Borrowed Time

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Two hours later, dinner.

"The amount of time I spend eating," she says, "is just absurd."

On a Saturday morning, after teaching her 90-minute Bikram class, Brooke is clearly wiped out. She's sitting in the office of her naturopath Mark Green, who practices out of an area of Brooke's studio.

Green's office looks like any doctor's — examining table, bottles of medicine, stethoscope, blood-pressure cuff. The only visible sign that this might be a different kind of practice is the fact that both doctor and patient are not wearing shoes — everyone removes their shoes upon entering the studio.

Brooke has been seeing Green for a year. She feels like she has a "clean slate" with natural medicine.

"It's a massive tweaking process with fitting the pieces together. I have to say it was highly exhausting. You just want the fucking answer," she says. "But I've become patient with that process because the quieter I get, the more I'm able to hear subtle messages my system is sending, and I'm figuring out how to address them in a more permanent way."

Today's goal is acupuncture to address her fatigue. As Green asks a few questions to determine exactly what is bothering her, Brooke begins to cough. The sound starts deep in her chest, from far inside her lungs. It sounds watery, full of mucus, loud. Nothing like the throaty cough that comes with a common cold. It hurts. Her face turns bright red, and she looks tired and very sad. But moments after the attack, she balls up the Kleenex she was coughing into and waves it around like a little ghost, laughing.

Green checks her lungs. He's worried that there is more mucus in them than there should be, but doesn't think it's an infection. He gives her two small bottles of liquid — one contains N-Acetyl Cysteine to clean out her lungs, and the other contains a liver antioxidant. He instructs her to put 1cc of each into her nebulizer — a machine used to deliver bronchial medicine — along with a cc of a liquid mix of homeopathic remedies that will help her mucus membranes.

He checks her vitals. When he goes to check her mouth, she jokes around, warning him, "Stand back, because after I cough, I fear this mouth." Green tells her that the inflamed dots on her tongue indicate heat in her lungs, and when he checks her pulse, her kidneys feel weak.

The doctor and patient are ready to start the day's acupuncture treatment.

She lies down on the table and he turns down the lights. He sticks the first needle into her forehead. The next goes into her right wrist, then the left. He works his way down. Left ankle, right ankle, Achilles tendon, bottom of the foot.

"These needles are sterile and sharpened by lasers," he says.

Brooke cuts in with another joke: "Mark goes home and files them."

There is constant communication between the two as he inserts needles into what he calls her energy meridians. When he is done, he leaves the room, closing the door quietly behind him, giving his patient time to focus on why she is there: to feel better.

And most days she does feel better, though she admits she is in pain, mostly in her muscles, and is tired a lot of the time. It's a pain most people who know her never get to see. Michelle Clancey, a close friend of Brooke's and a massage therapist who operates out of the studio, says she never realized how sick Brooke really is until they lived together.

"When I first moved in, she would have late-night coughing attacks. Violent attacks where she'd be coughing for like 20 minutes straight. It was almost like a baby crying," she says.

But the fact that Brooke is sick is something no one talks about for long. Outside of a very tight inner circle, Brooke does not share her day-to-day struggle. Even conversations about what she wants to happen if she dies are brief and matter-of-fact, says Clancey.

"We've maybe had one or two talks like that," she says. "When we do talk about it, we don't talk about it for very long. It's a three-minute conversation. It sounds strange, but they're very fact-based."

Brooke is not all philosophy and serious thought all the time. Clancey remembers walking into the studio one day to find Brooke sitting at the front desk next to a frizzy, rainbow-colored clown wig.

"I was taking myself too seriously today, so I've been wearing this wig today everywhere," Brooke told her. "You can't be serious anymore when you have a clown wig on."

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin