A Tribute To Dorothy Barron, The Woman Who Saved My Life

She was smart.  She was kind.  She had a tremendous sense of humour.  And she saved my life.
I first met Dorothy Barron when I was either 3 or 4.   It was not a good period for me.  From the moment of my birth, there were difficulties, none more worrisome than my diet.   
My parents struggled to find food and drinks that would not make me violently ill, a seemingly impossible task considering the fact that I was violently ill much of the time.  Diarrhea and projectile vomitting (yes, just like in The Exorcist) were common occurrences.  I’m eternally thankful that I don’t remember any of it.
No matter who my parents turned to for advice, no one, not even our family doctor, knew exactly what the problem was.  It became increasingly frustrating for them. 
Everything changed after my Mom had dislocated her pelvis while dancing.  (She ran a dance studio at the time.)  Thankfully, we were literally a short walk away from a chiropractor’s office.  (We lived in an apartment overtop a variety store back then.)  Mom got an adjustment and felt much better.  But when she needed to go back for a follow-up, unfortunately, she had to call to cancel because I was quite sick.  The kindly receptionist told her, "Bring him in.".  It was either 1978 or 1979 when I had my first appointment with Dorothy, a short, chubby, endlessly cheerful woman who was equally good with kids and adults.  She was built like an opera singer (during a later visit, I told her, apropos of nothing, "You have big boobs!", which totally cracked her up) and sounded like Betty White.  She even had her own catchphrase – "Isn’t that awful?" – which I heard many, many times over the years after Mom and I talked about some calamity or another.  She had an excellent bedside manner.  I don’t remember her ever getting cross or hot tempered the entire time I knew her.  She had a tremendous talent for putting her patients at ease.
Most importantly, she knew exactly what was wrong with me.  After listening to my Mom detail all the problems I’d been having with digesting food and drink, Dorothy told her what she longed to hear.  The reason my body was emphatically rejecting all the milk Mom was giving me was because I’m lactose intolerant.  She suggested Goat’s Milk as a replacement.  No more Cow’s milk for me.  Chocolate was out, too.  (I absolutely loved the Rosebuds my parents would give me as a treat.  But I always had a bad reaction to them, unbeknownst to all of us.)  Dorothy further insisted on putting me on a diet.  Drop all the crap that was making me ill (it has since expanded to quite the list) and find healthier substitutes, she instructed.  It changed my life dramatically.  To this day, whenever I have cereal, I use Goat’s Milk.  I haven’t tasted anything on that original list in decades, nor do I miss any of them.
Fortunately, we also lived within walking distance of a health food store.  (By that point, our family didn’t own a vehicle.  Neither my father nor I have a licence.  Mom does but she’s in too much pain to drive now, thanks to her fibromyalgia.)  Although the items were pricey in those days, to her eternal credit, Mom followed Dorothy’s advice to the T, frequently dragging me along as I watched her buy all this food that would never once make me ill.  Thankfully, I liked the new menu.
Dorothy became the go-to professional for any health issue I experienced.  I vividly remember that first appointment, being so sick from the flu that my Mom literally carried me to see her.  When it was my turn, I had my bones cracked in place and spoke with her about how I was feeling.  She had this machine that radiated heat on this white towel that would be placed on your face and chest, as well, I do believe.  She would disappear for a bit and you would lay there letting this machine do whatever it was invented to do.  She would come back, turn off the machine and remove the towel.  Afterwards, I came running out to Mom feeling so much better.  She didn’t have to carry me home.  I walked.  It was pretty amazing.
Not everything went so smoothly, however.  I remember one time sitting in the waiting room feeling like death.  I looked terrible.  Suddenly, I had this undeniable urge to hurl.  After turning and saying, "Mom" in the weakest voice imaginable, the floodgates opened.  People in the room freaked out as if Godzilla entered the room.  I was taken into the bathroom to wash up and then saw Dorothy who, as always, was kind and helpful.  Too bad about the carpet, though.
Now that she was aware of my food intolerances, my Mom became very cautious of what was put into my mouth, as was I.  She has long frowned on traditional medicine (most likely because I’m allergic to pennicillan) and as a result, with only a few exceptions, we went the homeopathic route for recovery which took longer to work but at least there weren’t any side effects.  During one visit with Dorothy, they both wanted to see if I could swallow this red vitamin pill.  After I put it in my mouth, I just couldn’t get it down.  Neither Mom nor Dorothy knew this and they erupted into cheers.  Then, they became disappointed when they looked into the dixie cup of water I was holding, then they laughed.  To her credit, Dorothy wasn’t upset.  In fact, she told me to keep trying and I would get it.  Years later, when I took St. John’s Wort for my anxiety, Mom taught me an easy swallowing technique.  Have a little water or juice on your tongue, place the pill near the back of it, drink some more fluid and it’ll wash right down.  Works like a charm.
For much of the 1980s my Mom and I became very close to Dorothy, especially after she retired.  We invited her to dinner at our house numerous times and she returned the favour.  (She often bought me small cartons of Carob Milk, a healthier version of chocolate milk, which was always delicious.  In fact, I miss it terribly.  Haven’t had that stuff in decades.)  Dad came with us to her house and what a place it was.  It was very clean and there were paintings everywhere which had light timers on them so you could see them at night.  In the living room, there was this tiny white couch with gold buttons along the edges that I used to sit on reading Highlights Magazine among other titles which Dorothy had subscribed to over the years.  She graciously gave me some at some point.  Despite being retired, she looked after both Mom and myself, frequently giving us adjustments for free.
She never married or had children of her own, and I don’t think she ever had pets, either.  As a result, she had a lot of free time.  Sometime, in the mid-1980s, she vacationed in Egypt and Turkey.  When she returned, we all got really nice gifts.  She bought me a cool grey cap and a sheik.  When I dressed up as The Iron Sheik for Halloween one year, I wore that sheik as part of the costume.  It consisted of a white cloth and this awesome gold and black headpiece that you would wear around the cloth.  They were two of the nicest gifts I ever received.
Not only did Dorothy understand my intolerances, she correctly predicted I would grow very tall.  How did she know this?  I have no clue.  But very early on in my childhood, she told my Mom that she would eventually have a fully grown 6-foot son, despite the fact I was very short at the time.  The exact measurement, I do believe, is 5’11 and 3/4.  Close enough.
Dorothy’s health started to deteriorate sometime in the 90s.  She developed breast cancer and started to slim down.  The last time I saw her had to be about 5 or 6 years ago.  She came to visit and I did the old "You’ve got big boobs!" line to cheer her up.  It did the trick.  It was the last time we spoke.
At some point, she was too ill to do adjustments but Mom still maintained friendly contact with her, usually by phone but occasionally by personal visit (Dorothy’s house was near the place where Mom does her physical therapy), right up until, I guess, a few months ago, if my memory is good.  It was Mom who told me about her death when I woke up today.
Dorothy’s age was always a mystery to us.  She never did tell us how old she was.  It wasn’t until I found this Hamilton Spectator obituary that I learned the truth.  She almost made it to her 90th birthday.  Incredible.  She died at the MacMaster University Hospital sometime yesterday and I wouldn’t be surprised if the cause of death involved a recurrence of her stubborn cancer.  (No actual cause of death is mentioned in her obit.) 
When I learned the news of her demise, I felt sad.  Our family hadn’t sat down to dinner with her in so long and we really hadn’t had the kind of visit we used to in years.  It’s too bad.  I’m not sure she ever knew how important a person she was in my life.  She was a great friend and an astounding professional.  My parents were at their wit’s end in the late 70s trying to solve my health problems.  Had my Mom not dislocated her pelvis some 30 years ago, had she not mentioned that her son was sick and had the receptionist (who later gave her healthy cookie recipes for me to try) not suggested she bring me to see Dorothy Barron, I might not be alive today.  She was the only person who fully and immediately understood why I was so ill during those awful early years of my life.  Her diet suggestions changed me for the better.  I have always followed that list of forbidden items religiously and unconditionally.
Rest in peace, Dorothy.  And thank you.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 19, 2009
5:21 p.m.
CORRECTION:  My memory is not as good as I think it is.  Mom informed me that her sister wasn’t working with Dorothy at the time that I first started seeing her.  (Mom helped her get a job with Dorothy’s replacement years later after she retired.) They didn’t have a conversation that led to me becoming her patient.  The correct information has replaced the error at the start of paragraph 5 and in the second-to-last paragraph.  Furthermore, Dorothy went to Turkey as well as Egypt, a detail that’s been added to paragraph 12.  Finally, it was a red vitamin pill that Dorothy suggested I try swallowing.  Neither Mom nor I remember what type of vitamin.  My apologies for not consulting Mom before running the original piece.  As far as I know, the piece is now completely accurate.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 19, 2009
6:29 p.m.
Published in: on September 19, 2009 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

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