The other night I ate grass-fed, organically raised spareribs. That singular act determined this week’s column would be different. As the first of a series, it’s from a more personal perspective but it’s time to tell my story in the hope that it will help other people. This is part one of a three part series. (I originally wrote this series of posts as a newspaper column this month.)

I have shared “safe” experiences with food through my work with farmers and fishers; recipes; my work on Fairtrade and human trafficking. While through my writing, I have referenced a health crisis that hit me 5 years ago, until today, I have lacked the courage and healing that would allow me to share more robustly.

One night five years ago, I went to bed feeling especially tired.

Although I had not been hungry enough to eat earlier in the day, I didn’t think the two issues were related. I was preparing for two major business trips overseas and working on that year’s Maine Fiddlehead Festival. Who wouldn’t be tired from putting in 20 hours a day? I love my work. It’s easy to be consumed by it. I went to bed, intending to be up early and prepare for company arriving the next day.

In the morning, I awakened not feeling well. It didn’t feel like the flu. It felt more serious, but I didn’t know what it was. Later that day, we canceled our company, and I had my husband take me to the hospital. Over the course of the next few days, as I became much iller, I was in and out of the hospital. I finally ended up with lifesaving, emergency surgery. I awakened in the ICU with tubes down my throat and lots of wires connected. Initially, I couldn’t have food, but after a few days, my doctor allowed Jello for the flavor, but as I put it in my mouth, it was sucked out simultaneously. With wires and tubing removed a week later, I was moved from the ICU to the Medical Surgical floor and allowed to try a few foods. They all caused severe pain and severe bloating. The healthcare team assumed I would get better, I just needed to heal. I was sent home.

Before surgery, I was able to eat anything and everything.

Following the surgery, I couldn’t anything. Seemingly overnight, food had become my enemy. Looking at food terrorized me as I learned that just putting it in my mouth caused a reaction. Homemade, organic, grass-fed, beef broth was my lifeline for four months. One day my farmer friend suggested raw milk, even though I couldn’t drink pasteurized milk. It worked. Then I tried organic, raw eggs. Still, other solid food and anything pasteurized was not tolerable.

Adding to my distress, I realized if people didn’t see food cause my debilitating pain, they didn’t believe it. They said I was being dramatic. They would give me “that look.” People were uncomfortable eating if I couldn’t eat, so they stopped inviting me. I couldn’t travel because I couldn’t be far from fresh raw milk and eggs, which meant I couldn’t go to New Hampshire to see my grandchildren. Because I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t work. I couldn’t walk beyond the end of my driveway. I became isolated.

How ironic that someone who took such great care of herself through exercise and food choices, and made her living connecting people with food, would end up in this condition.

We were driving home from Massachusetts General at the end of a year of referrals to see specialists all over New England when with tears streaming down my face, I told my husband I didn’t care if I died and I was not going to one more doctor. I’ll never forget the look on his face, but he had seen doctors berate me when I asked questions and refused drugs without a diagnosis. He was there when the doctors recommended solutions I had just told them didn’t work. I was tired, sad, and lonely, but I wasn’t giving up! I was going to try holistic healing.

We continued home where I hit the books and the internet. I read everything I could find. I talked to holistic, healing specialists. I listened intently. I learned about enzymes and how they work in the body. I learned about the digestive system. I learned how food is processed. I set my mind to not focusing on how food had turned on me, but rather on how I could work with what I had. I began a relentless pursuit of a return to well-being and independence.