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A Lifelong Victim of Quacks

Marian Fowden

My mother was a lifelong believer in natural cures. Although we had a family doctor, she was suspicious of doctors all her life. Much of that suspicion was the result of claims by the quacks she consulted with. They always warned of "conspiracy by the medical community to suppress their revolutionary treatments". Also, she was consistently told that "traditional medicine" treatments would prevent the "natural" cures from working, so it was never recommended that one try the natural cures as a mere "supplement" to a doctor's care. Also, natural methods were intertwined with religious beliefs. My mother's family was closely associated with a little known religion whose founder was a chiropractor. They were taught that nature (God) provided answers to every ill, and that doctors, medicine, manufactured supplements, chemicals of any kind, etc. are created by people who do not have the proper faith. They are trying to "play God" or replace God or even defy God by leading people astray.

As children, we were given regular doses of cod liver oil, vitamin C (rose hips are the only reliable type), and other supplements. Earaches were treated with garlic, colds with extra vitamin C dissolved in Jello water, sore throats with cayenne pepper wraps, and headaches with vitamin A. If one complained of any symptoms in my grandmother's presence, she would ask, "When did you last have an enema?" I was in my late teenage years before I ever had an aspirin. I was staying with a friend and had a headache. Her mother offered me an aspirin, which I guiltily accepted. I was amazed at how quickly and effectively it worked! From then on, I began to question whether the "natural" methods were all that great.

We were taken to the doctor only for such things as stitches, wart removal (when the wart did not respond to rubbing with a burnt broom straw), and illnesses that stubbornly refused to respond to the natural treatment. Even then, the written prescriptions were nearly always discarded rather than taken to a pharmacy to be filled. I have a vague recollection of the whole family being taken to receive polio vaccine on a sugar cube, but my brothers and sisters and I did not ever receive other vaccines. For school registrations or summer camp applications, my mother would fill in the sections verifying the required immunizations with bogus dates and then sign the form with "Dr. G. Card" (her maiden name). Antibiotics (which translates to "against life") were considered one of the worst inventions of modern medicine. And glucose given in IV's were proof that doctors have no understanding of real nutrition. Sugar is "white death" and to deliberately pump it into the veins shows ignorance at best and evil at worst.

Though my mother gave birth to all 7 children in the hospital, in her later years she did not even trust doctors and hospitals for that purpose. She tried once to convince my sister to have her baby at home using a mid-wife.

At the age of 49, my father, who had never been sick a day in his life, experienced sudden numbness on his entire left side. He was taken to the doctor and a CT scan was done. Unfortunately, the exam showed him to have a rather large brain tumor. My mother reluctantly agreed to allow a biopsy, which proved the tumor to be malignant and inoperable. The doctors advised immediate treatment with chemotherapy and radiation. To our dismay, my parents decided not to heed that advice. My mother was advised by family members and other associates of a natural cancer treatment that promised "miraculous results". Of course, as is typical, she was advised that the chemotherapy would destroy the healing powers of the natural cure, so they had to choose one or the other. My father was treated at home with a diet mostly consisting of raw fruits (fresh pineapple in particular), and daily coffee enemas. His condition rapidly deteriorated and he died 3 weeks from the date of his first symptom. Our old family doctor came to our home and signed the death certificate. He consoled the family by saying that the tumor must have been so far advanced that the chemotherapy would not have been able to help. My father's death was a huge blow to those family members who expected the miraculous cure. But in the weeks and months following his death, my mother found "research" that implied that the very act of taking the biopsy "exposed the tumor to open air" which spurred the tumor to unnaturally fast growth. From then on, my mother always said she should never have allowed the biopsy to be done. It was the sole cause of the tumor's rapid growth and the thing that kept the coffee enemas from being able to work properly.

My mother battled weight all her life. At one point, she was under the care of some "alternative care doctor" who put her on a diet. First she eliminated all sugars and refined flours from her diet (she had been a vegetarian for many years already). After a few weeks, she eliminated all carbohydrates. Each step eliminated another food, until all she was eating was raw vegetables (and only certain vegetables at that). She became weak. She had "brown outs" when she stood suddenly. Her eyes and skin began to take on a yellow shade. The practioner she was seeing became concerned and did something very rare for most quacks. He actually told her that she needed to stop the diet and seek care from an internist. However, my mother had experienced weight loss on this diet and didn't feel that a medical doctor would understand her concerns, so she simply changed one quack for another. Incidentally, she didn't have any trouble finding one who didn't recommend care by an internist. The new practioner however, was not able to reverse the damage that had already been done. After several weeks under his care, her skin was bright yellow and her eyes looked like some Hollywood special effect. At that point, he felt she needed care from a "real expert" and referred her to another local clinic run by a naturopath.

My mother was pleased to be referred because she had read several books written by this "doctor." I was very concerned for my mother's health at this point and completely skeptical of this quack, and as she was too weak to even drive herself to the clinic, I offered to accompany her. This clinic was actually a single exam room at the back of a health food store. There were shelves of vitamins and supplements and a juice counter. There was a rack of books written by the naturopath, which someone had gone through with a black marker to blot out the "N.D." after his name. (Our state had recently passed legislation outlawing the use of credentials that were not the result of actual degrees by accredited institutions.) My mother was given a form to complete before her consultation. The top of the form had a statement for the patient to sign which said, "I certify that I am not an investigator or informant for any news, government or medical bureau and that information obtained from this consultation will not be used for prosecution of this clinic, its owners or employees." The bottom of the form had another disclaimer which read, "I understand that [the doctor] is not a medical doctor and that anything said during the course of my visit is conversation only and cannot be construed as medical advice." My mother read and signed the form without hesitation. I asked if those disclaimers (especially the first one) didn't make her a little nervous. She explained that naturopaths were forced to protect themselves because of unfair persecution and prosecution by the medical establishment who are threatened by their knowledge. Because she understood the need for him to protect himself legally, she had no problems about signing the statements.

After we were taken into the exam room, the "doctor" came in and instructed Mother to lie face down on the table. He began by massaging her feet gently occasionally asking if this spot or that felt tender. I watched then as he dug both thumbnails deeply into the balls of her feet and asked, "Is this uncomfortable?" When she affirmed that it was, he said, "That indicates the problem would be with your liver." I was astonished! The pressure he applied would have been uncomfortable no matter what spot it was on, and the bright color of her skin and eyes made liver problems obvious to anybody, with or without a degree! He then prescribed a long list of supplements and tinctures, which could be conveniently purchased right there in his store. He also told her that she was to drink green juice for every meal. Green juice is a concoction invented by the naturopath himself and made right there in his juice bar. Basically, it consists of cucumbers, parsley, kale, cabbage and any other green vegetable. The exact mixture is known only to himself and has to be made fresh daily, so that it is necessary to return to his store frequently.

As we left the clinic, I asked my mother if she would please come with me to the hospital and have blood drawn for a liver function test. I work for a doctor and I knew she would willingly give the order. She asked what a liver function test would tell. I said that the levels of various things found in the blood would tell the extent and the type of liver dysfunction we were dealing with. She smiled and said she didn't think it was necessary to do that. She felt that her liver had been "overloaded with toxins" most of her life, and that her recent diet changes had caused the liver to "dump" these toxins into her blood. Her only problem was that the liver was cleansing too fast. She was sure that a liver function test would show lots of high levels of toxins in her blood, but this didn't mean the liver was not functioning. It meant the liver was functioning a little too well at the moment. And she trusted what she had been told. After all, the naturopath's own son had once been diagnosed with liver cancer. When traditional medicine gave up on him, the naturopath invented green juice, which saved his son's life. (Or so he said.) Besides, a hospital would just want to give her antibiotics and IVs. She was just finally cleansing her liver and wasn't about to let them put glucose in her. I tried to tell her that labs don't provided treatment and that she always had the right to say no if anyone did recommend treatment. "No," she said, "I don't have insurance so I wouldn't have any way of paying for lab tests. Incidently, she had just spent approximately $75 for the consultation and treatment recommendations.

For the next couple of weeks, her conditioned actually worsened. She vomited soon after taking any nourishment and was unable to get out of bed for many days. But she faithfully followed all of the recommendations, enduring green juice, a complicated regimen of supplements, and an occasional enema. Gradually, she improved, and many weeks after beginning the treatment, she got better. She maintained that the naturopath had saved her life. I always felt that she got better in spite of his care, not because of it.

Several years later, my mother became ill again. This time, she experienced some respiratory problems, lack of energy and some vomiting. She had been spreading some wood chips the day before and felt like she had inhaled some dust or something. Over the next year-and-a-half, she continued to have problems. The respiratory troubles lessened some, but she continued with dizziness, lack of energy and vomiting. She consulted a number of naturopathic "healers". Each time she found a new one, she felt confident that they knew the answer to her problems. She would experience a period of improvement, only to relapse a short time later. She was told that there must have been sycamore in the wood chips that she had worked in, and that sycamore is very dangerous, causing severe respiratory symptoms. She lost a lot of weight in the process, but her appearance was terrible. After several months and a lot of nagging, we were thrilled when she told us she had finally broken down and scheduled an appointment with a doctor. Unfortunately, it turned out that the doctor was a chiropractor. Her symptoms eased for a time, then came back worse. By this time, she was not only vomiting daily, she was spitting up a lot of mucus. She kept a cup or tissues nearby all the time and feared leaving the house because of the constant spitting up of mucus.

A referral from a health store employee led her to a consultation with a new clinic. This practioner placed magnets all over her body and informed her that her kidneys appeared to be her weakest area. She went weekly for some type of "electro-magnetic" therapy. Again, she improved for a time, then got much worse. During this time, in addition to treatments from various practioners, she was going to a clinic weekly (sometimes 2-3 times weekly) for "high colonics", at approximately $20 per session. She was not having regular bowel movements at home, so when a few days went by without one, she would go for another of these "power enemas".

About 15 months into her illness, she heard of a clinic in Reno that was run by a medical doctor who used on;y "natural" treatments. However, as she was making preparations to travel there, her sister heard a radio interview about a clinic in Las Vegas. The radio show was peppered with anecdotes about people who were miraculously healed after the medical community had given up on them. At the last minute, she changed her travel plans and went to Las Vegas instead. This "healer" worked by moving his hands over the body (never actually coming into contact) and going into some type of trance. Normally, treatments are scheduled in advance and several days or weeks apart, but he was willing to make an exception and fit my mother in to be able to be treated every day until she was healed. After the 2nd or 3rd treatment, she suddenly felt a "breakthough". She said she felt something "like a flood gate opening", and immediately felt better. He told her she would need just a few more treatments to be healed completely. However, during one of the next treatments, the healer began talking to her and trying to explain his healing powers. He kept emphasizing that it was not based in any religious faith. Something about that upset or frightened her and she could not go back. She packed her bags and returned to Salt Lake. At that point, she was too weak to endure a car ride home, so she flew. She required wheelchair assistance to even get off the plane.

Once again, she told us that she was now ready to seek care "from a real doctor". However, again she would not see an M.D. The doctor she planned to see was a D.O. I asked around at work and was reassured that D.O.s are not necessarily quacks, but they are medically trained doctors who just try to use more natural treatments wherever possible. I decided to attend the first appointment with my mother. In the waiting room, a lady chatted with me about how the doctor had saved her life. I was hopeful. During the appointment, he listened to her describe the illness. His exam was more like a doctor's exam, listening to her heart and respirations, checking pulses and reflexes and palpating her abdomen. He ordered blood work and x-rays, and advised her to eat a wider variety of foods, including even chicken and fish (she had been a vegetarian for many years). He scheduled a follow-up appointment to review the lab and x-ray findings. I was so relieved. Then he recommended that she carefully track everything she ate, and the pattern of symptoms in relation to eating and other activities. To aid her in this task, he recommended she purchase a computer program. Many software programs could be used. However, he just happened to have one on hand, for the low, low price of $75.00. She readily agreed to purchase it. On our way out, we passed a large room. It was wall-to-wall recliners filled with patients receiving some bright yellow liquid by IV. The sign said "Chelation Therapy," and there was the little old lady I had chatted with in the waiting room. I had never heard of chelation, but immediately worried about the legitimacy of this new doctor. When I returned to work, I asked the doctors I work for what chelation is. They both shrugged their shoulders.

The next day was Thanksgiving and my mother felt well enough to sit at the table. She even ate turkey, the first meat she'd had in over 20 years. But by that evening, she was vomiting and again felt very weak. Two days later, each time she sat up or tried to get out of bed, she would pass out. When she told my sister she felt it was time to give up and allow herself to die, I felt I had to take immediate action. After some pretty strong words from me, with my sister nodding in agreement, we finally got her to agree to go to the hospital.

By the time my mother finally went to the hospital, she had been ill for one-and-a-half years, and had lost more than 150 lbs.

On arrival in the ER, her blood pressure was low enough to scare everyone involved. She also vomited what looked like bile and blood. She was admitted to the hospital. She required IV rehydration, 7 units of blood, and cardiac monitoring. The following day, an endoscopy was done which showed a very large ulcer completely obstructing her pylorus. The doctor could not even pass the slender tube of the scope through that area. She was found to be positive for helicobacter pylori infection. After a 5-day hospital stay, she was able to get up and walk, had much better energy and coloring, and was eating without vomiting. She had gained 12 lbs. since her admission, all due to the rehydration. She said she felt foolish that she had suffered so much for so long over something as simple and common as an ulcer, and even said she wished she'd gone to a doctor much sooner. She agreed to take the prescribed medications and return in a month for follow-up endoscopy. Her only complaint was a small bedsore at the base of her spine.

Before we returned for the follow-up endoscopy, she returned to the osteopath's office. He gave her an herbal supplement to take along with the prescription drugs. He told her he thought the doctor would be amazed at how low her helicobacter pylori level would be after taking this supplement. However, on follow-up endoscopy, the ulcer did not appear much smaller at all after 30 days of treatment. The endoscopy doctor recommended doubling the dose of Prevacid she was taking. She was very disappointed with the findings. Even though she looked and felt better than she had in years, she felt like she must not be making any progress. When she reported the finding to the osteopath, he recommended stopping the Prevacid completely and doubling the herbal supplement instead, which advice my mother followed.

Her health deteriorated rapidly from that point. The bedsore she had developed continued to bother her. She also broke out in a rash. Although the rash appeared in several areas of the arms and legs, the fact that it also occurred near her IV site make her fear she had picked up an infection while she was in the hospital. She left to stay with her sister so she could have help making her vegetable juices that were the mainstay of her diet. One afternoon, my aunt called me to say she was very concerned about my mother. I stated that she needed to go back to the doctor if she was having trouble again. My aunt said, "she won't even think of that. They gave her this infection." Skeptical and tired of their "playing doctor", I drove over to see what was going on with my mother.

When I arrived, I found my mother too weak to even sit up in bed. Her arms and face were covered with large red patches, which seemed to be growing right before our eyes. Her blood pressure was too low to register on my aunt's home-use monitor. Even worse, my aunt rolled her to her side and pulled back the covers to show me the bedsore. It was nearly 3 inches in diameter and the surrounding tissue was black. There was a horrible, decaying smell coming from it. Once again, we picked her up (she was as light and limp as a rag doll) and took her to the hospital.

As soon as they saw the red splotches, the ER personnel moved to isolate my mother in case it was infectious. They admitted her almost immediately to the ICU. The doctors were at a loss to know what to do for her first. They had to establish that the bedsore had not perforated her bowel. They moved her into the Burn Unit, hoping that the air-pillow beds there would alleviate the discomfort of the bedsore and the patches all over her body. They cut away the dead tissue around the bedsore, only to see it immediately begin necrotizing again. A repeat endoscopy showed that she now had multiple ulcers throughout her GI tract. The fluid they drained from her lungs was tinged with blood. Almost every system of her body was affected. She was placed on IV fluids and IV antibiotics, and eventually, steroids. She had an oxygen mask, but on her 2nd day in the hospital, she experienced respiratory arrest, so the decision was made to place her on a ventilator. She was very weak, but was completely compliant with all the doctors' recommendations. By the 2nd day, all but one of my siblings had arrived in town and the doctor in charge brought us all together to explain the situation. Her condition was being attributed to Henoch-Schonlein purpura, although his studies only showed a handful of cases which presented in an adult this severely. All the previous such cases had been fatal, but the most recent had been back in the 1940's, when there were not any of today's medical treatments available. He had consulted with many experts around the country and they agreed the best course was to treat with high doses of steroids. He certainly couldn't make any promises and said that if it was going to work, we should see some improvement over the next 24-48 hours. We were all in agreement with the doctor's recommendations.

Unfortunately, after a couple of hours on the ventilator, my mother asked us to stop the treatments and remove to tube. We were all distressed, because we wanted to wait the 24-48 hours to see if the treatments would work, but none of us were able to convince her to wait it out. A psychiatric consult was done so the hospital staff could be assured that she understood what she was asking for and the probable consequences of stopping the treatment. As her children, we wanted to continue the treatment, but respected her right to decide for herself. After about 12 hours on the ventilator, the tube was removed. She almost immediately requested the IVs be removed and she be allowed to go home. Again, we were frustrated by her choices, but decided to honor her wishes. She was taken home and died about 24 hours later.

Because of the premature termination of her treatment and further studies, we will never really know what caused her illness, and ultimately, her death. After a life of "brainwashing" by multiple "natural healers", she was completely fearful of all the treatments she was receiving. Antibiotics, glucose and other IV fluids, blood transfusions, steroids, "artificial" life support, high costs, and doctors making the decisions for her care were all things she was taught to fear most, and in the end, these were all that could be offered to try and save her. I believe that the long illness prior to her final hospitalization left her body and her immune system too weak to fight and that her years of trust in various quacks left her fearful and even paranoid of the medical care that could have saved her. I am often angry that she was taken from us prematurely and I lay blame for that on the practioners she trusted. In all her experience, only one had the integrity to admit he couldn't help her and advise her to seek medical care. My mother was driven by a desire to do what was right, and these quacks turn medical care into a moral issue. She was afraid of the doctors and their motives, and afraid that trusting them showed moral weakness. I think the driving force for these most of these quacks is money. They use fear and deception, and other "mind games" to maintain their hold on people. I am angry and frustrated at what they did to my mother and my family, but more frustrated to know that they are all still out there practicing and deceiving other people.

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Ms. Fowden, who resides in Sandy, Utah, hopes that posting her story will help others by showing how practitioners may keep on quacking even when their patient is dying from lack of appropriate care.

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This page was revised on February 22, 2002.