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Is Natural a Good Quality When It Comes to Medications

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of After Lisa:

{Looking down at the playground from her 5th floor  73rd Street window, watching  little Maria on the swings, enables Deborah  to stay calm.  They have just returned from the hospital where the outlook looks grim for her 12 year-old daughter Lisa. She is speaking to Michael her husband}

“Joanne’s cousin had a lymphoma. Everyone said nothing could be done. She took shark cartilage. They’ve used it in China for thousands of years. Joanne’s said it cured her.” 

Michael’s face tightens. Joanne cuts Deborah’s hair so they get to talk at length. Joanne’s place now has an acupuncturist and a Yoga instructor. There is talk of a spa. She sells facial creams containing herbs. Deborah claims the creams work wonders. Still worse from Michael’s point of view, Joanne is mellow and soft spoken with a smile,  an aura that hints at an understanding of the secrets of the universe. She truly believes what she believes. In style and tone she is the very opposite of Michael. He has looked over some of the brochures that Deborah’s brought home. They are nonsense.

Unfortunately, Deborah’s friend Laura is also into organic foods, and on the face of it, she doesn’t seem very crazy. No ax to grind.  Deborah has several other acquaintances who are in the same camp. Health food is no longer a cult, like Macrobiotics was in the 60’s. There are too many mainstream true believers. On the talk shows that Deborah watches similar information is repeated again and again by celebrity after celebrity, all with confidence that they know what they are talking about.   

Healthy foods, unprocessed food; at first pass that kind of makes sense. But the amount of misinformation being broadcast in the mainstream drives him nuts. Michael’s mother had her chicken soup as a remedy for sniffles, and honey and lemon juice for a cough. She knew, however, that these were bubameinsas that she got from her mother, and her mother got from her mother.  She knew that her children should drink plenty of milk, and eat their vegetables. She also knew that she didn’t know very much about scientific subjects. Nothing in fact. She didn’t adopt an I am a dodo persona. Not a hint of Lucy or Gracy Allen. She expected to be taken seriously but in science it would have been apt to be classified as stupid. His mother didn’t know how to change the channel on the TV nor did she care to learn.

“You want Lisa to take shark cartilage?”

“Michael, It’s natural.”. 

Michael erupts when he hears that word. He has gone over this subject in his mind again and again. Every time he reads or hears someone refer to “natural” as validation of a product, he comes up with a thousand counter arguments, which he marshals as what should be the end of the debate. It never is.   This is the perfect opportunity to unleash his full battery of thoughts.. 

“Deborah I love nature … I love the Grand Canyon. I love that river we go to upstate, untouched by people. I mean that place in the mountains, clouds lit up by the sunset, lightening, the trees turning into a painting in fall. You know I love it.  But that doesn’t mean that everything natural is safe or good especially when it comes to medicines.”

“There is a balance in nature. Michael . We are always screwing it up. Throwing its equilibriums into chaos when we mess with it.”

“ Fine but those equilibrium are not sacred. You know Manhattan was full of swamps. Living there in the summer meant being in a smelly, clammy, damp, rotting environment. It meant living inside  dirty underwear. Yellow Fever could hit anytime. Washington DC was even worse. Guess what? They drained the swamps. They stood up to the wetlands. Fine some birds may have been displaced. Some may have died when they lost their swamps. Except we have New York City and Washington D.C.” 

“ Yeah we have concrete paved over nature.”

“We have two vibrant centers of human activity. I’ll take that over a swamp…Nature is just what it is. it is good, it is bad and it can be very bad.

“Bubonic plague is natural. So is smallpox. That killed 300 million people. 

“Michael-” 

“They mine asbestos. It is a natural product buried under the earth. Poisonous mushrooms, mosquitos carrying malaria…”

“I get the point.” That doesn’t stop him

“Fungal diseases killing roses; black spot, aphids, mites. Nature’s gifts to us.” 

He hesitates before speaking with gusto.

“Roses represent a victory over nature. Same for the Polio vaccine.”

At this point Deborah is irritated. Which he interprets as she does not yet see the truth of his argument. His voice get louder. He reads her irritation  as skepticism which makes him pile on still more examples for his argument

Cholesterol plaques building up in your arteries. That’s natural. Once again people have defied nature. Lipitor is a nasty chemical, according to Joanne’s brochure. It’s synthetic, its disturbing the balance in your body, that’s a no-no according to her booklet.

Yes it gives some side effects, yes it changes some of your body’s equilibriums. It is an unnatural chemical that just happens to have saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people. This artificial chemical is a miracle as great as anything nature serves up. 

When I was growing up, three of my friends’ dads died in their 40’s of a heart attack. Ever notice that just isn’t happening any more. Lipitor.

Foods without preservatives are natural. Nature’s true purpose, spoiled food once killed tens of thousands of people before they added those unnatural processed chemicals, the preservative that Joanne’s brochures carry on about.”

Okay Michael, Okay, Okay. This is just what I need, you ranting and raving. You’re like a bull dog.” 

 “You don’t want to hear it? Don’t get me started with that kind of bullshit. Natural.” He unsuccessfully hunts for one of the brochures she brought home. He finds it, but before he can open it, and read some silly quotes that he’s underlined, Deborah cuts him off

    “It’s not just the brochures. I’ve read articles, a lot of articles. Plenty of people believe in natural foods..”

    “ I don’t care if 99% of people buy into it. Debbie. You’re not stupid. Use your brain instead of going along with everyone. What they are saying simply doesn’t make sense. What counts is whether something makes sense. Natural has nothing to do with it. 

“You’re so narrow minded. If it’s not Western…”

 “Deborah, think about what they’re saying. My mother would have never claimed she knew more than doctors, She knew her chicken soup worked and that was the end of it. 

  He doesn’t like the look on her face.

  “Oh right. My mother’s not liberated?” 

“You said it. I didn’t”

“Thank God she isn’t.  Let me tell you. My mother had a good mind. Still does. She can sort out bullshit better than either one of us. She doesn’t buy into this women know better than men

“Okay. Your mother’s not an idiot.”

“You’re not either but you are too taken by what other people say. I know Joanne is cool, and the people on Oprah are cool but they know shit about health and medical treatment. They’re like you, all liberal artsy in college. Science was for nerds. Those brochures you bring home? If you had ever taken a science course and taken it seriously, a course in anything, you would have read the first paragraph in that brochure and thrown it away.”

She raises her voice louder than him, “Can we stop? Michael we were talking about Lisa. Not politics. This is about Lisa. I know you need to talk about stuff you think about, but-“

It silences him. She is right. He gotten carried away once again. Lately more than ever. The room is quiet for the first time since they got home. 

Remorsefully he takes her hand. “You want to give her shark cartilage, give her shark cartilage. But that’s it. It’s not going to replace real treatment.”