Is there no hope?

Nicolas Martin nmartin at
Fri Feb 14 18:07:12 EST 1997

Since 1979 I've been chronically ill from an unknown cause and with no
treatment extant. After the first few years things gradually improved
until 2 years ago. Now my life is little more than staving off the
saturated pains that rain down upon me. Is my problem immunological? Is it
possible to find a physician with sufficient curiosity to devote more than
nominal, and ineffective, time to my plight?

Today day three of my latest trauma. It was precipitated much the same way
that many before have been, by something I ate. In this case it was 2 soft
pretzels. Within 20 minutes my heart began to palpitate. Within an hour I
began to cough, due to irritation in my chest rather than my throat. As
the night wore on 2 other common symptoms appeared: my neck and head
flushed, as in a histaminic reaction, and I began to have arthralgic
joints and an overall feeling that is quite indistinguishable from one
associated with influenza.

I often feel warm to touch, especially when I experience the flushing. I
occasionally take my temperature, but it is usually normal or slightly
below. This time it is 99.6 degrees.

While it is uncommon, there are times when I can produce this condition
which appears to be a cold. I am quite certain it is not a cold. In the
past I have been able to reproduce exactly the same response by ingesting
the same food. Sometimes, within a few minutes of eating a food I am
flooded with post-nasal drip. A temperature sometimes follows and the
symptoms last for a few days. In the present episode the drip was not
forthcoming and the cough seems to be fairly dry: not too different from
the cough I had with childhood bronchitis.

What happened to me in 1979? I awoke in the middle of the night with a
fierce burning in my gut. From that time I was virtually left defenseless
against various foods and chemical exposures. Before that I had already
had some problems, but there was no overarching syndrome and I proceeded
with an active and enthusiastic life. 

In 1978, for instance, I started having nasty eye pain that radiated to my
forehead as tightness and a headache. Ophthalmologists found nothing to
explain it. Then I noticed, that the discomfort quickly lessened when I
took off my glasses. Through trial and error I discovered that I could
eliminate the pain by not using a perfumed soap to wash my lenses. The
only prior recollection I have of special sensitivity was when, as a
child, I would accompany my mother to the mall. I never wanted to enter
the fabric shop because I found the odor bothersome and irritating to my

But after that night in 1979 I was inundated by painful sensitivities. The
burning in my abdomen was relentless for 3 months until a friend called me
and told me to turn on the radio and listen to an allergist. Armed with a
trickle of information, I began to withdrawal some foods. I quickly
discovered that the daily ration of fresh orange juice I was consuming was
leading to the worst of the burning. Later I found that joint aches could
be diminished by eliminating milk. Then one-by-one I found that a myriad
of other foods caused me problems, large and small. Before the night in
question I had never had any profound reaction to any food or chemical.

There were several important things that had changed in my life leading up
to my physical implosion. I had moved to San Francisco 2 months prior.
Days before I had constructed a pressboard bookcase in my bedroom that
smelled strongly of formaldehyde, the same smell, I came to recognize,
that bothered me in the fabric shop as a child. For the first and only
time in my life I was smoking cigarettes regularly, consuming about 5 a
day. This was also the first time I had lived with natural gas appliances.
The old stove smelled so badly that I eventually called the gas company.
The service representative noted that the pilots had been turned up too
strongly and said that the house was filled with the smell of the
inefficient combustion caused by the pilot hitting the stovetop. In other
words, the place was probably full of carbon monoxide and other combustion
byproducts. He said it was "bad."

Probably of no significance is that I was also sharing a house with
sexually active homosexuals. All of those whose fate I know are dead from
AIDS. I have never had a homosexual experience and there is no evidence
that I am HIV-infected, but there was certainly a sufficient gumbo of
other pathogens present among San Francisco homosexuals to leave me
wondering. As I say, I think this is a more remote prospect.

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