For Shinnecock, With Love: A Glorious Youth, A Healing Journey

Written By: Laura Henze  Russell

Shinnecock Hills, the little beach and bluffs overlooking Peconic Bay, with Robins’ Island to the east, Shinnecock Canal to the west, and Cold Spring Pond nestled in the back, is where I grew up, learned to swim, collect shells and arrowheads, row, paddle, sail Aqua Cats with my Dad, and run and play in the glorious sand and sunshine. It is also where I met ticks, those squat little creatures that would prey on cats and dogs, and sometimes on us. A visiting family’s child picked up a case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever when we were young, diagnosed by the kindly doctor next door. It was quite exotic for someone in our little community.

Along with my sister and brother we grew and thrived. I ran a swimming lesson business alongside a baby sitting business, with some of the same young charges. We also made shell animals that we sold in the store of a nice lady in Southampton. We once sent an exotic shell to R. Tucker Abbott, eagerly on the cusp of discovery of a new species of chiton. He wrote back to say congratulations, we found a turtle shell!

I moved on to teaching Red Cross swimming lessons for the Town of Southampton with Uncle George in Hampton Bays, a great gig as the youngest kid on the swimming block where we taught toddler Guppies to giggle instead of fear the baby horseshoe crabs hatching. We taught everything including Lifeguarding, and swam and body surfed at glorious Tiana Beach across the street during our lunch break between the school buses of children from all over town.

For some reason I decided to become a Bay Lifeguard, working for the County at Meschutt Beach. My supervisor’s boss was a Marine Drill Sergeant; so needless to say, we were in very good shape. The County had just gotten rid of the height and weight requirement for ocean lifeguards, so I decided to work out and take the test. By the third time, my legs were strong enough to carry 200 pounds of a dead weight male out of the surf and over the berm, the hardest part of the Civil Service exam. The Drill Sergeant assured the Examiners that I could “cut the mustard,” and with exemplary physical performance the third time, I passed the test.

The next year, I surprised everyone by applying for an ocean lifeguard job. No, I hadn’t just done it for effect. I went from Ponquogue Beach where the guards were a little bit sexist to a split shift between Flying Point and Scott Cameron, and had the best summer of my life. Endless bodysurfing, and soon asked to join the elite echelons of a Civil Service Ocean Lifeguard Examiner, with the crème de la crème and a decent salary on the days for giving those exams.

I worked out daily, and was strong as an ox and healthy as horse. I continued that way through college and beyond. Fast forward a few decades, and some tick got me. Never saw it, never had a rash. And never saw the mercury poisoning I slowly developed, from too many shiny fillings in and over the years and the luck of losing the gene lottery. Who knew the silver fillings were mercury, and weren’t shiny ornamental rocks glinting like mica? Who knew anything about methylation, and gene variants that can make it harder to clear heavy metals and toxins?

Let’s skip through the next 20 years of fibromyalgia and mystery symptoms, newly married, raising a son, and having a harder and harder time doing my action research, philanthropic and consulting work. Let’s skip through the year of escalating medical misery, with scores of specialist consults, unhelpful labs, and prescriptions thrown at me in Massachusetts, where I spent my winters.

There was a dark cloud in the sky, the color of mercury, and the lifeguard stand was empty. I could barely swim given pain in my wrists, no longer run, and barely ride my bike to Bullhead Bay. Then all neurological and autoimmune hell broke loose, and the wheels fell off the bus in my gut, my skin, you name it. Just as I gave up all hope, the clouds parted. A functional MD heard a presentation that symptoms like mine could be caused by reactivity to dental materials. Mercury toxicity was my bane. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I discovered a new world of biologic dentistry, which helped me get healthy again.

But wait, there’s more. Although treated for Lyme multiple times, albeit with the cheapest generic of doxycycline hyclate, it turns out I had persistent Lyme and some coinfections, and needed a short course of doxycycline monohydrate, still a $7 copay but much more effective for me. I had also picked up a side of mold toxicity visiting my parents’ condo in FL that had a hot water heater burst when they were at Shinnecock and it was not remediated properly.

So with time, luck and persistence, the darkness finally lifted, and I am almost like a teenager again. Now, when we return to Shinnecock each summer, like birds flocking, with our growing broods, it is sun and fun, exercise and games again and it is good, so very good, to be more like a teenager again than an elder before my time, although I am on the far side of midlife.

A few words of advice, and of gratitude. For anyone with any health issues whatsoever, find a functional medicine physician or osteopath, and a biologic dentist. Inflammation is the bane of all living things, and we ignore and feed it at our peril. It is like the angry lobsters and crabs, and will slowly raise its temperate and boil within you until you are cooked inside and outside.

Second, let nature and the sea be your touchstone. On the darkest, most painful days, there is a healing balm in the ocean, a healing balm in the bay. It is the Creator’s primordial and regenerative soup of salt water, oxygen, ozone, energy, heat, buoyancy, and rhythmic motion and resonance to help get you humming again, ever so slightly and ever so much.

Third, explore always, never give up hope, leave no stone unturned, and always strive and share to help others. Whether teaching swimming, or lifeguarding, or serving as a sort of health lifeguard. You may not find a chiton, but you may find a turtle shell. You may have been sick for 20 years, but now you are like a teenager again. Especially in spirit, and in mind, body and soul.

Health is a journey, not a destination. Thanks to Dr. Richard Horowitz’s Living Well with Lyme workshop in late June, at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY, for teaching me this important life lesson. I am back on the journey, it is the best one of my life, and I hope to share it with you. It is great to be back at Shinnecock again, healthy, young at heart, and whole.