Nothing to Lose

It was December of 1995, four years after the day I first got sick.

In some ways, I was still progressing. I had doubled my course load and was now attending two courses at the University of Maine. The rest of the time was still devoted to cooking and eating, but no matter how much I ate, I continued to drop pounds at a steady rate.

I couldn’t look in the mirror without crying in both fear and shame. What was once a curvy torso resting on broad hips and strong thighs was now a hollow shell of sallow skin and protruding bones. The insides of my knees were bruised from sleeping on my side, and I could wrap my middle finger and thumb entirely around my upper arms.

To make matters worse, it was getting progressively harder to eat again. Food felt like a foreign object in my gut—as if my body didn’t know what to do with it. I kept getting sick with every cold and flu that went around, and I felt like I was running on fumes.

Despite my waning energy, I was tired of my mundane cook-eat-rest schedule. I needed something fun to look forward to.

After a lot of nervous fussing, I booked a flight to New York (my first plane trip ever) to visit Ann during winter break. The plan was to stay with her and her family and go into the city to watch the Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve (something I always wanted to do). But instead, I spent almost the entire two weeks in bed with what I thought was the flu.

It reminded me of when I first got sick and could only eat cereal and crackers, but this time, I didn’t have any reserves to spare. I stopped weighing myself months ago because it did nothing for my optimism, but curiosity got the best of me one day while walking past Ann’s bathroom scale. A wave of surreal numbness washed over me as the big red digital number “72” flashed between my feet.

My low weight and depletion made a simple flu life-threatening. Ann’s parents and my parents knew that too. I could tell by the fear in Mom’s voice that they’d been talking about me, wondering if I was going to make it back to Maine alive.

But I did make it back. And when I arrived at the airport, my mom and stepdad were waiting anxiously for me. I could see the worry and grief in Mom’s eyes, but also a fierce determination of her own. One of the first things out of her mouth was, “Do you want to go see Dr. Rachman?” “Yes!” I cried without hesitation.

Before I could get my bags, she had booked us a flight to Florida for what felt like a last-ditch effort to save my life.

Gaining Hope

Six weeks later, we were back at the airport, but this time heading for the Sunshine State to meet with Dr. Rachman.

I first heard about him from Dr. McCormick, who kicked off my healing with his fancy microscope and candida diet. Dr. McCormick had a deep respect for Dr. Rachman as a functional medicine doctor, and he even credited Dr. Rachman with saving his own life years ago. I talked with Dr. Rachman once on the phone, but that was as far as we got. He was so far away that I wasn’t sure if it would be helpful, but now, I was willing to go anywhere.

Dr. Rachman ran a simple but sophisticated test that revealed a problem with my pancreas—most likely caused by the illness that started over four years before. For whatever reason, I wasn’t producing enough enzymes to digest and absorb the nutrients in my food. In other words, I was literally starving to death.

He gave me a few bottles of pills and told me I had a 50-50 chance of regenerating the cells that produce enzymes naturally. The worst-case scenario was that I’d have to keep supplementing for the rest of my life. Either way, he felt confident that I could live a full, healthy life. And I believed him.

We set out on this trip feeling tired, scared, and uncertain, but we came home with some answers and a whole lotta hope.

Me with my mom and stepdad in Florida, waiting for our appointment with Dr. Rachman (1996).

A couple of weeks later, Mom and I met with an MD who specialized in chronic and life-threatening illnesses—an appointment we’d made several months before. The doctor told me my organs were shutting down, and at this rate, he figured I only had a couple of months to live. He recommended more tests, including the same ones I’d already been through.

Mom turned to me and asked me what I’d like to do.

I paused for a moment and told them both, “I’m going to be okay.”

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10 Responses

  1. Good grief I wouldn’t have the patience but I’ve never been that sick. Your mom had the fortitude of a mama bear and good for her. I bet your friend in New York was worried sick.Anxious to hear more. Leah Ann

    1. Thank you, Leah Ann. Being removed from it, I don’t think I’d have the patience either. I like to think we’re given tools to cope with different challenges along the way. And yes, she’s quite a mama bear. And so are you! :)

  2. What an amazing story Sharon and i appreciate your sharing this with me as it speaks to being there for your own health instead of just going along with what the experts think. I am glad that you followed your gut feelings and thoughts to a better space. It is tough to read but knowing that it comes out okay is helpful! love M

    1. Thank you, Marilyn. I feel very lucky to have met some amazing experts AND had the chance to practice listening to my gut. I’m still practicing. :) Thanks for sticking with me through the whole story. It means a lot to me.

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Hey there.

This post is part of a series called “Peeling the Onion” about my adventures healing from life-threatening digestive issues.

To view the full story, click here.