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My Celiac was a gut-wrenching story

I have to sit down.

It’s May 2009. I’m walking down Embassy Row in Washington, DC – heading back to my Du Pont Circle hotel from the National Cathedral. It couldn’t be a more beautiful day.

My stomach hurts. It’s been gnawing at me for two years. But today the pain is sharp and wince-worthy in the “ow f–k f–k f–k f–k F–K!” variety. I’m grimacing and sweating and wondering if I had Skittles for breakfast and chased them with Drano.

And I have to sit down.

Why now? Why this week of all weeks?

I’m pretty much off work – taking a class in Our Nation’s Capital. First time there. My family is not with me and I have to admit: though I want to share the experience with them, the break is kind of nice. I’ve been free to wander and explore, walking miles, sometimes in museums, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes aimlessly in museums (Smithsonian Air & Space anyone?).

Emotionally though, I think I’ve eaten glass.

I got off the phone with my Dad that morning. My hero was breathless and scared. I’ve never heard him like this. Diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer two weeks before, he was on his way to his first treatment. I hang up convinced he’ll die on the way there. I feel helpless.

Oh: and my then-wife told me last night that she didn’t miss me. And really hasn’t for a long time.

Walking – my usual salvation – padding problems into the pavement – isn’t solving anything for me today.

I can’t go any further right now and I don’t understand.

Dan Wool treadmill workout circa 2009

I am 38 years old and I exercise — therefore I’m healthy! I do weights and run on a treadmill like Napoleon Dynamite with ear buds. I play soccer on Saturdays.

I eat healthy too. I mean, I’ve single-handedly kept the vegan teahouse next to my hotel in business this week! So shouldn’t I be well?

And then I actually have the thought, “I need to sit down.” I stop on the sidewalk, look around me and creak down onto the concrete steps of an African embassy.

And….

Holy shit…am I?…am I…crying? I’m crying!

Just like Mr. Smith — or George Bailey. Quiet. Heaving but  apparently trying not to draw much attention. Trying to avoid the askance glances of judgmental pigeons. Swallowing and stuffing emotions into my stomach. Twist twist goes the invisible knife again.

What do I do? (“Help me Clarence!” Or Saunders. Or God. Or the Kenyan attaché. Whoever. Somebody.) But the cavalry is just me. Dances with Wool.

You have CELIAC!

And this time I give up. I’ve fought this until now – trying to do it all myself. This, I painfully realize, was foolish. I make an appointment with my primary care physician assistant when I get home. (I haven’t actually seen my actual doctor in years). I’m referred to a gastroenterologist who scopes me. We follow-up.

HIM: You have Celiac disease
ME: Never heard of it. What is it?
HIM: Nothing too serious. Just eat a gluten-free diet and you’ll outlive all your friends.

He smiles and hands me a scrip for industrial strength Prilosec and leaves.

Despite my initial disappointment and confusion, I figure out the Gluten Free Diet pretty quick. No bread? No beer? No problem! Whole Foods has a gluten free aisle! This is going to be easy! I spend an hour there examining labels and buy everything tasty-looking that doesn’t say “wheat”.

I start immediately. Day One:

  • Morning: Bob’s Red Mill Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal with maple syrup
  • Morning snack: Glutino gluten free crackers with cheese
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich with Udi’s gluten free bread.
  • Afternoon snack: Gluten free soft snickerdoodles (so good I eat the whole box – they’re gluten free!)
  • Dinner: (I treat myself!) Gluten free pizza at Picazzo’s

Okay, I exaggerate. But not by much. (Sometimes’ I’d go into chipnosis draining two or three baskets of warm (corn is gluten-free!) tortilla chips at the Mexican restaurant downstairs at work).

Six months later, I felt…blech. But I was no longer in pain on my new gluten-free, proton-pump-inhibited diet. So… #winning.

Then at a Christmas party, I’m standing outside on a 72-degree evening and I’m shivering.

My friend Leslie is a woman who has no trouble getting right to the point. She asks me what’s wrong?

“Chilly out here,” I say.

“No it’s not!”

“You’re not cold?”

“No, Dan! It’s beautiful out! Look at you! You’re skin and bones! That’s why you’re cold! You look terrible! I thought you were fixing your stomach thing.”

“I am!” And I proudly explain my gluten-free diet and grab a couple mini-carrots off the crudité tray.

“It’s obviously not working. Get your shit together Wool! You’re freaking me out. Go get help.”

Today, I weigh about 160 lbs.

That night I was 122 lbs.

I heed Leslie’s advice. I go online and find the best nutritionist I can: an older woman with 40 years experience. Perfect! Jessica Fletcher’ll know everything and solve the case!

She meets me at a Starbucks. A shee-shee one in Scottsdale. I get a venti vanilla soy latte and find a table among a gaggle of plastic-fantastic yoga MILFs.

Two minutes in my new nutritionist says: “Don’t worry! They have a gluten-free aisle now at Whole Foods!”

I spend another polite half hour with my immediately former nutritionist who doesn’t seem interested in answering the question: “What the fuck do I need to eat?!”

I leave to gloriously release my stifled soy farts into the driver’s seat cushion of my Dadmobile — still sickish and frustrated.

With little knowledge and fewer action items, a friend recommends her naturopath, Dr. Alan Christianson. In his office I work with Dr. Ann Lovick. She spends 90 minutes with me. She listened. She used simple logic. She tested. She gave me gentle herbal supplements to calm my stomach. Minerals to build my body back up. She ordered blood tests and a food allergy panel. I had eliminated gluten but was allergic to dairy, soy, a few nuts and some of the veggies and gluten-free grains I was eating as well. I wasn’t absorbing key nutrients. My hormones were crashed out.

And…

Holy shit..am I?…am I crying? Yes! I’m just so happy someone listened and validated my concerns. And fixed them. And gave a shit doing it.

I then get a great nutritionist, Karen Graham, who knows Celiac and tailors a meal plan. My seasonal allergies — once debilitating — disappear. My stomach gets strong.

A year later I had my follow-up with the gastro. Can I get off the PPI? He shrugs. “Why? You can be on those things forever.” That didn’t sound right.

I Dr. Google an opinion to corroborate my obvious medical genius and stop taking my triple dose immediately. Big mistake. The next day it was like a kick to the gut all day. I re-pop three Prilosec and appease the gastric gods.

Back to Dr. Lovick, who explains rebound and the damage that could be doing inside. Oh. We’d have to wean off slowly. After 8 weeks, I was off.

And that was that. I was better. Sounds short but sweet but it took about a year. I felt like I could do anything.

Like go to med school.

I have to sit down.

What’s your riot?

What’s your riot?

Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of mine.

I was a senior at USC. Just a couple weeks from graduation. It was a Wednesday. Maybe 6 in the evening.

I was holding a Carl’s Jr. Santa Fe BBQ Chicken Sandwich to my mouth. And I didn’t know it but we were about to be among the Happy Star’s last customers for the night.

Police cars began zipping by one by one at top speed south down Figueroa Street near Downtown L.A.

Two….Three….Four….

Sirens high and loud. And then immediately gone.

Five….Zoom….Six…. Whee-ush….Sev-vroom.

The manager appeared and made a nervous announcement, “You all need to leave. We’re closing.”

“Closing? Now? Why? What’s going on?”

“Rodney King.”

It was at once confusing but no explanation was necessary. Those words — that name – was not just heard but felt and somehow understood immediately.

We had watched snippets on the news all afternoon. Four white cops were acquitted in a white suburb where white cops lived. We were all sickened. It was so plain on the video. There was no excuse for what they did. And now no justice?

There were protests at police headquarters. People were angry but the scene seemed under control. The Mayor made a speech. But the whole day just felt like it would be bold face morning headline, extended film-at-11 news.

Now something bigger was going on. And we could feel it.

Ten…. Eleven…. Twelve police cars. Zip. Zip. Whoosh. Streaming past us, past the “University of South Central”.

We walked in a half-run home on what in my memory seemed like empty streets.

We gathered around the lone common television in our fraternity house and watched replays of Reginald Denny being savagely beaten at Florence and Normandie.

That was the start of the chaos. That’s what paralyzed the city between the match flick and lit fuse.

It soon got dark. And stayed dark.

We got a call from the school. Stay put. Stay safe. School is closed. Until further notice.

We barricaded the front door with a coffee table. (Our Songfest and Intramural sports trophies would be safe tonight, by god!). We gathered food and beer from the kitchen and – for reasons I still don’t understand — went up to the long flat roof of our big old 1920s rooming house. We brought up some folding chairs. Dragged up a couple mattresses. A radio.

Our flock of mostly white boys (who could recite N.W.A.) were about to feel much whiter.

Eventually someone hoisted up a small TV and strung together a few extension cords. The news showed fires and looting. So more fires and looting happened. And we saw them happen. Just a couple blocks away on Vermont. Nothing on the horizon. Then, a TV report. Then minutes later a semi-distant flare and smoke and smolder. A new one would flare high next door. And smoke. And smolder. On and on down the block.

We watched the city burn like this all night. Fires without fire engines. The sky disappeared. The silence became sirens and helicopters. It was hard to know what was really going on. Or why. Or how dangerous. And nobody was going to leave the roof to find out. We were trapped for the night.

So we sat up there. Watching. On the tube and on the horizon. Disbelieving. Disheartened. Aiming trying-to-be-funny barbs at the TV reporters interviewing looters. Hoping it would soon stop so we could sleep.

I left the next morning. Ashes covered my car. On the way to the freeway, I had to weave around people with armloads of shoeboxes, emptying a broken-up shoe store. I drove to my parent’s house in the Valley, 25 miles but a world away. My Dad told me stories about when he was in the National Guard during the Watts riots in ’65. Now I would have Guardsmen patrolling my college graduation.

I remember being shaken at the turn of events. Feeling trapped. Down. Uncomfortable in my skin. Feeling the unwanted creep of xenophobia. Suddenly being scared of the world around me. Ashamed of my privileged cluelessness and devil-may-carelessness.

It was the moment I realized the world was a lot bigger and more complex than punk and rap songs and movie scenes and my cursory reading of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and that year I had Mexican roommate.

I went to a fancy school. I had a cool job lined up in Hollywood. What did the rioters ever have?

It was the end of college. Of shelter. Of innocence. It was the moment I realized that I didn’t have more than I thought, others had much less. And that emotionally we’re all the same. That we may share the same hopes and fears and frustrations but not circumstances.

25 years later, we still haven’t learned. There were riots last year about the same exact things. I am less clueless about the world around me – and have been for 25 years. I am more empathetic. And more outraged. More sad. And more resigned to what is. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I love L.A. but that bum over there baby is still down on his knees.

55 people died over four days. They rebuilt all the burned-down businesses. They paved over the riot. There are few if any physical scars. No commemorative plaque.

Our day-to-day lives are much the same. We have emotional riots every day.  Some big, some small. We present success on the outside with some paved over pain on the inside. We win and lose. There are no commemorative plaques.

But we are affected moment by moment. We have choices. And it’s not how we react. It’s how we respond and create change within ourselves. And turn it into a drive to help others.

These riot moments demand our mindful attention. And acknowledgment. They demand compassion. They demand understanding. And more than anything they demand giving back.

What’s your riot today?

And how will you rebuild?

White Coat Ceremony Speech

Last September, I was selected by my class at SCNM to give the keynote speech at our White Coat Ceremony. The ceremony marked a major medical school milestone: entry into the clinic as apprentice doctors.

I hope you enjoy this 15 minute talk in which I discuss my journey to naturopathic medicine, take a sentimental look back at two years of medical science study and look ahead to clinical rotations.

 

I enjoy educating and am available to speak to your organization about popular “cubicle disease prevention” topics, which include managing stress, avoiding digestive issues and detoxing your cubicle. Contact me for more details.

Gleaning the cubicle: my naturopathic journey

It’s 2013. And I just left a six-figure corporate job to go to medical school.

At age 43.

As a single Dad.

With two kids. (Gulp!)

I know. I can see the look on your face.

Why would anyone do THAT?!

The short answer? To help you.

The longer answer? I was not myself anymore. I had stressed myself sick. And I started to see patterns. Maybe you recognize them:

First, people around me at work got sick.

One at a time. Not colds. Or seasonal allergies. More like: where’s so-and-so? Out. On disability. And then being somewhat shocked: Rare blood disorder. Rheumatoid arthritis. M.S. They think…cancer.

  • Or….Did you hear? They wheeled him out of the meeting yesterday — heart attack. Panic attacks. Gall stone attacks. She fainted in the hallway — poor thing.
  • Or….The everyday over-the-transom, grin-and-bear-it, hushed-tones, near-brags of new diagnoses:  They said I’ve got irritable bowel…the diabeets….they found a lump….exploratory surgery.
  • Or….The odd silent judgments in your head: How did he get so fat all of a sudden? Is that weird mole cancer?
  • Or….They simply died.

Second, I started to meet people who were “living the dream”.

They were lit up by their work and their lives. These weren’t “ignorance is bliss” types. They were intelligent. Fun. And truly doing what they loved. Helping others. Really into it.

It was like when someone says, “Have you seen the new Honda?” and you start to see all the new Hondas on the road. I started to see “living the dreamers” everywhere.

But I wasn’t. And deep down I knew it for a very long time. It haunted me. Pretty much daily.

Pattern #3: Really good people were getting laid off in their 50s.

Matter-of-factly set adrift and forced to start over at a time when they should be winding down. Replaced by kids half their age and at one-third of their salary. Or not at all: their “position” was eliminated. Just like that. Dependability becoming expendability. Responsibilities becoming liabilities.

Now, I don’t think you should compare yourself to others. On the other hand, if you don’t think you’re the sucker at the table then the sucker is you. I took stock:

I had a 20-year career of increasingly important but less cool jobs I excelled at but never really liked.

I had a near-useless MBA that killed my marriage.

My non-smoker dad made it from dirt poor to corporate CEO then died too early of lung cancer — diagnosed just a year into retirement.

And for almost three years, I walked around with a burning gut and suffered from doctors without answers. When a naturopath figured this out right away — Celiac disease — I found a cure — and a calling.

Natural functional medicine not only healed me, I thrived. My journey and recommendations inspired a few others at work to change their lives. This gave me a lot of joy. And when I thought about it, I needed to be in the joy business for the rest of my life. Serving others, always needed, never laid off. Doing something bigger than myself and more meaningful than creating and explaining corporate nonsense for a deaf public.

I had the passion.I knew consulting. Problem was: I didn’t know medicine.

Solution: I did my homework. I talked to physicians. I found a coach. I created a plan. I saved a little money.

I was fired-up to do it. So I made the million dollar leap. That’s the cost to me in lost wages and new school debt over five years. A million bucks.

I haven’t missed it. And won’t. It’s been an incredible journey so far — and I’ve still got two years left.

Med school at 47 is daily challenge. But one that I love. And when it gets hard,  I focus on the future. I think about you — the silent sufferers in gray cubicles. Maxed with stress. Knowing something is off about your health and well-being. Knowing it doesn’t have to be that way. Knowing that I’ve got the solution.

Naturopathic medicine is the next wave of primary care in America and I am thrilled every day to be in the lineup.

For once I am living the dream. And I can’t wait to share it with you.

Disclaimer

Important disclaimer: I, Dan Wool, am not a doctor, I just play one at medical school. 

Official one: This site is not meant to provide medical or health advice of any kind. Do not misconstrue any information that you read here as medical recommendation, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided here on this site is intended to serve as a communication of my experiences and to share articles and public material pertaining to health that I come across. It should in no way be interpreted as medical advice of any kind.  

That and this little ditty I copied off the AMA website: When it comes to medical advice, I don’t know sh*t.  (Yet).  Views expressed are my opinion. I opine. Anything else you may think without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is strictly prohibited. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

The Talking Points on what I dispense here are these:

  • Life advice: yes
  • Business advice: yes
  • Cubicle jockeying: yes
  • Interesting topics I find and comment on: yes
  • Uplifting quotes embossed on pics of beaches and seagulls: maybe
  • Medical advice: no No NO!  Primum non nocere people!

Here’s what I do know: You are an individual with individual genes that express themselves individually. Your doctor knows you. Therefore always ask your doctor about your health. A licensed medical professional. Or someone with scientific college degrees and certified with a rigorous, nationally accredited medically-oriented Board exam and clinical experience, such as a nutritionist or nurse practitioner or Richard Simmons.

  • Not some article you just saw on the Internet.
  • Not your multi-level marketing peddling friend on Facebook.
  • Not Google images of the disease you don’t have.
  • Not political activists.
  • Not weekend seminar-certified expert with letters after their names you don’t recognize.

They don’t know YOU. They know enough actual science to be dangerous – very dangerous. Few have clinical experience. And there is no illness worse than one you created yourself from your self-justified inaction or some “expert’s” well-meaning ignorance.

So for the next two years until I graduate — read all you want, debate with friends, investigate the reaches the Web, find credible sources and gurus — even WebMD and doctors who write online articles — then if and when you’ve scared yourself silly or feel compelled to make changes to your health, go see your doctor. And when that continues to disappoint you, see a naturopath.

I hope to be that person for you in a couple years.

Wool. Out.