6K Henriette Loses Something

February 24, 2008

I suspect that my relatives, especially my father’s three sisters, believe that if they follow the correct procedures—that is, procedures involving alternative health practices, they can live forever.

Evidently, this began with my grandfather Harry, who figured out from what he had learned from Dr. Kellogg that colonic therapy (giving enemas to “clean out ‘toxins’ from one’s system”) will ensure if not eternal life at least a very long one. Although no one in my family still practices “hydrotherapy” (as it is also called)—perhaps because my grandfather died a long time ago—it is still widely practiced in our society. For example, in the small unincorporated town five miles from where we live in the woods on an island, I see a clinic with a sign advertising hydrotherapy. This advertisement from Arizona gives an idea of how slickly (so to speak) this therapy is marketed today.

This practice persists despite the fact that most conventional medical authorities—such as the National Council Against Health Fraud—consider hydrotherapy not only NOT beneficial—but downright dangerous.

Given the suspicion about conventional medical practices in much of our society, it is probably not surprising. For example, when I was 30 years old, I suffered from a duodenal ulcer. Not known then (but realized now) most ulcers are caused by bacterial infection. So there is plenty of reason to be suspicious of conventional medical practice as well as alternative medical care. Nothing but witch doctors for me from now on.

After Harry died, Grandmother Agnes left Chicago to live with my Aunt Naomi in Fullerton, California. By then my family’s alternative health care focus had switched to fresh carrot juice. The grinder ran day and night grinding carrots to make juice for Agnes, who died of cancer anyway.

When my millionaire cousin Joanna (who became wealthy by learning Chinese) developed breast cancer, she could afford the best treatment in the world. Her father, my uncle-in-law Donald (who had switched from being an engineer to being a chiropractor), her mother, Aunt Naomi, and her sister, Valerie (who also became a chiropractor), scoured the world for the best conventional medical treatment (which they decided could be found at a clinic in Colorado) and the best “alternative” medical treatment (which they decided could be found at a clinic in Germany) and took Joanna to both those locations for treatment.

Joanna died anyway, perhaps confirming the superstition that if you become too fortunate in one area of life—in her case, becoming a millionaire—the gods will balance the scale in some other area of life—in her case, dying of breast cancer (which spread to her brain) about the age of 50 and leaving behind two young daughters who now combine an ethnic heritage of Taiwanese Chinese and Eastern European Jewish ancestries.

Grandmother Agnes and her three daughters Diana—who married a conventional doctor in rebellion against her enema-applying father, Naomi—who became a ballet dancer and pursued relentless self-improvement all her life and is now a cripple in Australia, and Henriette—who married Morton in defiance of her family because he said he could coach her to be an opera star for the Met—were women of enormous will and determination.

Diana’s children told me that their mother had “broken” their father the doctor. Naomi’s husband Donald—from a cowboy family in the California high desert—was a match for Naomi, and their daughters displayed hybrid vigor.

Toward the end of his life, Henriette’s husband Morton developed cancer.

Henriette became irritated with him because he became apathetic and lost interest in living. She was determined to save him through alternative health care. As Henriette had worked as a waitress while she practiced her opera singing for the call by the Met that never came and supported Morton because opera coaching was so demanding, they did not have much money. As I had suspected, her sister Naomi had used some of Joanna’s money to support Henriette and Morton until Naomi needed the money for her own ailments.

As I was her first nephew, and because her son Carl fled across the country in a desperate search to find a life and identity of his own, Henriette has fixated on me as the one relative she can depend on for assistance and help in times of stress. She called me when her computer confused her and she called me when she wanted to sell art works of dubious provenance on eBay to raise money to get alternative health care for Morton to save him in spite of his fatalistic apathy.

I turned to my brother B—who owns a crafts business and has sold items on eBay—and only lives a couple of states away from Henriette in New York City instead of across the country as I do—for assistance. He said in polite scorn (as did several other people I consulted)—that Henriette was very unlikely to make much money in this fashion (as I had suspected).

I called Henriette to tell her that I was not able to help her. She told me that it no longer mattered. The day before she had tried with the help of a neighbor to carry Morton down the stairs of her New York City apartment—he was now too weak to walk by himself—to take him to an alternative health practitioner.

“He died in my arms as we went down the stairs,” she told me.

I was stunned and shocked by this news, as I was a bit shocked by the rather cool and detached manner in which Henriette delivered it to me.

“He didn’t want to live any more, anyway,” she told me. Henriette is still vigorous in her 80s, and it is clear that she still is very determined to keep on living, even if her now ex-husband had decided to drop out.

16 Responses to “6K Henriette Loses Something”

  1. pandemonic Says:

    Holy cats! I’m totally blown away.

    After all of this, I came away thinking, well, we’re all going to die anyway. Hmm… I think I’m going to have to think about this some more.

  2. renaissanceguy Says:

    Your stories blow me away. My family is completely boring compared to yours. Perhaps its in the telling, but I suspect not. The facts themselves are so unusual that they are almost bizarre (to me, anyway).

    I think your conclusion about entirely trusting neither the medical establishment nor the alternative medicine practitioners is about right. In the end, however, I will take my chances with the best science available at the time.

  3. Vicky Says:

    Personally, I don’t think there is any medical treatment – conventional or alternative – that is any crazier than the craze for chemotherapy!

    Research it, think about it. And they push it on people whom they’ve given a terminal diagnosis anyway so that the person who only has a few short months feels so much … better???? No the person will feel so much worse in the last days of his life.

    How crazy is that?


  4. janie Says:

    Ever since my daughter was cured of some parasitic infestations and a bacterial infection (all acquired overseas) by a naturopath, after western medicine failed to even identify a couple of her problems, I’ve been more open to alternative healing. But then, my daughter got a potentially deadly case of bacterial pneumonia recently, and was cured with a newer antibiotic. So I guess I’m now of the “try everything–except hydrotherapy–until something works” school of intervention.

  5. modestypress Says:

    When I first saw the Frank Capra movie You Can’t Take It with You about an eccentric bohemian family in New York City in the 1930s, I immediately thought of my parents’ eccentric bohemian family in Chicago in the 1930s. My second thought was that watching a movie about such a family was a lot more entertaining than growing up in such a family in real life.

    As I grew up in Los Angeles and Orange County in the 1950s, I was confused and divided between my family’s values and behaviors and my peer group’s values and behaviors. My parents were health food fanatics who had me milk a cow before and after school so we could have our own raw milk and raised chickens so we had our own organic eggs. My friends came from families that thought Wonder Bread and Twinkies came from one of the basic food groups. My parents were liberals and zealous Adlai Stevenson fans; I went to school with children whose parents could not imagine anyone not voting for a candidate other than ex-general Dwight Eisenhower. All of my friends were immunized against polio; my parents played Russian Roulette with our lives by refusing to let us be vaccinated against polio.

    I was confused. I wanted to support my parents’ values (although I was not on very good terms with my parents as a child), but I also wanted to be accepted by my peer group (although I was not on especially good terms with my peer group as a child).

  6. modestypress Says:

    In general, my guess is that alternative medicine’s greatest strength is a willingness to pay careful attention to the patient and treat the patient with respect as a human being. Its greatest weakness is an over reliance on intuition and case history and “sounds good” thinking and a lack of willingness to use rigorous thinking and analysis. It also attracts a lot of scoundrels and fools.

    Conventional medicine’s greatest weakness is seeking an industrial efficiency and profitability in which the patient gets treated like a part in a machine. Its greatest strength is using the objectivity of the scientific method to gradually apply discipline analysis to an area where emotion and wishful thinking often predominates. It also attracts a lot of scoundrels and fools (some of whom run large insurance companies, drug companies, HMOs, and hospitals.

    As Vicky pointed out, chemotherapy is an example of often dubious medical practice. Sometime it works; sometimes it is necessary; but often it just ends up torturing a dying person. From another and eccentric perspective, in general our society prohibits the use of drugs such as heroin (for sensible reasons), but an argument (controversial to be sure) can be made that doctors should be allowed to prescribe a drug such as heroin to a terminally ill patient. So they get addicted? So?

  7. Wow, that’s quite a striking ending to the saga of Henriette and Morton.

    I have no doubt that she’ll outlive even you; those types always do.

  8. cheles Says:

    Wow is right. I think certain people are genetically predisposed to certain health problems. I believe in the middle way approach: try to live your life as holistically as possible. When necessary, refer to conventional medicine. I think balance is the key. Unfortunately, too many people ignorantly rely on one or the other too much and fail to use thier common sense. Great post.

  9. renaissanceguy Says:

    Modesty Press, my own sister has resisted using morphine for her pain during her struggle against cancer. She’s afraid that she will become addicted to it. I admire her but wish that she would realize that it isn’t logical to worry about addiction when one is going to die soon.

  10. Vicky Says:

    Ah, Kyle that made me so sad to hear that about your sister.

    I continue to remember her and your family in my prayers.

  11. missholley Says:

    This was incredibly interesting. What a diverse family you have!

    When my best friend, Carol was dying…her sister was convinced that alternative methods and medicines were the answer. Carol was getting advice from EVERYONE she knew…and she soon grew tired of it. I remember when she gave up…she was angry and practically told everyone to leave her alone. I think she knew that nothing was going to save her…and like Morton, she just let go.

  12. modestypress Says:

    Nothing is sure.

    A number of years ago, the director of the organization I work for, a very strong (physically strong and strong-willed), intelligent, and hard-driving individual who is widely disliked by many of his employees, became literally ill unto death with blood cancer. Everyone in the organization (including the many who dislike him) were stricken with grief and terror about his plight.

    He was taken into very experimental, high-tech medical treatment. He languished for days–perhaps weeks–on the edge of life and death. Everyone held their breath.

    He pulled through. He came back to work. Everyone celebrated this victory.

    Now he charges on, twice as much whatever he is, pursuing his vision twice as energetically. Those who disliked him before dislike him twice as much. Those who are inspired by his vision and his way of conducting himself are largely ascendant in the organization.

    People’s will to live and will to dominate others in pursuit of a vision is quite an incredible phenomenon.

    Some people are just too mean to die, at least for a while.


    A. E Houseman:

    There was a king reigned in the East:
    There, when kings will sit to feast,
    They get their fill before they think
    With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
    He gathered all the springs to birth
    From the many-venomed earth;
    First a little, thence to more,
    He sampled all her killing store;
    And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
    Sate the king when healths went round.
    They put arsenic in his meat
    And stared aghast to watch him eat;
    They poured strychnine in his cup
    And shook to see him drink it up:
    They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
    Them it was their poison hurt.
    —I tell the tale that I heard told.
    Mithridates, he died old.

  13. Vicky Says:

    And then there’s the Christian belief that there’s a time to be born and a time to die and it is appointed unto man once to die…

    Our lives and our times are in bigger Hands than our own.

  14. vroni1208 Says:

    My family is a bit like this. My grandmother puts much faith in her herbal remedies. The weird thing is, some of them work. I’m not too keen on “the egg under the bed” thing when someone has a fever. And I’m not drinking chicken blood! Now that’s just witchcraft!

  15. Vicky Says:

    Not so weird, really vroni – Many prescription meds are made from herbs/plants etc. For example, digitalis is made from the Cone Flower.

    Agree with you on the other ideas! 🙂

  16. Vicky Says:

    Ooops – made a mistake. Digitalis is from the Foxglove plant!

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