Never Be Sick Again: Health is a Choice, Learn How to Choose It
By Raymond Francis, M.Sc.
Not too many years ago, no one would have been able to convince me that I would be writing a definitive book about human health and performance. I was no health expert; in fact, I gave little thought to the subject. I assumed I was healthy and that I could do little to improve upon it. Yet, here I am today, devoting my life to researching and improving health.
Concern for our health is something we all have in common. We all would like to live a high-quality, disease-free life, no matter how long that life may be. But most of us have no idea that a disease-free life is possible, so our priorities become out of whack, and we form habits that jeopardize our health. Then we ignore the early signs of ill health and, without knowing it, we lay the groundwork for disaster. That is exactly what I did.
At the height of my former career, I was president of an international management consulting firm specializing in international competitiveness, industrial quality and productivity. I was a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, the State Department, the United Nations and to the prime ministers of several foreign governments. Life had been good to me.
Then the early warning signs that things were changing came in 1983. I began to slow down, requiring more sleep and tiring more easily. I began to experience frequent allergic reactions, including runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, heart palpitations and skin rashes. I suffered muscle aches and joint pain. I felt as though I was losing my edge, losing some of the mental and physical capacity that had allowed me to operate at the highest levels of international business and government. Life was becoming less fun and more like a chore.
I brought these complaints to the attention of my physician, a man who the medical community rated as "one of the best." He examined me, did many tests and pronounced me in "excellent health." When I protested, saying I did not feel like I was in excellent health, he replied, "You are just getting older." I protested again, saying that in my whole life I had never felt this way before. He continued, "Well, you have never been this old before." I was forty-six years old.
I would later discover that physicians have no protocols or established procedures for measuring early decline in health. Instead they blame "getting older" for so many feelings of ill health, even at ages when human beings have the potential to be in their prime (remember, I was only forty-six when I began suffering from problems attributed to my age). Physicians consistently assume that the patient is "well" until his or her condition deteriorates into symptoms that the doctor recognizes as a diagnosable disease.
Over the next year and a half, my symptoms worsened. My fatigue became more pronounced; I required ever-increasing amounts of sleep, and even then I felt tired. The fatigue made it increasingly difficult to travel, as my job required. My allergic reactions were becoming more severe. I would experience sneezing fits so dramatic that I would have to rest after them. My heart palpitations were more frequent and pronounced. I would see colored rings around lights and my vision would blur.
I finally decided to seek the assistance of an allergy specialist. Little did I realize, as I entered the doctor's office that fateful morning, that it would be the last day of life as I had known it. The allergist administered a diagnostic test called an intradermal test, whereby an allergen is injected into the skin with a hypodermic needle. The procedure is much more provocative and sensitive than the typical scratch tests familiar to most people. Intradermal tests may identify allergies that might otherwise be missed. However, if someone is especially sensitive to an allergen, this type of test can provoke a serious reaction. My doctor neglected to tell me that the FDA regularly receives reports of injuries and deaths from these tests. My condition and the fact that I was experiencing significant allergic reactions at the time should have prompted this physician to be more cautious and anticipate that an intradermal test might provoke a serious reaction.
The reaction was catastrophic, causing my immune system to spin out of control. During the next week I slept almost constantly and appeared to have aged about ten years. I suffered fatigue and disability unlike anything I had ever experienced. Prior to the test, although I had some serious allergy problems, I was still able to function relatively normally; afterward, I was seriously ill and almost completely dysfunctional.
Years later, another physician-one considerably better informed-gave me a meaningful description of what had happened to me. He described my state of compromised health as rather like standing on the edge of a precipice. My allergist did not recognize my vulnerability and the need to work initially with nutritional support and conservative treatments to back me away from that edge. The allergist's decision to administer a provocative test pushed me off the precipice and into an abyss of catastrophic health decline.
Ten months later, I was still in that abyss of illness and anxiety, with my health in a downward spiral. In the past, whenever I had been sick, I had always recovered in a matter of days or weeks. This time was different indeed. I experienced chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivities and allergic reactions to almost everything. I also developed several autoimmune syndromes, including Sjogren's syndrome, Hashimoto's thyroiditis and lupus. In these syndromes, the immune system attacks the body's own tissues, causing a cascade of serious problems. In my case, my immune system was attacking my salivary glands, lachrymal glands, thyroid gland, kidneys and connective tissue. I had an extensive list of debilitating symptoms including dizziness, impaired memory, depression, heart palpitations, blurred vision, muscle and joint pain, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, numbness and even seizures. I was unable to perform any meaningful activity. My health was gone, and life, as I had known it, was over.
During those ten nightmarish months, I visited thirty-six medical doctors. I had so many different symptoms that I was referred to specialists for each one, including ophthalmologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, allergists, rheumatologists, psychiatrists, internists and immunologists. Being bounced from one specialist to another, sometimes seeing two or even three in a day, was very frustrating. I certainly heard plenty of second, third and fourth opinions, often conflicting, but none particularly helpful. My multitude of symptoms totally baffled those learned specialists. (How much easier it would have been had they known what I know now: that there is only one disease and that symptoms are not important.) They performed many expensive diagnostic tests, which served little purpose other than to give fancy names to my symptoms, such as neuropathy, colitis, arrhythmia, arthralgia, keratitis sicca, thyroiditis and others.
They were merely describing my symptoms with a technical name, the usual diagnosing, and then sending a bill. A few suggested that I was a hypochondriac, imagining ill health. Many physicians assume that if they do not understand what is wrong, the patient must be imagining his illness. At the time, I thought all of my doctors were baffled because my case was so complex. In the end, however, the answers proved to be simple. The answers had been there all along. One just needed to know where to look.