"He told me my cholesterol was at stroke stage, heart attack stage. Before he handed me the paper with my cholesterol and blood pressure scores on it, he wrote PLEASE START ON A DIET on it and smiled at me so kindly and even gave me a little hug. He said, "It's time to learn to take care of yourself," and I went out of there thinking maybe something could be different."
John Rice sees 80 to 90 patients a week, for about 15 minutes apiece. That's not enough time to give any diabetic or heart patient the information and support they need. But Cabin Creek is a "medical home," meaning they practice medicine in a team. Rice's team includes a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a medical assistant, pharmacist and behavioral health counselor.
During Freida's first visit, he arranged for her to see a Cabin Creek counselor who could help her learn to manage her diabetes. Before she left the building, she had started learning what foods sent her blood sugar skyrocketing.
"I didn't realize what I was doing to my body till I went to Cabin Creek," she said. "For awhile, I couldn't make myself stop. I knew I needed God's help to quit eating. I said, 'If you don't touch me, God, I'm going to die.'"
She kept seeing Rice and the counselor and took the antidepressant pills Rice prescribed. From the medical point of view, she was in intensive care management. From her point of view, she was in spiritual crisis. They talked about it both ways, Rice said.
After a few months, "in June 2011, God finally removed that spirit of gluttony from me," she said. "I know a lot of people won't understand this, but I felt the spirit leaving me, the very second it left. That's what it took. After that, I could stop eating and start losing that weight."
Sharing credit with Jesus
Five months later, in October, she sat in the Cabin Creek lobby, 35 pounds lighter, waiting for a routine checkup with John Rice. "I am a transformed woman," she said, laughing. "I will tell anybody that asks that Jesus and Cabin Creek Clinic delivered me from food!"
She had started walking. "I used to huff and puff, just walking to the mailbox. Not now!" she said. "And I have completely rearranged the way I cook."
She easily reeled off solid advice about fish oil, vitamins, garlic, oatmeal for breakfast. "For your bowels and stuff, you need to eat roughage, shredded wheat, healthy stuff," she says. "Nuts are good for you, and blueberries are good for your eyes."
She learned a lot of that at Cabin Creek and on the Internet, she said. "Drink water, lots of it!" she said. "It washes away the fat. Put non-sugar flavors in it, so it's like pop."
She had dropped from size 2X dresses to size 16. "And still losing!" Her depression had lifted. She was no longer seeing the counselor.
"Dr. Rice is going to be proud of me today!" she said. She had not had any pop or a single potato chip for four months, she said. "Four months without pop! Whooo!"
"The visit after I'd lost 20 pounds, Dr. Rice came in the room, and he said, "Look at you, Freida! You look beautiful!" and I could barely speak. A doctor had told me I was beautiful!"
A big smile crossed her face. "Did you know there's spices and herbs all through the Bible? Cinnamon helps your immune system. I pour the cinnamon on my apples and oats in the morning."
Her name was called. She followed a nurse down the hall. By the time she saw John Rice, the nurse has checked her blood pressure and other vitals. She and Rice laughed and joked. As he checked her heart, she said she wasn't sleeping well. He told her about melatonin. "It's natural. Your body makes it," he said.
John Rice does not mind sharing credit with Jesus. "Freida and I share a belief in a working God," he said. But even if they did not, "The important point is, we listen to people, and we treat the whole person, not just their medical symptoms. We pay attention to whatever is going on in their lives," in terms of how it can either help them or stop them from getting better, he said.
On his laptop computer, he and Freida looked at her chart. "I'm off three of the four pills I used to take," she said. The graph of her blood sugar went steadily down.
"I see those people on TV talking about lap band surgery, and I want to tell them Jesus can help them lose that weight, and they don't need to cut themselves," she said.
Rice listened attentively. They agreed she would get a mammogram and try melatonin. She beamed as Rice walked her down the hall to the lab to get her blood drawn. He asked a nurse to sign her up for a mammogram, gave her a hug, then was off to the next patient. Before his day was over, he would see about 18 patients.
On her way out of the clinic, Freida signed out, then picked up her prescription at the clinic's low-cost pharmacy. She looked around and sighed. "God sent me to the right place, didn't he?" she said.
Epilogue: By May 1, Freida Smith has lost 61 pounds and dropped to a size 12. Her blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol are in normal range. She's clearing brush and planting a garden. She's been asked to preach on the spiritual dangers of overeating. "I have so much I want to tell people, that they can escape that food addiction, and they do not need to give up hope."
Reach Kate Long at 304-348-1798 or kate_l...@hotmail.com.