Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review of Headache Treatment at True North Health Center

1. Everyone there meant well and many people took excellent care of me.
2. While there were no 'good times' not every second was bad.
3. This is a little sad and contains many feelings.

I went to True North Health Center in September 2016 for my headache disorder, New Daily Persistent Headache. Basically I've had a headache every day for five+ years and it may never go away. Read this blog post for more info.  So I went to True North to try their treatment this past September. And it's taken me this long to decide to write about it. To be honest I have thought very little about it since then. It was too much and it is still even now too raw. And I can't wait to not think about this again.

True North Health Center is a clinic in California that treats all kind of conditions with water-only fasting and healthy eating. Water-only fasting means just that. Only consuming water for a set period of time. Many people do a week. My goal was 6-8 weeks. The thought behind this is that digesting our food takes 70% of the body's energy. So if there is nothing to digest, the body then has energy available to fix itself. Also the continuous water flushes out all the bad things. Sounds reasonable.

I heard about True North from many people. I didn't want to do it. But Matt did. Matt so rarely feels strongly about headache treatments that I felt compelled to try it and if he was hopeful, I was hopeful. People like to ask me if I'm glad I went. And I don't know. I can't go back in time and so I choose to be grateful for the things I got out of it even if I didn't get healing.

It's hard for me to describe to people in short conversation why it was so hard. It really wasn't just the not eating. I love eating for sure but I was pretty emotionally prepared to just have water. It was mostly that my body just broke. I'll take you through it.

The set-up. The compound is an old hotel. The rooms form a square around the central courtyard. There are probably 20? people there with me. But most fasters stay in their room. There is a cafeteria where meals are served for those easting. There are cooking demonstrations and lectures about eating well.
A staff medical person comes at least twice a day. (They come more often because I am a difficult case.) They tell me that they will come and wake me up in the morning to take me vitals. I do not like that idea. Most of the staff are men. But after a while I get comfortable and honestly most of the time when they come by I'm already awake. I had brought books and crafts but I barely felt well enough to watch T.V. Oh and you can't shower! Because fasting people will pass out in the shower. (Packing tip for anyone going there. Pack only these things: 4 set of pajamas, tank with built in bras, many underwear/socks, apple tv, bible, journal, toiletries including baby wipes, heating pad. That's it. You don't need a thing more.

 Here is a detailed summary of my visit. I wrote it all out because maybe someone who is thinking about True North for their headaches will find this page. I know I would have loved to read a blog like this before I went. Maybe I still would have gone and if I did it would have helped. I was unprepared for the level of suffering that was before me. Here is a day by day account. (Note: As I start feeling worse I journal less so I don't remember everything from the bad days.)

Sept  3: I arrive after a six hour plane ride, a three hour bus ride, and a fifteen minute taxi. (just missing a boat). I have -2 spoons. I could hardly stand to be around any of the check-in people. I just needed to be alone. I had paid extra for a room by myself (oh P.S. this is super expensive obviously) I get to my room and it hits me. I'm doing a crazy thing. I might be here for six weeks. Away from my kittens and husband for six weeks. I start to freak out a little. I felt scared, alone, overwhelmed and suffocated. And I fixed it by shoving it down because that was the only thing to do. After I unpacked and changed, I put on the Grand Hotel and felt like a new person. Oh Julio!

Sept 4:  I met my overseeing Doctor, Dr. O'Connell. She was nice. I wanted to start my fast right away but I wouldn't until the next day. I was still pretty optimistic at this point but anxious and awkward feeling.

Day 1 of fasting: I started the water fast and it was going fine at first. I felt excited and perky. I thought "Ha! I'm going to feel this good all month!"... Not so much. I started to feel bad around 1pm. Restlessness. Upset stomach. Back Pain. Bad headache. But all that stuff was expected so I just went to bed early and woke up at 4am. I'm a genius.

Day 2: No good, very bad, awful day. I'd never felt so horrible for so long a time. Headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting (3x). I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. It was really hard to keep myself distracted. I thought "It has to get better or I'll have to leave." It felt like hell. Sparkling water helped a bit.

Day 3-4: It's better. Bit by bit. Still bad but bearable. Statistically I should be finishing with my bad days. Whole body hurts but no vomiting. Constantly prayed "God help me!" Day 4 ends with lots of vomiting.

Le sigh
Day 5: Threw up too much yesterday... Forced to start 2 day juice. Doctor hopes that will calm my stomach and help me reset. Juice breaks the fast. So I'd be starting over with my six week count.

Day 6: Juice fast not great. Took sparkling water to help <----- Greatest mistake ever. Severe stomach pain. I mean for real severe. Thought I had appendicitis or something. Had to call the on-call doctor in the middle of the night. She recommended a suppository because she thought there was some stuff still in my tract (she is right 😊) **This on-call doctor is the best doctor I see the whole time. She is always there when I need her. Because my doctor, Dr. O, is also fasting and is useless to me.

Day 7: I'm on food, only temporarily. Zucchini, potato broth, juice. Felt full and bloated. Sharp pain. Suppository again.

Day 8: Stomach better. Strong pain hangover. Felt like I'd been hit by a truck. Wanted to sleep forever.

Day 9: Broth. Broth is 95% as effective as water only fasting. They think the electrolytes will help my stomach. I am still fasting.

Day 10: Felt good until 2pm. Full tight stomach. It felt like I had just had three Thanksgiving dinners. So full a sip of broth make me feel like I'll throw up. Only finished 1 1/2 of 4 broths. Risk of dehydration.

Day 11: Bottled water now. Full tight stomach again.

Day 12: Broth. Still can't swallow enough.

Day 13:Broth. Vomit. Too much vomiting. Risk of dehydration. My body now hates the broth. Juice now.

Day 14: Juice & water. I obviously couldn't go back to just water or broth. Juice does not put my body in fasting. I came to True North to fast. And my body wasn't letting me. I felt incapable and just wanted to go home. Dr O is not around to talk to. Other doctors come and I told them that I am paying $$$ a day to fast and my body wouldn't let me. They want me to stay for the whole six weeks but just eat their organic fancy food. I am 0% interested in that. I cry a lot. It's over. I failed.

Sample of my interactions with staff:

Everyone was nice and genuinely distressed at my body's reaction to everything. They so wanted me to be a success story. I felt taken care of and safe. It's not their fault.

Day 15: Refeeding. 4 giant plates of zucchini. Bleh.

Day 16: Fruit. I get to go home in a couple days. I felt empty. I wasn't sure if I regretted coming but I was glad for the lifestyle changes. (Note: during all this suffering, there is a DVD book you watch to kill time. The DVDs teach you that being vegan is the best and animal products kill you. I'm still (mostly) vegan now.)

Day 17: The food is not good. Why does everyone think it is? (Note: Everyone LOVES this food. It's not yummy. It's bland and bleh. I feel like everyone tool the koolaid but me. They are always talking about how delicious everything is. I almost want to ask if they are joking.

Day 18-19: I felt so anxious and homesick I could hardly function. I couldn't stand my own skin. Time moved impossibly slow

Day 20: Home. With a husband in my arms and two purring kittens at my feet.

When I started to feel bad (so most of it) I also started to feel dramatic (no surprise). I pulled up the Oliver musical because I wanted to listen to "Food, Glorious Food" but I kept listening. Then I feel in love with "I'd Do Anything." It's a song where the orphans tell Nancy (see below) that they'd do anything for here. When Oliver sings he sounds like an angel. I listened to this song like a million times but I had to stop because it made me long to adopt little Orphan Oliver so much I thought I might cave in from it. I finally understood the line from Decoy Bride. "I am caverns of longingness." But the soundtrack of Oliver had yet more to teach me.

There is a song called "It's a fine, fine life." It's sung by Nancy who is kind of a surrogate mother to the boys. She is in love with Sykes (the villain). Her life is the worst. She's beaten, unloved, taken for granted, and helpless to protect the children. But her song is called "It's a fine, fine life". She lists all these hard things and says but it's a fine life anyway. And I just had an epiphany that has stuck with me even months later. It's my new motto.

Nancy's version:

My version:

Being trapped (not really) at True North made me so grateful for my life. I love my life. It's a fine, fine life and I wouldn't change a thing. Having a headache every day doesn't diminished this fine life I'm living.

So when life seems too hard, when it seems unfair and too much. I remember Nancy.

In conclusion: I'm glad True North made me vegan. And I'm never going back there.


  1. Megan,

    Wow. I had no idea that your time there was so difficult. I'm glad your chose to come back! You tried, you endured, and you learned a great lesson.

    We love you! And I love your drawings!!!

  2. I've been putting off reading this because I knew it was going to be so sad. But I had no idea how you'd make me think life - in a state of suffering - meaningful again. Thank you for helping me. I love the monogramed dress you're wearing in the drawing the with your fluffy kitties :)

  3. I remember thinking "well, why not? She has tried everything else!" And then "what!? how long do you have to fast?" And then the final straw "WHAT??!! YOU CAN'T SHOWER?, are you in a concentration camp?"
    Again, you are the bravest person I have ever met.
    You live your life to the fullest regardless of your circumstances and the pain.
    You are my hero.