By Debbie Shapiro
"It's important that I speak to you," Sarah began. “I don't want anyone to get hurt the way my husband was. Please, Debbie, you're a writer, make sure that the world hears my story.”
I invited Sarah to come to my home later on that afternoon. I could see that she was very upset, and after hearing why she had to speak to me so urgently, I was also upset.
So here is Sarah's story:
Sarah's husband is a diabetic. Although he's always been careful to follow the doctor's instructions and to refrain from eating sugar, over the years his health has slowly deteriorated. He was afraid that unless he made a major change in his lifestyle, he'd continue sliding into the abyss.
“We heard so many incredible stories about people who were cured with alternative medicine, and we assumed that a good healthy diet would make all the difference,” Sara began. “So we decided to look into it as well. After all, we assumed that even if it didn't make him better, it certainly couldn't hurt.
"We made lots of inquiries and one particular name kept coming up – a frum, Yiddish speaking naturopath. He had been working in the field for over thirty years; with so much experience we assumed that he would be reliable. People praised his diagnostic abilities, and we were told story after story about people whose lives were turned about after following his advice.
“Prior to our appointment, my husband collected all his papers: the results of his latest blood work, doctor's letters, a list of medications and why he needed them – to show the 'doctor'. But the 'doctor' just glanced at them and didn't even bother looking at the blood tests. Instead, he examined my husband's fingernails, tongue and eyes, sighed deeply, and prescribed a strict diet.
The diet was really drastic, and extraordinarily boring. It consisted of raw vegetables, nuts, sprouted wheat, a sauce made of green leaves and water and lots of dates and fresh fruits. We – to make it easier for my husband to stick to the diet, I had decided to follow it too – were allowed as much fresh fruit as we wanted. The only limitation was that we had to wait two hours between the different varieties of fruit. So, for example, although we could eat as many bananas as we wished, if we wanted an apple, we would have to wait two hours.
I was concerned. After all, the dietitian in the diabetes clinic had limed my husband to just two fruits a day. When I pointed this out to the 'doctor', he threw me a condescending smile and said, 'Don't worry. With this diet he'll feel like a new man' as he gently guided us out the door. Just as we were about to leave, he patted my husband on the shoulder and, with an almost angelic smile said, 'Call me if you have any questions. I'm always available for my patients.” He was so nice – always smiling, and he looked so frum and ehrlich (why he even spoke Yiddish) how could we not like the guy?
“The next few days I spent hours checking green leafs, cutting vegetables, and grinding nuts. Without starch, we were really hungry – but the doctor had warned us about that. 'It takes a while for the body to get used to eating healthy foods,' he explained, 'and when it does, you'll feel much better. Meanwhile, if you're hungry, take a fruit.'
We kept the diet religiously for close to a week, but instead of feeling better, both my husband and I felt horrible. At times my husband was so dizzy that he thought he'd faint; at other times he felt that he couldn't breathe. I had several episodes of dizziness. But when I called the doctor about it, I could almost see him smiling self-confidently into the telephone as he responded in a soothing voice. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'It takes a while for the body to get used to eating healthy foods. After all, you've been pumping it with poison all these years. '
Two days later, I was out shopping when my daughter called me on the cell phone. “Ima,” she said, “come home quickly. Abba doesn't feel well.” I rushed home to find my husband lying in bed, looking terrible. He was having difficulty breathing and he felt as if everything was spinning. I called the 'doctor', but he wasn't available. His wife instructed me to give my husband a cup of herbal tea with honey. When I pointed out that he's diabetic and not supposed to eat honey – we didn't even have any in the house – she recommended that I give him a couple of dates instead.
An hour later he felt well enough to go to shul to attend his daily shiur and daven maariv. But when he came home, he looked terrible. “I must see a doctor, NOW,” he said. We drove directly to the nearest clinic.
The first time the doctor checked my husband's pulse, it was only thirty eight. He checked it a second time less than a minute later -- it was over a hundred. The doctor almost threw my husband on to the gurney while attaching the EKG monitor to his heart.
After that, everything became a blur. The sirens; the ambulance; the emergency room; the grave expressions; it was a five day nightmare. The doctor's at Hadassah explained that thanks to our health diet, my husband's potassium levels had gone sky high, severely damaging his kidneys.
When I called our kind old Yiddishe health doctor to tell him what had happened, he brushed it off. I could almost see the condescending smile over the phone. “Your husband is a very nervous man,” he said. “He has to learn to stay calm and relax."
So now my husband is under the care of a new type of doctor – a nephrologist -- as well as a hospital dietitian. They've put him on a very, very strict diet – even stricter than the one that the naturopath put him on. After all, candidates for dialysis must be very careful about what they eat.