We All Die From Gut Trouble

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Last year when I went for my annual physical with my Primary Care Physician, he commented that he did not have another patient in my age group who looked and acted so young. In fact he marveled at my lack of serious health problems. I was thrilled to hear such things and I wondered if I carry the same genes as members of my family who lived to see one hundred years of life and more. Somehow each of us is made from a combination of DNA that comes down the line from our parents and grandparents and beyond. 

I’ve often told the story of my paternal grandmother providing me with a medical history of her family. Of course she was not well versed in medical terminology but she nonetheless alerted me in her folksy way. She looked me in the eye and told me to always remember that people in our family all die from gut trouble. Ironically she did indeed died from colon cancer not long after her revelation and I have always been vigilant regarding the gastroenterology aspects of my body. 

In addition to my PCP, I visit my “gut” doctor, as my grandmother would have called him, on a yearly basis. I’ve endured endoscopies and colonoscopies multiple times in the fear that I might one day follow in the footsteps of my ancestors. So far the only real problem that I have is chronic heartburn caused by a hernia that I did not realize I had. If I religiously take medication for that I can generally operate without problems, but if I skip even one pill I am reduced to a state of severe pain. It is so bad that I have at times considered going to an emergency room even though I know that there is little they might do. 

It’s amazing how we are able to repair so many problems with modern medicine. My grandmother was not so lucky and she told me that many people in her family rid themselves of heartburn by drinking vinegar back in the day. In truth, that was a wonderful idea. It seems contrary but it actually reduces the burning sensation of heartburn. There have been times when I have used that trick to calm the acid backing up into my esophagus. It takes an hour or so to work, but eventually it calms things down so that I am able to go about my day. 

I once visited an Amish furniture store and they sold baked goods, jellies and home remedies as well as the lovely tables and chairs that they build so beautifully. I found a little jar filled with “Amish Heartburn Relief.” Of course I had to try it even though it cost more than the pills that I get free with my insurance each month. I knew that in spite of medication the night would come when I would be awakened by acid coursing up my throat. 

Surely enough, that moment came and I rushed to my medicine cabinet to try the Amish fix. I almost laughed out loud as I swallowed the suggested amount. It was like taking a slug of apple cider vinegar. It was no better or worse than the remedy my grandmother had suggested, but it worked and that was all that mattered to me. About an hour after ingesting it I was sleeping peacefully once again.

It’s amazing how we humans experiment to find ways to keep ourselves feeling well. I often wonder who the adventurous souls were who determined by trial and error how to treat ailments. Of course they went through some strange phases like using leeches, but over time we seem to get better and better at finding remedies that actually work. I find help my from my doctors and never through the grapevine, but back in the day I suppose that there were times so desperate that people were willing to try almost remedies. 

I can remember a time when there was talk of replacing a person’s heart. The very idea sounded like something out of science fiction. It also seemed to be so dangerous that it would not be worth the risk. Indeed the first iterations did not always turn out well, but over time the experts learned what had worked and what had not and made improvements. Now it is almost commonplace to transplant hearts and kidneys and other organs of the body. It really boggles my mind to think of such things. 

I’m a stickler for going through my doctors first. I trust them because they have never let me down. When it comes to home remedies I only use them as a stopgap measure until I can see my physician. Even then I refuse to ingest anything that I would not use to make food. There is no way that I would rely exclusively on the advice of a neighbor rather than going to my doctor. I know for certain that my grandmother died of colon cancer that had overtaken her body when she ignored it for many months. Her doctors were devastated by the realization that they might have been able to treat her successfully if only she had come to them sooner. Somehow she forget her own warning that everybody in her family dies from gut trouble. I don’t intend to do the same thing.

I’ve learned from family yore that a great great grandmother was known as “Doc Reynolds” because of her knowledge of folk medicine. She used herbs to keep people healthy and to cure common illnesses like colds. She created poultices for rashes and wounds. Evidently people came from all around to consult with her wisdom. Perhaps in a later day she might have actually gone to medical school and become Doctor Reynolds. I’m proud that she knew what to do in a place where no doctors were around, but I live near one of the best Medical Centers in the world, so I choose the professionals instead. Maybe I will be lucky and not be one of the family members who dies from gut trouble because I take my prescribed pill everyday and keep my Amish remedy close at hand. Who knows, one day I may be able to assuredly tell my grandchildren that they don’t have to die from gut trouble.