Christian is used to criticism from doctors. “You know how frustrating it is for me?” he asks. “Especially when I’m producing results. How do you argue with results?”
However, he refuses to let naysayers daunt his confidence, and tries to let denial of his skills roll off his back. “I’m the only one who says go back to the doctor and get tested,” he says. “It’s like a referee for me.”
Another reason he doesn’t let disdain from the medical profession throw him is because he already has to satisfy the biggest skeptic of all—his own mother.
At 78, youthful-looking with a sharp, probing mind, Mrs. Christian (who asked that certain personal details be withheld to protect her privacy) challenges her son at every turn and acts as a voice of reason in his ear when he gets carried away. “My mother is my strongest supporter and my biggest critic,” Christian says proudly.
Mrs. Christian lives in a comfortable South Philly retirement complex, in a small apartment filled with family pictures and still decorated for Christmas a few days into the new year. Talking about Christian’s past triumphs and future prospects over a hot bowl of beef stew, the two display a familiar and well-tread relationship— there’s a feeling they’ve had the same arguments many times over the years. Indeed, they lived together on and off Christian’s whole life until his mom finally moved into the retirement home last year.
When his enthusiasm gets the best of him, Mrs. Christian is quick to remind him that he will always face people who don’t believe in him. “Some people are not into herbal medicine,” she says. “You’re going to run into that, Skeeter, no matter where you go.”
He shrugs it off. “If they doubt, they doubt,” he says. “The same people who put you down are the same people who want you to help them.”
Not only does his mother keep Christian grounded, she was a patient of his herself. Stricken with breast cancer, Mrs. Christian made a decision in 1988 to have a mastectomy. Christian vowed to help her avoid chemotherapy and radiation. “Mom, I’ll see that you never deal with this again,” he told her at the time.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you want to try something,” she says. “What do you have to lose?”
Her family was skeptical of Christian’s talents and were not happy that his mom would be taking homemade medicine. “My relatives hit the ceiling,” he says, but he went forward anyway, cooking up a capsule his mom took to complement the Tamoxifen her doctor prescribed. Either one, the other, or both in combination worked. “In 22 years, the tumors never came back,” Christian says proudly. “If it ain’t come back in 22 years, it ain’t coming back.”
“You can’t say that, Skeeter. There are no guarantees in this life,” his mother cautions him. “It has not happened so far. I’ve been blessed for 22 years.”
When the subject turns to Christian’s AIDS treatment, he jumps to his feet in excitement, gesturing with his arms as he goes over his theory. “I just took a practical approach to it— you break down the components of the virus. You back-track your steps,” he says.
“The one thing that AIDS targets is the very thing you need to protect you, CD4 cells,” he explains. Without its natural protections, various infections take advantage of the body’s weakness, Christian says, and spins off into a technical lecture about fungi, protozoa and other nasties that invade the human body when its guard is down.
He says he has a combination of herbs and supplements that closes off the body from the invading diseases, without compromising its other systems. Then he launches into a 20-minute diatribe about the inadequacies of professional AIDS treatment. “Their medicines compromise the body themselves,” he rails. “You’re getting paid to put people in the ground.”
His way, he’s sure, is better. He’s only worked with a few AIDS patients and just wants the opportunity to bring his methods to greater exposure. “I’m not allowed to say the word ‘cure,’ he says. “I can tell you that I downsize the virus.”
He has a book about his methods copyrighted that he’s working to get published, and if he can get a patent on his recipe and bring in some partners, he dreams of hosting a conference for all the AIDS organizations in the city to share his ideas. It could finally be the big break he’s been waiting for.
His mother brings up the question he will inevitably face— “If you’re that knowledgeable, and you’re that intelligent, and you know that much, how come you’re not working at a pharmaceutical company or something?”
Christian counters that when he was helping Jim Carroll’s son with diabetes, the mailman’s wife had the same criticism. The wife told Carroll, “If your boy could do like that, why is he down there with a broken dustpan?”
It was Carroll’s son who decided that sometimes, you gotta have faith. “He said, ‘Dad, look, I don’t care what Momma says,’” Christian remembers. “If that man can help me, let him help me.”
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom