In the classic sci-fi film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, alien pod people inhabit human bodies. Even though the plot was hatched from novelist Jack Finney’s overactive imagination, the title is the best analogy I can come up with to describe the past four months of my life. My body has been invaded by a colony of organisms that are opportunistic, multifaceted, and homicidal. But these didn’t come from another planet. They are produced right here on good old planet Earth.
As you may recall last April, my daughter Ema, granddaughter Hailey (then 12), and I had our blood and urine tested for BTEXs. Hailey’s blood and urine tested positive for ethylbenzene, styrene, and xylene, and the urine samples from Ema and I also tested positive. In addition, metabolites for ethylbenzene, styrene, and xylene were detected in all three urine samples, indicating long term exposure to the chemicals. Read more here.
I combined my own research and consultations with a couple health care professionals, and decided that undergoing a heavy metals detox seemed the best plan of action, even though my contamination is caused by chemicals. I regularly babysit my grandchildren, Hailey and Bodi so I waited until June to begin my detox program, as they left town to stay with their dad for two weeks. The plan I chose wasn’t anything drastic, but any type of detox program can be intense. Reactions such as fatigue, headaches, fevers, are skin rashes are common. I didn’t want to scare the kids.
I began with a three-day apple fast — organic apples and juice and water. On the fourth day I went to the Yampah Spa in Glenwood Springs for a detox treatment, which consisted of sweating for 30 minutes in the Vapor Caves, followed by sweating for 30 minutes in hot bath water, followed by an attendant slathering an essential oil blend over my body and wrapping me in a thermal blanket where I sweated for another 30 minutes — plus and all the water I could drink.
Even though I am an active person — I walk daily, practice yoga, swim, bike, ski downhill and cross-country — for no apparent reason my spine has gradually stiffened over the past two years. When I walked into the Yampah Spa that morning, I couldn’t lift myself into a downward facing dog. I could no longer bend over and touch my toes. I could only touch my knees. After my detox treatment, in the locker room I bent forward and touched my toes. Down on my hands and knees, I slowly lifted myself into a downward facing dog. It seemed like a miracle. And it also proved without a doubt that the chemical contamination was causing my back problems.
During the month of June I ate copious amounts of raw fruits and vegies and brown rice. I felt better than I had in months, though still living in Silt and breathing the same toxic chemicals every day. The first week of July I repeated the detox treatment at the Yampah Spa.
Because sweating is one of the most effective ways to eliminate toxins, I also spent a couple hours each week at the Glenwood Hot Springs, soaking in the hot therapy pool. Sitting in hot water in the hot summer sun makes you sweat buckets if you can stand it.
The second week of July, my jaw ached. I went to the dentist and the x-ray showed a bone infection. I had to take antibiotics and undergo a root canal. I’m sensitive to antibiotics. They give me gastrointestinal distress, so I backed off the raw food diet, loaded up on probiotics, and hoped for the best.
A couple weeks later when I felt like I had recovered from the root canal and the antibiotic side effects, the gastrointestinal distress returned. It didn’t last long at first, maybe 24 hours, and then it went away.
But that was only the beginning. Throughout August I was plagued with repeated bouts of a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms — nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, headaches — not all at the same time and not each one all the time. They took turns. Because last winter I had endured repeated respiratory infections — which was actually just one virus attacking me over and over again — I wondered if this was a stomach virus that I couldn’t shake. I watched what I ate and kept taking the probiotics. But my symptoms steadily worsened. By the first week of September, the symptoms didn’t come and go anymore, I was sick every day.
Throughout this mysterious process, I consulted with a trusted health care professional. He concluded that I must have a bacterial infection and recommended that I see an internal medicine specialist. After more hassle and time than should be medically necessary, I finally found a good doctor and we had our first consultation on September 16. We began by discussing my symptoms and moved into my recent medical history.
“There’s something else you need to know,” I said and handed over the test results from last April. “I’m Specimen #3.” And I identified the other two test subjects.
The doctor studied the results for several minutes. Then she said, “This is incredibly serious. I’m sure you understand that. What you may not understand is this — no matter what’s going on with your health at this moment, we can fix that, but we CAN’T fix this. You will never eliminate these toxic chemicals from your body if you keep living where you live, being exposed over and over again. You have to get out of there. You have to move. That means all of you. Your whole family.” She waved the test results in the air. “This is more devastating to your health, and your family’s health, and more challenging than any diagnosis you’ll get from me, from here on out.”
It was a sobering lecture, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t exactly news to me. I found comfort in hearing her lay it out on the table, in her own words, almost the same discussion our family had been having for months.
The doctor assured me that I did indeed have a bacterial infection but we would first need to determine the exact identity of the bacteria in order to treat it effectively. The test is expensive and time-consuming. It involves collecting saliva, urine, and stool samples over several days, and then those samples have to be cultured for several more days to see what sort of creatures grow.
“The risk in putting you on medication before we know the specific bacteria, is that it could be the wrong medication and it could complicate things for us down the road. Not to mention your sensitivity to antibiotics.” She recommended massive doses of probiotics to help me endure the wait. Even so, the symptoms tormented me and I kept getting sicker.
On October 16, the doctor called me in to go over the test results.
“You have pseudomonas aeruginosa,” she proclaimed.
I looked cross-eyed at her. “How do you spell that?”
She explained that pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacteria found in soil and water. It’s the same bacteria that cause pneumonia, as well as gastrointestinal distress, and skin rashes or lesions. When healthy people are exposed to pseudomonas they might not react at all, or they might experience a skin rash or at worst, feel flu-ish for a couple days, and recover. A normal immune system can handle exposure to pseudomonas. Therefore pseudomonas is an opportunistic pathogen that flourishes in sick people with weakened immune systems.
“Because of that fact,” the doctor said. “I showed these test results and your test results from last April to a toxicologist. He confirmed what I already suspected. The chemicals — the ethylbenzene, styrene, xylene, and probably toluene he said — have wiped out your immune system.”
The doctor said, “Look, I don’t need studies to tell me what’s right here in front of me. This test proves your immune system is wiped out. And the test results from last spring point to the reason why. There’s only one conclusion here and it’s based on medical facts.”
“Just one question,” I said. “How does all of this affect my ability to recover? I’m still living in Silt. I’m still exposed to toxic air emissions every day.”
“It’s going to take you longer to recover,” she said. “We’re talking months — not weeks.”
It’s funny how, as bad as this situation is, being able to discuss it with a rational medical professional who is not in denial was an enormous relief.
“First we get you well, and then we can start to clean up your immune system,” she said. “And while it’s a step in the right direction to know what organism we’re dealing with here, there’s just one small caveat to all of this.”
I raised my eyebrows. “What’s that?”
“With pseudomonas aeruginosa, the cure can sometimes be worse than the disease.”
Please note: I have not disclosed the names of the health care professionals who have been and are medically treating and advising me. They have not asked this of me. It’s my decision. In the past, industry and government officials have discredited and ridiculed health care professionals not only for speaking out, but for having the opinion that fracking makes people sick. For anyone who wants to know, I will share that information privately: firstname.lastname@example.org