What’s a Chelate?

August 28, 2009

A few days ago, I got an email from my cousin Julie, whom I barely know, about our Aunt Henriette. Henriette is the aunt who wanted to be an opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera. She married Morton, who told her he could coach her to be a successful opera singer. Henriette worked as a waitress to support Morton. As far as I know, Morton never did a day’s work in his life. The rest of my family despised Morton as a smarmy, anti-Semitic free loader, so Henriette has been rather isolated from the rest of her family. (It was eccentric of Morton to marry a woman from a Jewish family.)

Unlike many of my family members, I am not very musical. I heard Henriette practicing her opera singing. She did not sound very talented to me, but what do I know? For that matter, the Metropolitan never hired her, so perhaps they were as clueless as I.

After she gave up on her dream of being an opera singer, Henriette had a baby, Carl, and left Morton for a while. Eventually, they reconciled. When Carl became an adult he fled as far as he could, leaving New York City and hiding out with a girl friend in Oregon.


As I was the first child born in my generation, Henriette imprinted on me as a nephew she can depend on, especially for help with her computer. She called me from New York City and asked me to help solve her computer problems after her son Carl, who is actually better with computers than I am, refused to speak with her any more on the topic of computers. Henriette refused to believe that I could not diagnose and “fix” her computer over the phone. After I realized her computer was a hopeless mess, I bought her a new computer. Using reproductions of fine art works she pulled from the Internet, and the expensive ink jet printer I also bought her, Henriette put together calendars and advertised them on the Internet, hoping to make a lot of money.

Henriette and Morton had been living on money from my cousin Joanna, who learned to speak Chinese fluently in Taiwan and became a millionaire as co-founder of the baby furniture company Graco. After Joanna died of breast cancer, Joanna’s mother, my Aunt Naomi, Henriette’s sister, funneled money to her. When Naomi became ill and crippled in Australia, the money flow ceased.

My family is a great believer in “alternative health care.” My grandfather, Harry, was a dentist in Chicago who became a great follower of Dr. Kellogg of the cereal family. Dr. Kellogg believed in 1) never having sex and 2) solving all medical problems by giving people “colonics.” Colonics, in plain language, are enemas. Alternative health nuts believe that crap gets stuck in a person’s colon and needs to be flushed. Most medical authorities believe this theory is crap. I got a few colonics as a child, but mostly my parents believed that avoiding white sugar and eating organically grown vegetables was the key to avoiding disease. I think there is some merit to these policies, and my wife and I mostly eat food we grow ourselves or buy from farmer’s markets, but for medical care we mostly visit conventional physicians.

Although Grandfather Harry followed Dr. Kellog’s practices in terms of colonics, he was by all reports a horny old goat who sired four children on my monstrously narcissistic Grandmother, Agnes. As far as I know, Harry never cheated on Agnes, though I wouldn’t have blamed him.

Henriette and Naomi were big followers of alternative medical care. Naomi’s husband, Donald, grew up in a California high desert ranching family, became an electrical engineer, and then a chiropractor and professor of chiropractic “science.”. Their other daughter, Valerie, sister of millionaire Joanna, became a chiropractor also and now lives in Spain. After Naomi died, Donald had a heart attack. Valerie brought him to Canada for medical care.

Julie, my cousin, told me that Henriette, now in her eighties, is not doing that well. For one thing, her New York City apartment is full of bedbugs. This sounds like a bad joke, but it’s a real mess. The exterminators have fumigated her apartment twice. They threw her bed out into the trash. She is now sleeping on the floor.

Julie is a grade school teacher in upstate New York. Henriette, now lonely and poor, takes the bus up to visit Julie. Julie took Henriette to an “alternative” eye doctor who told her she has cataracts. However, it is not considered safe for Henriette to have cataract surgery at present (see below).

Henriette has been working at a senior center teaching computer classes to make some money. As I have spent hours on the phone trying to help her through her computer problems, I am somewhat mirthed at the idea of her teaching other senior citizens how to use computers.

 Her legs are swelling and getting varicose veins, and her heart has problems, with her arteries clogging.

As a big fan of alternative health care, Henriette has become fixated on “chelates” therapy, a therapy which sounds like quackery to me, that is supposed to remove blockages to arteries by natural means.

Henriette’s computer is sealed in a plastic bag because of the fumigation, so I have been sending her printed letters, pictures of my family and garden, and calling her on the phone. So far, Henriette, who is very conscientious, has been sending me about $30 a month to repay me for the computer I bought her. She has paid me a little over half. In my last letter, I said not to send me any more money. My wife and I have decided to forgive the rest of the money Henriette still owes us, though we are not going to send her any more money.

I allowed a week for the last letter to reach Henriette. I will call Henriette today. If she wants me to send her money for her chelates therapy, I will tell Henriette that as I would not spend money on chelates therapy for myself or my wife, I will not spend money on it for her, aside from freeing up the $30 a month she was sending me as repayment.

I am not looking forward to this conversation, because Henriette seems to be of the opinion that chelates therapy can keep her alive for a while, so she may be concluding I am helping pronounce a death sentence on her. Well, we all will die eventually, and we all have to make difficult decisions about what to do to keep ourselves alive and healthy as long as we can.

My wife, who is fairly healthy at the moment, said to me, “If I knew I had only a little while to live, I would try to be as comfortable as possible and occupy myself with activities I enjoy as much as I could, and not try to engage in extreme measures in a desperate attempt to stay alive.” That sounds sensible to me.

5 Responses to “What’s a Chelate?”

  1. I think you’re already going above and beyond the requirements of kindness and good nephewhood.

  2. modestypress Says:

    Usually, when I dread a conversation, it turns out not to be a problem. It’s the conversations that spring out from behind a door and bite me unexpectedly that cause me problems. Dreading the conversation with Henriette, I found it did not go badly. I will update the story as soon as I get a chance.

  3. I think you’re handling it well. I *have* heard of chelation therapy, but have also heard that it can do more harm than good.

    I know this must be difficult, regardless of how well you’re handling it! Take care.

  4. modestypress Says:

    Kathleen, thank you for dropping in and commenting in a supportive way. I see you live in Portland, OR. My wife and I lived in Portland for a number of years, though now we live on an island a bit north of there.

  5. woo Says:

    I’m with David – above and beyond the call of nephewhood, dear sir. You are a jolly kind man. I can see your karma shining from here. 🙂

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