Confessions of a Diarrhetic Book 1: Pepto Abysmal
“For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”
Before the whole vomiting and crying over yams thing happened, I was already a bit of an iconoclast. I didn’t fit the mold. Every Wednesday I played Dungeons and Dragons, but still dated pretty girls. I was a sensitive poet, who thought about Deeper Issues but kept getting into fistfights with local dude brahs. I looked like a hipster, but my friends were mostly jocks. I was a unique guy, fractured down the middle, simultaneously occupying two worlds.
The thing was, I had nothing on my mom. That nerd-cool, hipster-jock thing was magnified 10 fold in her.
If a picture was worth a thousand words then a thousand examples would paint a pretty clear portrait of this monumental woman, but to understand why I thought consuming an entire bottle of Pepto-Bismol would cure my devastating illness, a bite-sized sample would suffice.
My mom went to college for nursing and worked as a practitioner of Western Medicine at various hospitals. After work she came home and ran a doctors-are-evil, hippie momma, herbal supplement, voodoo bonanza out of her basement. People came to her from all over the country with illnesses and maladies so she could diagnose them with arm pulls and pokes from her mighty fingers. The method was called Contact Reflex Analysis and it was weird.
As far as I understood (and believe me, I never understood anything about my mother) the theory went something like this: The human body runs on electrical current. Signals are sent in loops from everywhere to everywhere and like the P and N doped silicon I was studying in school, the body’s circuits needed to connect or they went out. Practitioners of this system claimed one human could interact with another human’s bio-circuit to diagnose what was wrong with their patients.
In practice, CRA looked stranger than the theories behind it. My mom would tell a patient to extend his arm parallel to the ground and make a fist – picture Jesus on the cross if He only had one arm. Then she would grab the outstretched wrist and touch various parts of the patient with her other hand. Each touch was accompanied by a downward push on the extended arm. If the patient’s limb remained strong (if they continued to be half crucified), it meant the continuity created by my mom’s biorhythmic circuit and the patient’s was complete and everything was OK. If the patient suddenly lost muscle strength, his arm would drop. That meant something was wrong with the circuit. This initiated a series of even stranger, faster motions with the back of the hand and the tips of the fingers, each accompanied by a downward push on Our Broken Savior’s Outstretched Arm.
A typical diagnosis cycle looked like this: touch the forehead, push on the arm, touch the throat, push on the arm, left kidney, push, right kidney, push, pubic bone, push. Once my mom got good, and man did she get good, she ran through the motions like they were kung fu.
Forehead, push, throat, push, left kidney, push, right kidney, push, pubic bone, push.
Forehead, throat, left kidney, right kidney, pubic bone.
Forehead throat left kidney right kidney pubic bone.
Like a white witch performing the inverted Sign of the Cross, her hands flowed over the bodies of the sick and infirm, bringing healing, hope and endless bottles of Standard Process supplements to those who found their way into her basement. There were other implements of the craft down there as well. Homemade footbaths, a bed that wriggled like a snake under the force of automated servos, Radio-Shacked together pieces of batteries connected to contact pads for reconnecting human circuitry and, strangest of all, an ancient, black and silver, perfectly calibrated, near mint condition (everything in my mother’s house was near mint condition) official nurse’s scale. Remember that? This titan of hippie healing made her daily bread as a nurse. And not just any kind of nurse, she was a come on in and we’ll pump you full of Coumadin nurse. Coumadin. A process so toxic if a single nurse on a single day messed up and dotted a ‘T’ on your paperwork, you fucking died.
You probably thought they let any nurse off the floor pour death meal down the throats of beloved grandmas with such precisely timed doses that the amazing benefits and horrible consequences met within the chaos of the human body and fused together in a scientific harmony that allowed her to live long enough to hold her first great grandchild in trembling, thankful arms. But they didn’t. To be a Coumadin nurse, you had to be a beast, and that was exactly what my mother was, a gigantic, all-knowing Craterhoof Behemoth of a woman who thundered over the landscape and rained down healing on saints and sinners alike. She was Ares, she was Cerberus, she was the Apocalypse viewed in reverse.
But in the basement she was different. In the basement she was Love. In the basement with its five enormous bookshelves filled row upon row with bottles of ointments, salves, herbs, potions, unguents and tools of the healers trade, she was something special, gentle and unique. She could calm with a touch or renew with a word. Not quickly, like a shot, but slowly, over time. If you did what she said and believed in your heart, she would mend your ills and soothe your soul. At work she tended her patients with the meticulous care modern medicine demanded. At home she plied a different craft, employing the mystic wisdom of the ancients.
On the surface, her holistic practice was a moneymaker, a way to fill the gaps between paychecks. Broken people came to her with aches and pains and purchased bottles of supplements at a modest profit. But nurses made good money and my mom was a good nurse. A bottle of Standard Process supplements sold for $20-$50 and a typical patient walked out of her house with five or six bottles and a promise to eat right. Not an insignificant sum but after you factored in her costs and time spent she would have been better off picking up an extra shift at the clinic and calling it a weekend. The reason my mom diagnosed people had nothing to do with money. Her magic was not employed for gain or, more accurately, her gain was not measured in currency. To her, the act of healing was an end in itself. She sold supplements and fixed people so she could afford more supplements to fix people.
At the hospital she hit up unsuspecting patients: “Psst, hey buddy, need some health? Those steroids are draining your adrenals and if you don’t pump them up with pantothenic acid, you’re going to get sicker than you were.”
The patient, hooked up to some crazy machine, no doubt stared back at her, slightly confused, “What?”
“The bags under your eyes tell me you need some immune support. Look, here, hold out your arm, now resist.”
Touch, push, tap, push.
“There, see how your arm went weak?”
“That means your adrenals are shot, you need immune support. Here’s my number. Gotta go, here comes the shift nurse.”
Then, like a drug dealer downtown, she dissolved back into the hospital, just another upstanding purveyor of Western Medicine happy to pump you full of chemicals and let the chips fall where they may. Think about that – a practitioner of biorhythmic manipulative voodoo magic hidden among the clergy of the High Priests of Exalted Medicine. This was not to say that CRA was total bullshit, but it was far from scientific. There were too many variables. Science hated variables and my mother tried to read the relative strength of a patient’s outstretched arm versus the downward force of her own pushes while she touched general areas on clothed body parts to connect circuits between different people who may or may not have been compatible. What if the patient’s arm was tired, or their sweater was too thick, or you pushed down harder this time than the time before? What if the patient was trying to sabotage you?
At an early age I figured out my mother’s system. I couldn’t swallow pills, so when I got sick and needed supplements, my mom ground them up and buried the dust in spoons of homemade applesauce. She fed these spoonfuls to me like a baby at the dinner table. Each one tasted like vitamin infused mush with sand in it, and supplements were not like antibiotics. You took one, maybe two pills from a doctor and you were good to go but vitamins didn’t pack as big a wallop, you had to take more. My mom loved supplements and could quickly prescribe forty pills a day, which was fine if you could swallow a pill, but was a metric ton of spoons filled with applesauce.
CRA told my mom when your liver needed a cleanse, but it could also tell her how many garlic capsules were required to get the job done. After my mom diagnosed a patient, a different test was used for dosage. She’d tell the patient to make the “OK” symbol with his or her right hand and squeeze tightly between the tips of the thumb and pointer finger. Then my mom would say out loud, “How many garlic pills does this body need?”
That was in the beginning, she would speak the words. It was a focus, a crutch to project her will. As she grew in power, her ability to project the question through thought alone also increased and she stopped vocalizing her intentions, but in the beginning she asked the questions aloud then tried to pull the patient’s fingers apart. If the fingers were strong and stayed together, she would pull again, if they then grew weak and broke apart you had gotten to two, which meant that you needed one pill. If she tried to pull your fingers apart five times and on the fifth time they separated, it meant you needed four pills. Easy, right? I remember the day I started to doubt my mother’s methods.
It began innocently enough, I was in grade school and had gotten sick. My mom was using CRA to figure out how to make me well and decided that my body needed beta-carotene. This was a major bummer because beta-carotene applesauce was the worst thing I had ever put in my mouth. But I was sick and my mother’s herbs would make me well. I could handle it. I was tough.
She told me to make the OK symbol with my fingers, then wrapped her stern hands around the circle and began to pulse. What came next was recorded using the Poetic Numbering Standard, normal conversions apply.
One, two, three.
Man I must be really sick.
Four, five, six.
6 spoons of the worst tasting thing I have ever put in my mouth every day for days until well?
Seven, eight, nine.
My adrenaline surged, this was unprecedented, beta-carotene had never before needed to be taken in such quantities!
Ten, eleven, twelve.
Break! Break! Go weak little fingers! Trigger human circuitry!
Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.
I was on the verge of tears. I stared down at our little ritual and my traitorous hand and prayed to God that He take this burden from me lest I fail in the testing.
Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.
18 spoonfuls of beta-carotene a day, what was this, Auschwitz? I tried to do the math: 18 divided by 3, was… let’s see, 3 times 4 was 12 plus 3 was, how many for breakfast? My mind couldn’t handle the terror and do calculations but I knew it was a lot, and then there was lunch and dinner and it wouldn’t stop until I was well enough to return to school.
I couldn’t take it any more.
I released my hand. I let her break the circle.
“Nineteen beta-carotene,” said my mom as she recorded the number on her little dosage sheet, “You’re low on Vitamin A, which means your immune system is stressed. Have you been avoiding bread like I told you? You know how wheat makes you feel.”
I stood there in stunned silence and let the horror seep in. My life was over. I was about to endure an exercise in destructive wellness not even the cancer patients at the hospital where my mom worked could comprehend. I couldn’t swallow gritty spoonfuls of vitamin infused applesauce without at least a little help from my teeth and that meant the protective layer of applesauce got disturbed and I tasted the medicine every time. Ninteen spoonfuls a day! This was going to be hell and I knew it. I crawled back into bed to contemplate my fate.
Nineteen. An inauspicious number but an enormous one with brutal consequences, because it led to a lifetime of doubt in my mother’s approach, which led to a lifetime of poor health decisions. Nothing started out evil, but anything could be twisted with enough time, and life was long. On May 12, 2012, the night the Nuggets lost to the Lakers, the consequences of this seemingly forgettable diagnosis erupted from my guts like a blackened god of death.
Nineteen spoonfuls a day, was she really going to do this? Would I have to endure the torture, and could I survive? Wouldn’t it be better to take less and recover slowly? Why the need to get well so quickly? And what if I hadn’t stopped? What if I had continued to let her pulse instead of allowing her to break that circle?
I had allowed her to break that circle.
It could have been worse,
My little mind reeled at the implications. I was taking 19 pills a day and not more because I had decided to release my fingers. The fact that this had never before occurred to me showed that CRA was not a total pile of rubbish. There was something to it. Even I had felt my arm go weak and my strong, strangely-shaped fingers give out, but CRA was an inexact method. There were a lot of variables and my will was included in the mix.
How far would my mother have gone had I let her that day? Twenty-five, thirty, forty pills? I had known her my whole life and could honestly say there was no bridge she would not have crossed, no journey she would not have endured, no wall she would not have shouted down to make sure her little Nathan found his way back to health. This, provided those bridges, journeys and walls were of the holistic hippie mystic variety.
Science and faith, knowledge and intuition, hospital halls and a basement full of supplements; all these things combined to form the same paradox of a woman. This, dear reader, was my mother, the incomparable Diane Dvirnak, the font from which I sprang.
Written, recorded, performed and videoed by Jordan Almanzar. When I was sick and full of madness, including this video on the blog made sense. It doesn’t any more, but that’s madness for you.
If you want to download the song just write click the play button and select the ‘save’ feature.
Written and recorded by Myself with some friends in my mom’s basement. Lyrically it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. The recording is what my recordings always are: fine considering the equipment i used. Hear those female vocals? That’s my sister, doesn’t her voice sound like crystal?