Our train to Arosa passed through lush green valleys and along a little mountain river. Uncle Ernst stood in the aisle of the train doing his strange exercises, like deep knee bends with his back straight as a rod, which years later I realized were related to the Alexander Technique. He had been prescribed the exercises to improve his posture and open up his constricted chest. I felt ill at ease watching my Uncle’s uninhibited behavior create stares and neck craning by nearly all the passengers in our section of the train. He exercised with complete focus on what he was doing, oblivious of the stares. I felt relieved when we reached our destination.
The ice rink was large, in semi-open air, with a close-up view of the Alps in the background. Ernst rented skates for me. I could hardly believe I could skate on the next to the last day of a fortnight of fasting.
On the ice, I felt so weak that I had to move in slow motion and stop frequently to rest and catch my breath. I skated in little bursts of energy, from one side of the rink to another, and then I hung onto the railing at the edge until I recuperated enough to make another crossing on the ice. Meanwhile, Uncle Ernst seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself in his own world, twirling around and making figure eights and skating backwards. I envied him and wished I could join the fun, but weakness overtook me.
After about an hour, I had no more energy left in me for skating. I slowly left the rink and sat down on a chaise lounge in the sun and looked at the gorgeous mountains while slowly sipping on my two quarts of water for lunch. Eventually Ernst joined me. We sat in silence as he ever so slowly ate his lunch of apple, pear, and nut paste that Helen had prepared for him.
Today is the fourteenth day, the last day of the fast and here I am, weak but fully alive. I can’t believe how concerned I was that I wouldn’t be able to survive without food for a fortnight. Good thing I didn’t carry out my plan to escape after I arrived at Uncle Ernst’s clinic. I would have missed one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
I would have missed my destiny. I would have missed the seeds that were planted that would one day germinate and radically alter my path in life.
I spent much of the day lying on the ground by the river, listening to the sound of the water flowing over the rocks, looking at the sky, smelling the mountain air, and feeling the sun warm up my slightly chilled body. I thought about my friends and family and wondered how I could possibly relay to them what had happened on this mind-blowing, life-altering trip to see Uncle Ernst.
Thoughts of the following day, the day of the break fast, flitted in and out of my mind, but mostly I stayed in the present moment. I experienced no hunger, as though the entire digestive system had shut down.
The day for re-introduction of food finally arrived. Helen had told me that my first and only meal for the day would be part of a banana. She said that I must reintroduce food in tiny amounts to avoid upsetting my digestion since it had been shut down for a fortnight.
At midday, Helen brought me one third of an organic, overripe, black-skinned banana on a large white plate, along with a wooden spoon and a cloth napkin. She briefly spoke to me, reminding me to eat slowly, and then left the room, allowing me to experience the ecstasy of eating again in solitude.
I peeled the little two-inch chunk of banana ever so slowly and ritualistically. The light yellow blob looked soft and mushy, almost predigested. It smelled inviting, exotic. I took a piece of the banana and licked it once, then twice. I closed my eyes to more fully focus on the rush of sugar into my body. I had never tasted anything sweeter. Maybe this is what it feels like to use heroin. I wanted more.
After about an hour, I finished licking the little chunk of banana and scraped off every trace of banana from the peel. My better judgment kept me from eating the remains of the peel.
My senses had become keen during the fast—like those of an animal—so keen that I could smell the sweet banana scent in the air the rest of the day as I lay in bed reliving my eating experience and wondering what the next day would be like. Weakness, still present, left me limp.
The second day of eating, Helen gave me one half of an overripe banana. The third day I got an entire black-skinned banana. On the fourth day one of Uncle Ernst’s patients invited me to go to his orchard and pick cherries.
A ladder leaned against one of the old fruit trees. I climbed up and started picking the fruit. Helen recommended that I only eat twenty cherries that day so I wouldn’t get diarrhea. I carefully counted out the cherries as though they were pieces of gold. I pressed each dark red, ripe cherry against the roof of my mouth with my tongue and let the nectar drip down my throat, drop by drop. Fortunately, no one was around the orchard to hear the irrepressible moaning sounds of ecstasy.
By the fifth day my diet had expanded significantly to three or four portions of fruit. I began to feel energetic and ready to become part of the world beyond my room. The time had come to join the other patients at the hotel for the artfully prepared, all raw and organic cuisine. A large selection of food to choose from filled the serving table, including various nuts, nut milks, nut pastes, freshly made vegetable juices, whipped avocados with lemon and tomatoes, salads made with greens, grated beets, carrots, and turnips, with sprouts on top, and crackers made from mashed and dehydrated seeds.
Before coming to see Uncle Ernst, I would have found this raw vegan food somewhat boring and unsubstantial. Now everything I sampled—no matter how ordinary—tasted like food for the gods. My taste buds had become exquisitely sensitive after the prolonged detoxification.
My energy returned and, along with it, a sense of adventure. I wanted to learn more about what Uncle Ernst did exactly. I asked for permission to follow him around during the day. His schedule was not something I could easily follow. He got up at 5 am, did some stretches and odd-looking exercises, followed by his homeopathic phone consults from 7-9 am. Next came a little breakfast that often consisted of some homemade nut butter and vegetable juice.
After breakfast, Uncle Ernst attended to his patients in the clinic the entire day until the evening, stopping only briefly to eat a handful of nuts around lunchtime. Sometimes he worked until 9 pm. I could not keep up with him and had to excuse myself by the late afternoon to go take a rest.
Ernst respectfully asked each patient’s permission to let me observe the interviews. The patients seemed very willing, and some were even enthusiastic to have Ernst’s niece present in the room to observe. Maybe they thought I was a medical student.
The homeopathic history taking was unlike anything I could have imagined. After the patients described their complaints, Ernst asked the most peculiar questions that I now realize are typical with homeopathic treatments. “Do you crave cold water?” “Do you stick your legs out from the bedding at night?” “Have you ever had feelings like someone was choking you around the neck?” “Do you prefer sugar or salt?” “Are you afraid of dogs?” Apparently, the energy of the patient needs to match the energy of the remedy.
One of Ernst’s German patients at the hotel told me over lunch that “like cures like.” She explained, “If you get redness and swelling some place on your body, for example, then you would be given the remedy Apis which is made from bees that are ground up and diluted to such an extent that the original substance can no longer be detected, just the energetic imprint.” She took a deep breath and continued, “Homeopathy is like getting a vaccine. If you want to prevent an illness, then you give a minuscule amount of the germ which prepares the body for when it comes in contact with the real germ.” She said that homeopathy was not exactly like that, but it was a good way for me to understand this strange system of healing.
Some of the books Ernst lent me were about homeopathy. The concept of how it worked defied logic since the remedies contained less than a molecule of the original substance. And the more dilute the substance, the more powerful the remedy. And the more the practitioner pounded the remedy bottle against the palm of the hand, the more healing energy was released.
This manner of healing was totally foreign and mysterious to me and didn’t make any sense. But I could not dismiss the seemingly miraculous stories that Ernst’s patients related to me about their recoveries from “incurable” diseases. I heard story after story until I came to expect nothing short of miracles when patients told me about their healing experiences.
Homeopathy was a mode of treatment that Uncle Ernst was well known for throughout Europe. Ernst treated anyone who came to see him, including local immigrant workers who had no money to pay him. He even tried to learn all the languages of his patients so that he could talk to them in their mother tongues and help them feel more at ease. Ernst was too modest to tell me how many languages he spoke fluently, but I heard him speak about six or eight different languages while interviewing patients from other countries.
Along with the poor, Ernst also saw patients from all rungs of life, including those who were in the news. Even cardinals from the Vatican came to receive treatment from him. One of his patients told me that Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, had received treatment from Doctor Bauer while visiting Switzerland in the past. The royal court doctor was a homeopath and a colleague of Uncle Ernst. Even Konrad Adenauer, post war chancellor of Germany, came to see Doctor Bauer for treatment in the early 1960s. But, of course, I would have never learned this information from Ernst himself. He was the most modest person I had ever met—and one of the most brilliant.
Ernst constantly learned new healing modalities. About two or three times a year he went to conferences in various countries to learn cutting edge techniques. A few years before my fasting cure, he went to France to study acupuncture with a famous practitioner. Uncle Ernst used acupuncture regularly in his medical practice. In addition to using the acupuncture needles to heal various conditions, he also became skilled at determining what was going on inside the bodies of his patients simply by checking their pulses in a special way that he had learned while studying Chinese medicine.
Uncle Ernst taught me that underneath all the various healing modalities lay the real foundation of health—the lifestyle one followed, including what one ate and drank and breathed and even the thoughts one focused on and how much time one spent in nature.
Although Ernst did not converse with me much except when we were hiking in the mountains, he did stress to me above all else the importance of food in making people sick and making them healthy. He explained that one of the reasons I felt so good on the fast was that I had some serious food allergies that were affecting my health.
I have food allergies? Really? I don’t notice them.
He must have read my mind. He said that most people don’t know they have food allergies because they eat the foods that they’re allergic to everyday and have become used to feeling bad. They hardly ever associate their symptoms—like arthritis, fatigue, headaches,and frequent colds—with certain foods they eat.
Ernst invited me to hike with him in the mountains every time he went on an excursion. On those hikes Ernst began feeling more relaxed with me and expressed interest in learning about my life and what it was like growing up in my family and what his sister was like as a mother. In turn, he shared with me more about his life and philosophy. He confided in me that he felt bad about not marrying Helen. He had written a letter to his sister Erica, my mother, and asked for her advice. My mother wrote back that he needed to marry Helen and turn her into “an honest woman.”
I wonder what Mummy meant by “honest woman?” I can’t even imagine them lying in bed together, not to mention having sex.
Ernst said that he forced himself to consider marriage, but at the last minute called it off because he realized he could not fulfill his “duties as a husband.”
What were those duties?
I translated his statement to mean that he was thoroughly married to medicine and had nothing left to give to Helen. I could never have guessed that they would end up getting married thirty years after that conversation in the mountains.
I was an eager student, hungry for all the information that Ernst and his patients offered to me. I didn’t want the month to be over. I asked Ernst if I could stay on as his apprentice. He said, “No. Not now. You’re not ready.”
Not ready? What in the world does he mean by that?
I didn’t feel comfortable asking for an explanation, but I tossed around lots of possibilities in my mind. I would come to understand—two decades later—what he meant. He wanted me to grow up and learn about life and learn about medicine before I apprenticed with him. When I was a practicing medical doctor, he invited me to return to his clinic and apprentice with him in homeopathy.
The day I left Uncle Ernst’s home and clinic in Switzerland, I had a powerful realization that the month I spent with him would bear fruit someday and would eventually change the course of my life. I wasn’t sure how or when that would happen, but I had a deep knowing that this was so.
At the train station, Uncle Ernst and I said good-bye. There were few words spoken beyond my enthusiastic expressions of gratitude. Although reason told me not to be too exuberant, I couldn’t help myself; I threw my arms around my uncle and kissed his cheek. His body stiffly received my gesture. As I stepped back, I saw a big smile illuminating his face.
Uncle Ernst continued to see patients until he was ninety-one years old. We stayed in touch through letters and visits over the next thirty-seven years—right up until he died in 2007 at the age of ninety-three.
——————————————————————————————————————Note to Readers:
Many readers have told me that they no longer receive the blog post notifications in their inboxes. I finally discovered what the problem might be. The spam filters have been casting a very wide net over the past year. To correct the problem here’s what you could try:
- Find the image of a gear at the top of your email server—like Google. Click on it and then click on “Settings.”
- Click on “Filter and Block Address” located at top of page
- Click “Create a new filter.”
- Put the email address used in the blog notification emails in the appropriate space
- Click on “create filter with this search.”
- Click “Never send to spam.”
If you still don’t get the email notifications, then try re-subscribing. The host site has been known to wantonly unsubscribe people due to some glitch in the system. If you still don’t get results, then maybe an IT person could advise you. It’s been quite frustrating trying to figure out what to do about this problem.
Thank you for all your comments. They are much appreciated. —Erica