NOT so long ago, every time I’d go to the hospital with any problem, I thought the doctor would just prescribe some pills and then my problems will disappear. But I got quite a shock last year when a certain doctor refused to prescribe pills for a pregnant me who ‘needed’ them to get rid of the constant flu symptoms I had been having since getting knocked up. I breathlessly and convincingly explained to him how I was suffering and I needed some relief but instead, that doctor took my husband and I through a lecture on how our diet could fix our health problems.

So, just a little back story to how we ended up in that office in the first place. Some years back, my young sister got pregnant before me and because I like knowing EVERYTHING, I had asked her “what is pregnancy like?” And Kalunga, a very lazy story teller, gave me a legendary one liner which I still remember to this day, and it rings true when I am pregnant. “It’s like sickness 24/7,” she told me. It didn’t make sense at the time but damn! I found out soon enough.

My first pregnancy was A LOT, I remember a need to sleep all the time. I would literally wake up, have breakfast and be dosing again. Lucky for me, it was at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were working from home so I could maneuver quite nicely. My work tends to mostly get busy after lunch so I could afford to snooze off the morning hours, after responding to some queries with my eyes half open, of course. But it was my school which suffered, I was enrolled in a masters class and “learning from home” looked very different for me. I’d log into those Zoom meetings fully determined to remain awake but five minutes in, I’d mostly dose off only to wake up towards the end of the two-hour long lectures. I remember one time, I woke up and the lecturer was saying “so Mukosha, that is what you shall present next week, is that okay?” I quickly unmuted my microphone and said, “yes, I have taken note!”.

Anyway, other uncomfortable symptoms I had were heartburn, breathlessness, headaches and fatigue. I thought I was suffering at the time, until I got pregnant for my son and I discovered things could be much worse. I knew it was a boy straight away because that pregnancy showed me flames. In my first trimester, I couldn’t tolerate water, water! Drinking H2O was a one way ticket to puke town. To stay hydrated, I had to drink fruit juices, something which was never my thing until that point. And then I was constantly sick with flu. Whenever I felt like the flu had healed, it would start up again! And because I hated all forms of suffering at the time, I would self prescribe some medication. “When I was pregnant last time, the ob/gyn had prescribed this so I think it’s safe to take,” I reasoned. Until I took that medication about four times and there was no change. It was then that I started to worry about what the hell was going on and whether I had harmed my baby with all that medicine. So I decided to come clean to my ob/gyn at my next antenatal visit. Now, my ob/gyn at the time was such a cool man who could literally calm any fears; he was always assuring and sometimes, I even forgot to ask about things which had been bothering me because he would refocus my mind on the excitement of meeting the little human who was growing inside me. That day, he decided to refer me to another specialist doctor for my flu problem, and he asked me to stop self prescribing.

When the day came to see that specialist doctor, whom hubby nicknamed The Good Doctor after our encounter with him, I was excited. “Finally! I’ll get some pills which will offer some relief”, I thought. So we entered The Good Doctor’s office and he was so friendly and welcoming.

“What can I do for you today?” He asked. And I told him my story, tailored to pull at his heart strings and lead him to prescribe the best medication to ‘cure’ me. But after I was done explaining, he said “firstly, your condition (pregnancy) is a problem”. We all burst out laughing.

Then he asked me what I normally ate for breakfast and I told him, I was eating about four to six slices of bread with eggs and tea with either milk or lemon. And I added, “but I don’t put sugar in my tea”. I caught a smile on his face, before he asked, “do you know that in four slices of bread, that’s about 8 spoons of sugar already?” He went on to tell us how the standard Zambian diet was too high in carbs and therefore, sugar and how this was causing so many health problems. He told us why fruit juices were very unnecessary and unhealthy and he also painted a picture of how our mothers in the village have always hanged animal fat in their kitchens for consumption later, I’ve forgotten the traditional name for this but I’ll be sure to find out and share this information eventually. We spent more than an hour in his office, an hour I will never forget.

He then ordered a fasting insulin test. He told us most times, doctors check for blood sugar levels but that this was not a great measure of what was really going on in someone’s body. While someone’s blood sugar can be normal, it can be taking so much insulin to make that happen and that is a danger sign for looming Type II Diabetes. So I went back the following morning for a fasting insulin test and then saw The Good Doctor again a few days later to discuss my results. “Your readings are normal,” he said, “but they’re not really optimal”. We spent over an hour in his office again and he reinforced what he had taught us about the dangers of carbs and sugar in our previous visit. It was a light bulb moment of realisation – most of us are eating ourselves to certain chronic conditions which we then explain off as “normal” afflictions associated with people of certain age groups. That was life changing for me, and the journalist in me wanted to share this man’s wisdom with the world. I asked him whether I could interview him for an article but he declined, “these things tend to be very political, I don’t want to get into that zone,” he politely said. I was heartbroken, but I understood. Many professionals in this country choose silence because of unnecessary victimisation and stupid bureaucracy which even extends into matters of life and death, but that is a story of another day. This is one of the reasons why an uninformed citizen like myself decided to start putting out more health related content as I journey to a healthier me.

So yes, The Good Doctor is a proponent of the ketogenic diet. Where you starve your body of glucose and you force it to shift to burning fat for fuel. The benefits are that even all those fat cells your body is holding are consumed and you lose weight very easily, you stop having funny cravings, you get rid of brain fog and much more, I’ll definitely do some independent articles on this. So he armed us with the information, but that wasn’t enough to make us change our lifestyles right away. I pretty much continued eating the standard Zambian diet for the rest of my pregnancy, and I also ate a lot of cake, the only thing I did stay away from were self prescribed drugs, but his guidance stuck in our heads that months later, when my health started going hay wire, we knew how to go about fixing it by preventing it from getting worse. By the time my son was fully cooked in my oven, I was 127 kgs! And I started hearing the word hypertension a lot from my doctors, I didn’t like it, I didn’t want that! I needed to make some changes, and I did – eventually.

I hope The Good Doctor will read this and see that he did not waste his time giving us that rich lecture on those two days. He’s the only Zambian doctor I’ve ever heard discouraging reliance on medication and advocating for a lifestyle overhaul. Many doctors I have met rush to prescribing medicines, seemingly after losing hope in their patients ever changing their lifestyles. He is rare and we are grateful for him. It might have taken months to ditch the demonically delicious carbs, but we did it and I am now nearing a double digit weight again and feeling so freaking good about it.

To be continued.

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