First, you can get a good overview of me and my story by going here.
On a side note, before I start my story -- I highly recommend writing to all of your old doctors as soon as possible and requesting your medical records. You have a federal right to your records under HIPAA (a federal medical privacy law), so you just need to make the request. You would be surprised how many of your old doctors might still have your records. And, it can be eye-opening to see what actually happened to you health-wise, as opposed to what you think happened (memories fade...). I obtained my medical records from college and from law school, as well as some of my childhood medical records. They were pretty interesting reading, at least to me. I started making links and (now) obvious associations that I would never have realized just a few years ago. And, probably the biggest thing I realized is: my health was starting to decline long before I realized it was. I never would have fully connected the dots without those records.
OK, so here's the beginning of my story:
I was a reasonably healthy, happy kid growing up. Health was not something I ever really thought about, because I could just take it for granted. (Ah, to have that luxury again!) It wasn't really until law school that things started wavering for me. (Although I did experience some very subtle, principally mental/emotional changes in college -- which I will elaborate on in a different post -- after getting 4 amalgam fillings placed Christmas break of my first year).
In law school, before I was really sick, I started having gastrointestinal (GI) problems, like stomach pain and discomfort (dyspepsia) without explanation, despite the fact that the usual tests (giardia, parasites) and drugs (antibiotics, motility drugs) didn't reveal anything remarkable. And, while it was uncomfortable, I just figured I was drinking too much coffee, and didn't really think about it. (I mention these GI problems as an example of the declining health I referenced earlier that I was unaware of). A couple of other strange things also happened in law school, which I didn't think much about at the time -- e.g., I got mononucleosis and strep simultaneously in my second year, without any obvious explanation.
And, then... BAM! Or, at least, that's how it looks in retrospect. In the spring of my final year at law school, in preparation for traveling to Mexico, I got my first Hep B vaccine, together with a Hep A and a Tetanus/Diphtheria vaccine injection. (I had previously been fully vaccinated as a child, and had had the necessary vaccines for entering college and law school, e.g., an MMR vaccine within the first six months of starting law school). Interestingly, when reviewing my law school medical records, one thing jumped out at me that I never thought of at the time. Exactly four days after this battery of shots, I returned to the student health center, where the doctor noted in my records that I had had "typical upper respiratory infection symptoms" for four days, and diagnosed me with a viral upper respiratory infection. Were the vaccines even considered as a suspect? Of course not, but the timing was dead on. (By the way, in case you don't know, prior to 1999, most vaccines contained thimerosal, a preservative that is 49.6 percent mercury. In 1999, the U.S. Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics requested that [i.e., didn't order] the vaccine manufacturers withdraw it from use, but it is estimated that mercury-containing vaccine stocks were still in use until roughly 2003).
Of course, if my only problem from the Hep B vaccine had been an upper respiratory infection, I would not be writing this story today. Rather, almost exactly one month later, I had the second booster of the three-vaccine Hep B sequence (the third is supposed to be given approximately one year after the second booster). This time, it was just the Hep B vaccine alone. I was a few months from graduation, and starting to think about the bar exam. Well, sometime shortly thereafter, some really strange things started to happen, which of course I in no way correlated to those vaccines. First, my eyesight really started fluctuating, particularly in my right eye. I'd be shopping for groceries, and suddenly realized I couldn't read the aisle signs. But it wasn't just a case of worsening eyesight (I've worn glasses since second grade), because my eyesight wasn't blurry all the time. Second, my hormones started fluctuating. In other words, for the first time in my life, my testosterone levels declined. Third, and most significantly, I developed a constant, 24-hour headache that came out of nowhere and became my constant companion. From my medical records, it appears that the headache started within 4-6 weeks of the second Hep B shot.
The headache was probably relatively mild to begin with, so I just assumed it was the "stress" of preparing for the bar exam (which, to be perfectly honest, was one of the most stress-free times I've had -- 3 hours studying a day, but *no* other responsibilities!) It was definitely worse in the morning on awakening. I was just hitting the over-the-counter analgesics (Tylenol, Advil) and kind of dealing with it. Then, I took the bar exam, and set off on a 2-month solo cruise around Europe. I'm not sure why, but it definitely was reduced while I was over there. (I'm not sure this can be explained away by a simple "reduction in stress" theory -- it's actually pretty stressful traveling by yourself!) Next, I came back and started life as an attorney in a corporate law firm. And, the 24-hour headache came roaring back. This time it was bad, and it meant business. So, I saw a doctor, who was perplexed because my blood pressure was also high, without any real explanation. And thus began a battery of tests: 24-hour heart monitoring, eye examinations, head C-T scan, and heavy-duty drugs like a beta-blocker that helps regulate heart rate. Nothing helped much, including the over-the-counter analgesics. But, from what I remember and what I can piece together from my records, it must have started fading about 2-3 months later. And I sort of forgot about it. But things were about to get worse....
About six months after the headache had first reappeared, and almost exactly one year after my initial Hep B vaccine, I got my third Hep B booster and my second Hep A booster, at the same time. No big deal (I thought), as I still was far from realizing what these vaccines were doing to me. Then, about one month after the vaccines, I was back at the doctor, this time for carpal tunnel syndrome ("bilateral wrist pain"). I thought it was probably just due to typing on a computer at work (even though I probably used a computer more in law school), but now in retrospect, I can see strong links to the vaccines. Yep, you read that right -- I think my carpal tunnel was related to getting the vaccine. Why? Well, in my personal experience, mercury settles in the forearms, and I have heard others say that as well. And, my carpal tunnel is mostly gone now since getting the mercury out.
But, the beginning of the change in my life as I knew it happened 4-6 weeks after that third vaccine. (Note the 4-6 week correlation between these out-of-the-blue problems and the vaccines). My stomach "blew up" on me. That is, it started KILLING me for no good reason. I mean, it was like someone had punched me in the stomach with all of their might. Again, I won't deny that I was under stress and that surely it added to the problem. But, humans were designed to be fairly resilient to stress, luckily -- it's amazing what the body can withstand -- so it just makes me cringe a little bit when doctors say "stress" is the "cause" of your problems. It is more likely to be an additive or partially causative factor, but not *the* cause. Anyway, I can't even describe how bad my stomach felt -- I could barely eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't do anything but feel miserable. And I was right in the middle of preparing for a trial, so it was the exact wrong time for things to fall apart.
Thus began an incredibly frustrating odyssey. I mean I had test after test after test: e.g., three 24-hour pH tests (where they stick a tube down your throat, through your nose, and attach it to a monitor that you wear for 24 hours), abdominal ultrasound, three endoscopies (each under anaesthetic in a hospital), esophageal biopsies, barium swallow, H. Pylori test, giardia/parasite tests, gastric emptying study, and a diagnostic course of every stomach drug out there (e.g., Zantac, Pepcid, Prilosec, Propulsid, Carafate, Librax, etc.). I was getting no relief and was miserable. And the doctors were just as frustrated as I was. They kept telling me I was in that "gray zone" where I didn't really fit any of the classic GI problems. They couldn't understand why I didn't get any relief from the drugs. I was desperate -- I learned quickly that when your stomach hurts and you can't eat normally, you lose a substantial part of your quality of life. I realized I could not continue in my job (or my life) like this. I decided to take a leave of absence from work and focus on trying to regain my mysteriously-disappearing health.
My poor stomach. It hurt before eating (I got some relief from eating), and also about 1-2 hours after, consistent with gastroesophagial reflux disease (GERD). But, it also did strange things such as feel like I got "punched in the stomach" when awakening. "Punched in the stomach" is how I described the feeling to docs, for lack of a better description. This part of the problem was especially confusing to the doctors, as was my non-response to the traditional GERD drugs like Prilosec. Generally, the only surgical option available for GERD was a Nissan fundoplication, which is a fancy term for wrapping part of your stomach around your lower-esophageal sphincter (LES) to increase its pressure. (The LES sphincter tightens up after you swallow to prevent stomach contents from refluxing back up the esophagus, and thus low LES pressure is thought to cause GERD). However, that option seemed way too drastic and irreversible. Luckily, right around this time, a couple of new surgical treatments had been developed. One of these was the Stretta procedure, which applies radiofrequency energy to the LES via a catheter to cause tissue tightening and nerve ablation (i.e., removing painful nerves). I would end up fighting like crazy to get this procedure done -- I think I was one of the first 100 people to do it in the world -- mainly because I thought it was my only option since the fundoplication was too extreme, the drugs didn't work, and I was miserable. I underwent this procedure while on leave from work. It seemed to gradually help. However, little did I know that my health was not done declining, and that things were about to get a lot worse....
On a side note, around the time my stomach flipped out, a few other strange things started happening. I started losing hair and gaining weight. Now, previously, I had never, ever carried extra weight in my life (I have always been a runner and had a lean build). In retrospect, I understand that both of these issues had some tie to the total decline in my health. Part of this understanding stems from the fact that both issues have improved since detoxing. Now, the possible tie-in between weight/obesity and mercury/toxicity could be very important, given the current obesity epidemic (possible mercury-related causes: hypothalamus / leptin (an appetite-regulating hormone) connection and carbohydrate metabolism dysfunction, to be discussed in a future post).
And, while you might think that male (and female) hair-loss issues are purely vanity, did you know that a Harvard study showed that men with a balding spot on their crown have a 23-36% increased risk of a heart attack, depending upon the extent of the hair loss? (Lotufo PA, Chae CA, Ajani UA, Hennekens CH, Manson JE, "Male Pattern Baldness and Coronary Heart Disease: The Physicians' Health Study," Arch Intern Med. 2000 Jan 24;160(2):165-71). This phenomena was first recorded by Napoleon's field doctors who noticed that as they retreated from Russia during the cold, soldiers with hair loss were the first to succumb to the elements and die. Also, consider that men from countries that traditionally have little male-pattern baldness (MPB) like Japan, China, India, and Africa, see their males develop MPB once they settle in the western world.