Amy Choate-Nielsen: A 'grape' idea: medicine comes in all shapes and sizes

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19 2013 7:40 p.m. MST

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I have always been fascinated by the process of healing.

When I was younger, I fancied myself a bit of a natural savant at treating aches and pains. When I had a headache, I put ice cubes in a plastic bag and put it on my forehead for relief. If I twisted my wrist or had an itchy rash, I wrapped the area in an ace bandage and added ice to that, too.

I prescribed water for any sickness. When I broke my big toe, I made myself a little walking cast by strapping two sandals together that fit under the ball of my foot so my toe hung off the end. I could walk without bending the toe, and the height of my contraption kept my foot from hitting the floor when I lifted my heel. I thought it was ingenious.

I was so pleased with my own results that I started practicing on other people — my siblings, the family pet, helpless worms that got stuck on the hot cement during the summer. I set up a post in the back yard where I sat on a lawn chair and waited for hours on end, watching the sidewalk. When the worms appeared I doused them with water and transported them to cool, damp soil.

Somewhere along the way — probably about the time I became a mother — I started to lose faith in my healing powers. Now any time my kids are sick, especially at night, I watch helplessly and hope for some kind of pharmaceutical to make them better.

I want to believe in natural remedies, but there's a skeptic in the back of my mind that hinders my faith. It remembers the time I had a horrible allergic reaction that resulted in an itchy rash across my face. I swallowed the most bitter, nauseating Chinese herbs three times a day to treat the problem and suffered through it for days without relief. Then I got a steroid shot from a doctor and some pills from the pharmacy, and my rash was gone almost instantly.

Then again, another time I was abroad with a toothache when someone recommended putting clove oil on my tooth. It worked like a miracle and completely stopped the pain, even after I stopped applying the oil.

My experiences are hit and miss, but I admire people who know how to treat their infirmities naturally, who believe enough to make it work.

I think my grandmother, who died before I was born, might have felt the same way.

Fleeta Choate was a registered nurse, so she obviously believed in the power of medicine, but as I've learned more about her, I've come to understand that she was a believer in trying it all.

For regular aches and pains, she recommended lots of fluid, enemas and rest. For her own cancer, she agreed to experimental treatments, chemicals and surgeries.

But she also tried to beat her disease with her diet.

After her cancer became terminal, my parents tell me there was a period of time that she only ate grapes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She ate them until she couldn't get them anymore because the season changed.

How strange, I thought. Why would she think that would be the way to heal her untreatable cancer? Why grapes?

Interestingly, she wasn't the only one to believe in the powers of the grape. In my grandmother's time, the fruit was thought to flush toxins from the body and protect the body against cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, Johanna Brandt, a South African dietitian, proposed the grape-only diet in 1925 with the claim that she cured herself of stomach cancer by following its rules, according to the cancer society's Web site. The diet gained popularity for some time, but, as in my grandmother's case, the diet was never scientifically proved to be effective.

Still, decades later, my grandmother's diet means something to me. As a medical professional, she believed in the power of the grape as much as she did in the power of the pill. She was open-minded. She was educated. And she was willing to do whatever it took to have an extra chance at life — even if it meant eating grapes all day.

So maybe those Chinese herbs weren't such a bad idea, after all. Neither were the drugs. I'll follow my grandmother's example and try it all.

Except enemas.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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