that exercise is literally making me sick.  It releases poisons into my body.  Yikes.  And here I thought I should tough it out.  But no, I need to balance my nutrition first.

Which brings to me what Dr. Benzinger is all about.  In the short term, he's giving me these vitamins and supplements to help balance my system and undo the damage it's been through.  But all these supplements and Dr. Benzinger himself are not a long-term solution.  He says that his ideal is for patients to learn to care for themselves.  Which I'm all for.  I don't want to be on meds forever.

So the solution to long-term care is through diet.  And the way that I take care of my system is by eliminating the foods that aggravate it.  His magic acupressure system also measured all of that.  Right now, the foods that I need to cut out completely are bread (because of the yeast), cheese, peanuts, and mushrooms.

I want you to take just a second to read that list over again.  Those four foods, in varying degrees, pretty much comprise Amy's Complete Menu.  And yet they are also the foods that have been aggravating my system, making me feel sluggish and tired, giving me stomachaches and giving me irritable bowels, triggering allergic reactions to other foods, etc.  What do those foods all have in common, by the way?  Fungus.  They all come from some kind of fungus.  (yeast, cheese, nut, mushroom)  Yuuuccckkkk.

So I'm cutting out pretty much everything I have ever eaten and loved (pizza, oh pizza!), at least for the time being.  Dr. Benzinger says that after my system achieves balance, some of those foods can be added back in again.  Here's hoping, anyway.

Other things to avoid if at all possible:
* sugar - soda, candy, fruit juice, sports drinks, chocolate, cakes, buns, pastries, ice cream, breakfast cereals
* starch - bread, pasta, rice (except brown rice is okay), french fries, potato chips, porridge, muesli, oatmeal
* margarine - only allowed to eat butter
* beer - that's okay, I didn't drink it anyway

Which leaves me with:
* meat - too bad I'm afraid to touch it raw
* fish and shellfish - ditto on the raw thing
* eggs
* vegetables
* dairy products - except cheese
* nuts - except peanuts, and also not pistachios, which I am allergic to
* fruit

I will admit that I am still eating things from the "things to avoid" list (albeit in DRASTICALLY reduced quantities), just because I am having such a hard time finding things to eat while avoiding the foods that previously made up my entire diet.... so hopefully I'll get to the full level of achievement eventually (my appointment was only four days ago).

Anyway, Dr. Benzinger also told me that in addition to displaying allergies to foods, he suspected that based on my levels, I would also be displaying severe levels with anything including perfumes or chemicals, so to avoid direct skin contact with perfume, sunscreen, and bugspray.  At which point I kind of freaked out and was like, "Wait!  You're telling me that my body would display a severe allergic reaction if I used bugspray?"  He said yes, and I literally held my head in my hands as I thought back to the previous weekend when I had sprayed myself and the kids down the bugspray, packed up the car, and headed out for a family campout.... only to have me spend the next 48 hours in utter agony. Within a half an hour of applying that bugspray, sweat was literally rolling off my body.  I was clawing at huge itchy welts at my arms and legs, and my stomach was covered with red bumps.  My stomach was searing with gut-clenching agony, and let it suffice to say--I made many, many trips back to the lodge to use the toilet. I was absolutely sure that I must have eaten something that had completely poisoned me--except that I hadn't eaten anything that day that I hadn't consumed hundreds of times before.  It took me a full 48 hours to recover.  And all from using bugspray!  Dr. Benzinger suggested a book that will teach me how to make homeopathic bugspray and sunscreen that will not trigger my toxins, and I've already requested it from the library.

The final step of the appointment was another round with the acupressure machine.  This one was to achieve not physical wellness, but emotional--because both are essential to a balanced system.  The acupressure machine tested literally thousands of possibilities that have been around for over 400 years for what negative emotions are poisoning my system.  It identified seven, and each and every one was SPOT ON.  I'm not going to share all of them here, but one indicated that I feel that my "efforts also go unrewarded" and another stated that my "joy has suffered because" I have "neglected" my "own particular interests." (ahem! this is my first blog post in *how* long?)  Eerily accurate.  Yet another reason why I feel that Dr. Benzinger is a witch doctor (in the best possible way).

Now, it's not like he can fix those problems, but he feels that it's important for patients to see them identified so that they can pray over them (he's a Christian) and begin the work of addressing them to right their spiritual/emotional health in addition to their physical--because both need to be in order to truly healthy.

So, to wrap up this (incredibly long) post, let me just say that seeing Dr. Benzinger was probably the single best hour of time I have ever spent.  I came away from that appointment feeling encouraged and hopeful about the state of my overall health for literally the first time I can remember.  I FINALLY feel like somebody actually understands what is going on with me health-wise and has given me the tools to control it.  I feel like I have the chance to get my life back and--someday--live like a normal person.  I cannot wait for the day when I wake up headache-free, not exhausted, able to play with my kids and function in the way I see the people around me doing.  And I am so RELIEVED that someone has finally said to me, "No, you're not crazy, you really can't do all those things--stop pushing yourself to do all that, take care of yourself first, and THEN you'll be able to do that."  So in spite of my initial skepticism I HIGHLY recommend that anyone who has some kind of "mystery" medical condition that hasn't been able to get an answer out of a regular doctor goes to see Dr. Benzinger.  He is absolutely worth it.

Updates to follow as I see how this all works out.