A string of bells jingled as we opened the door, announcing our arrival.
My heart raced, and my stomach tightened as I imagined what my first acupuncture treatment would be like. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck with a bunch of needles (especially after being poked and prodded by so many doctors over the years), but I was willing to do anything to feel better.
As we entered the waiting room, we were greeted by a shaggy, white sheepdog. The room was warm and inviting, with thriving plants and a water fountain bubbling in the corner. Something about that moment felt so safe and comfortable that I dropped to the floor with the dog and cried.
Shortly after, Mary-Margaret came out of her office to meet me. She had a strong, grounded presence and wild gray hair that flowed over her crisp white lab coat. She didn’t seem the slightest bit disturbed by my tears. She just smiled and invited me into a small sunlit room.
We talked for quite a while, and I could tell she was taking in much more than my words. I don’t remember exactly what she said to me that day (as it was almost 30 years ago), but I do remember feeling seen and understood in a way that I’d never experienced.
Aside from being an acupuncturist, Mary-Margaret was also a Nurse Practioner, but she didn’t seem all that interested in my Western diagnoses. She was more focused on getting to the root of my symptoms and supporting my unique constitution—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.
As for the acupuncture, it was nothing like I expected.
The tiny, painless needles seemed to wake up parts of me that I didn’t know I had. I felt buzzing and tingling and pressure moving throughout my body, including places where there were no needles. It was like being introduced to another layer of myself—one that had always been there, but I didn’t know how to identify or listen to.
I continued to get acupuncture treatments weekly, which soothed my belly, eased my anxiety, and even gave me the energy to take my first class at the University. But for some reason, my weight continued to drop, now dipping down into the 70s.
I couldn’t stand looking in the mirror. My bones protruded from every angle, and I could wrap my thumb and forefinger around my upper arm. Meals that were once a gesture of self-love had become acts of desperation to gain weight. I started seeing food as calories, fat, and carbohydrates more than nourishment, and I panicked if I didn’t get enough.
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. If it wasn’t for the weekly acupuncture, I doubt I’d be functioning at all.
Despite my waning energy, I was tired of my mundane cook-eat-rest schedule. I needed something to look forward to.
After a lot of nervous fussing, I booked a flight to New York (my first plane trip ever) to visit my new best friend, “Amy.” We met through an outreach program devoted to homebound teens diagnosed with CFS. Amy and I shared the same fascination with nutrition and health and a fierce determination to get well. We exchanged hand-written letters and tape-recorded messages for years before we were strong enough to move out on our own.
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 the flu. It reminded me of when I first got sick and could only eat mushy cereal and crackers, but this time, I didn’t have any reserves to spare. I knew weighing myself did nothing for my optimism, but curiosity got the best of me one day while walking past Amy’s bathroom scale.
A wave of lightheadedness and a surreal numbness washed over me as I stared at the big red digital numbers, “72.”
My low weight and depletion made any sickness a lot more dangerous. Amy’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.
Nothing to lose
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 kickstarted 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 for 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, 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.
The remedy was absurdly simple—enzyme supplementation.
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.
That’s me below at 22 years old with my mom and stepdad, waiting for my appointment day in Florida.
A couple of weeks later, Mom and I met with an MD who specialized in chronic and life-threatening illnesses—only because we made the appointment several months before. He told me my organs were shutting down, and at this rate, 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 then replied, “I’m going to be okay.”
To be continued…
This post is part of a series about my adventures recovering from chronic digestive issues. View all posts in order here. More of the story coming soon, so stay tuned!