I will preface this story with a few things…1. I usually only write about happy things, but this experience was so ridiculous that it screamed out – write about me! 2. While it was the scariest thing that I have ever experienced, you can probably figure out that I am still alive…so…yay… :). and finally 3. As most of you know, I have traveled in several hostile environments – I have done land crossings between boarders of war-torn African countries and been kept by people with weapons longer than I would have liked, I have had to barricade doors, walk through fiery roadblocks and sleep with knives and I have even had a gun pointed at me and not once did I leave my trip or even think about booking a flight home – – yet sweet touristy “let’s go surfing” Costa Rica broke me! Here is the story…
I just helped a client launch a new company. While fun, also exhausting…long hours, lots of driving, sleeping in hotels etc. etc. The day I rolled off the project I boarded a flight to Costa Rica for what I thought was for some deserved fun.
Why Costa Rica? I wanted to volunteer at a place to help turtles and protect them from poachers. During my search for a place to work, I came a across a cleansing retreat also located in Costa Rica. What is a cleanse? Well I do juice cleanses all the time…pretty simple…make juice, drink juice, be happy, feel good, hells ya.
OK, it was decided. First: A week of cleansing. Second: Surfing. Third: Volunteer at a save the turtles place in a small village on the west coast.
I arrived at the retreat location after several flights and a pick-up truck ride into the forest. While beautiful and remote it was a little different than I expected. Since it was the last week of the season, I was one of two guests – the other – a 67 year female who I will call K. The owner M explained the week to us and to my surprise it was a bit more than drinking some juice – fiber and other less than fun things were also expected. When will I ever do something like this again? I thought to myself. It can’t hurt–so I thought at the time. The Basic Daily Routine for the cleanse is noted below. After five days of no food, I was actually feeling great. I even went scuba diving and all was well.
“Do you want to do a liver cleanse?” M asked.
Huh? I had never even thought about a liver cleanse. I don’t eat anything unhealthy nor do I drink or really do anything knowingly evil to my liver. However, after some reading it seemed safe and I said “OK.”
It was not lovely. The concoction is listed below for anyone curious. In addition to drinking nauseating liquids, I woke up to no electricity since the evening had been filled with what quite honestly may have been the loudest thunder that had ever crashed in my presence. No electricity means no juicing. I waited all day for a chance to ingest some calories.
Finally at 5:30 PM electricity was restored. M made a juice mixture of pineapple and a local fruit that I will call MF. I sat happily at my laptop in the open seating area and started to sip the juice. My mouth started tingling. I stopped immediately, thinking about some random EM text I read discussing allergic reactions… and….seconds later, my tongue started to swell. Not good. I stood up and walked over to M to tell her. The words would not come out – my tongue was too swollen for me to speak. An extreme heat wave went through my body, my breathing became restricted and my heart rate erratic. I became disorientated and clutched my chest as I started to fall. There is no way emergency medical people can get to me here was the first thing that went through my mind. I am going to die was the second.
M looked very surprised but quickly gave me lemon juice. I grabbed it and washed my mouth out with it. For some reason the juice seemed to stop the swelling from increasing. She handed me more. I drank it. I laid on the ground and M sat at my feet.
“Your body is vibrating,” She said as she held onto my heels and slightly elevated my legs.
I was shaking and my heart rate was certainly not normal, and I was terrified. One thing I have always been able to count on through my life has been my health. Through my many travels, I have never been betrayed and never felt so completely out of control. I have been so lucky throughout my crazy journeys. This new feeling, truly thinking it was my last moment – trumped any jump off of any bridge, any sleepless night in the jungle and anything that I had ever experienced before. After about an hour on the floor, my symptoms seemed to subside. I stood up and had some vegetable broth and went to bed. I am OK I thought to myself– Just a random weird experience.
The next morning it was time for me to break my fast. I slowly ate papaya and watched for more symptoms, but all seemed fine with my breathing. M made me a smoothie and I walked down to the massage hut and met with the masseuse, S. As S started my foot treatment I gingerly sipped my smoothie – I started to get hot, my lips started to swell, I started having trouble breathing and now knowing the consequences the fear set in strong. I laid down on the massage table and told S to go get M. I am not OK I said to her in firm voice.
Soon I had M at my feet and S by my side as I laid on the bed shaking staring up at the prayer flags that were draped from one side of the hut to the other. At this point I was not doing well. It was the second reaction within 18 hours. I could not breathe properly, my heart was racing and my body was convulsing.
“I don’t think you are having an allergic reaction” M said. “A cleanse is more than just a physical thing, it is also emotional,” she continued as S shook her head in agreement.
Huh? Are they out of their minds? This situation quickly elevated from the scariest moment of my life to that moment on steroids – when you think you are dying and the only people that are there to help you think that the very serious reaction you are having is from some nonexistent emotional baggage it’s an entirely new situation – – not great.
“I am not OK” I said to my companions. “I want to go home.”
Then they continued the conversation with comments like “accept the fear”, “push the fear away”, “what are you scared of?”
“I want to go home and find out what is wrong with me,” I muttered.
This was quickly combated with statements such as “Why? So you can go get medicine and make it all go away?”
What the hell? “No,” I replied. “I just know something is really wrong and I want to know what it is.”
“Why are you sacred to die?” S said to me.
Wow. I am done. I started to cry, which absolutely did not help the situation. I said nothing back to her. I just sobbed and looked up at the flags.
“Ok. You don’t want to talk about that,” She said as it was fairly clear by my reaction.
I shook my head through my tears.
At this point I was pretty damn sure I was going to die in a hut in a forest in a foreign country surrounded by these two women – who I am sure in their heads were being thoughtful, however in my head – not so much. I honestly don’t think they could have said anything worse than the words they chose.
Many things went through my head at that moment as I stared up at the prayer flags and knew they would probably be my last sight. What does one do in their last moments? Imagine hugging those you care about? Imagine forgiving those who have done you wrong? Honestly neither of these acts gave me any peace whatsoever. Time passed. Eventually the shaking stopped and my body started to right itself. I stood up. I needed to get the hell out of there.
There were no flights out of the nearby airport for several days. If I drove 2 ½ hours, I could catch a flight to the US within 24 hours. Car booked. Flight booked. New hotel for the night booked. No food and only bottled water. The nearest hospital was over an hour drive on a dirt road and I was not about to take any more chances.
The next morning’s drive was long, bumpy, and lonely. People who know me well, know that I am not a big fan of marriage and never have been (those who do not know me – my reasons are several and detailed so we will keep that for another blog) and while I do travel with people I care about sometimes – I often travel alone – I have always felt that just because someone else is busy, it should not keep me from exploring. It is quite difficult to change my opinion on something I feel strongly about, but this may have been my kryptonite. Alone in the back of this truck, it became very clear to me why one would want a signed legal document saying that this person will save my life if needed. Honestly I am only saying this half in jest – I truly thought I was going to die and I was with two people who did not seem to care if that happened – in fact, it seemed that in their belief system it would be OK, because I would be reincarnated. And now I was about to get on a flight alone with nothing but a few Benadryl pills, a syringe and a glass vile of what seemed like an antihistamine from the 1950s that I picked up at small local a pharmacy just in case. It would have been nice to have a person with me that wanted to keep me alive.
The flight was successful. I made it back to the US safely. Ironically, I found out a few days later the very location that I would have been surfing was hit by an earthquake. Crazy.
After two months I finally feel like I am starting to heal. I am far from normal, but the common belief is that I will eventually get there. What actually happened is unknown. In the US I visited doctors – some absolute quacks and eventually some highly esteemed—thankfully. Many allergy tests later, nothing. The first two weeks I could only eat two foods and the fear of eating causing me not be able to breathe again was overwhelming and surely impeded my progress. I slowly started to add in new foods and then another reaction put me back to square one. Then the lack of nutrition started a whole new slew of issues. Finally after about five weeks I was able to add in new foods again and then at six weeks I started yoga. While I am still scared to eat anything new – I am working on it.
We cannot say for sure it was the cleanse, a reaction to the MF fruit, someone poisoning me (wow that would suck), a mix of everything or something else all together. What did I learn? If it is not broken – leave it be. I was super healthy pre-cleanse and in one sip messed myself up severely. The scariest thing is probably that both of the specialists that I found said the same thing – that I am very lucky to have made it through the experience and that they feel it is because I was strong and someone else may not have been so lucky. So…carry an epi-pen – because you never know. And fine, maybe legal documents can be romantic. 🙂
Basic Daily Routine for Cleanse
- 7:00 AM: Lemon juice and water
- 8:00 AM: Drink of spirulina (microalga), coconut water, fresh coconut meat, bee pollen
- Colema (5 gallons – either coffee, lemon, or garlic) what the?
- Fiber Drink
- 12:00 Noon: Juice (either beet, carrots, ginger or lemon, apple, ginger, spinach)
- Colema (5 gallons – either coffee, lemon, or garlic) what the again?
- Fiber Drink
- 3:00 PM: Juice (either watermelon or coconut water)
- 5:30 PM: Chlorophyll and lemon drink
- 7:00 PM: Broth from boiled potato skins, celery and garlic (added Himalayan pink salt and cayenne pepper)
- Before Bed: Coconut Water Kefir
Cleanse Day 5 – start of liver cleanse
- 6:00 PM: For Liver Cleanse: Epson Salt and Water #1
- 8:00 PM: For Liver Cleanse: Epson Salt and Water #2
- 10:00 PM: For Liver Cleanse: Grapefruit Juice and Olive Oil Drink
- Felt Very tired: went to bed
Cleanse Day 6 – end of liver cleanse
- 6:00 AM: For Liver Cleanse: Epson Salt and Water #3
- 8:00 AM: For Liver Cleanse: Epson Salt and Water #4
- Colema: 5 Gallons: Coffee