John Scott discovers that a new relationship was all that was required to relieve his longstanding total food intolerance and reduce his chronic fatigue, but this was no ordinary relationship.
On the face of it, my new relationship must seem like a very one-sided affair, with me bringing to it a whole portmanteau of problems, and the expectation that my new partners (a polygamous relationship, no less!) would be doing all the hard work. But I am offering a comfortable home with full board for as long as my new partners are able to stay!
I'd never before set eyes on my partners-to-be when we first became intimate, but that wasn't a problem because this was an arranged marriage. Our respective families go back a very long way, their ancestors having cohabited with mine for millennia, and the auguries were clear that this could be a marriage made in heaven.
On the second day after my partners moved in, their ministrations brought significant relief from the nasal congestion that I had had, on and off, for most of my life. The only relief that I had been able to obtain previously had come from taking drugs, but all of these had presented unpleasant side effects, such as the migraine headaches which invariably followed the use of steroid nasal sprays.
An itchy rash, which had developed rapidly at the site on my arm where my new invisible companions had entered their new home, began to reduce somewhat in intensity on the third day. Tiny bright red dots then became visible within the main central area and the itch continued with a vengeance, though, fortunately, this responded well to generous applications of Benedryl cream.
The bright red dots intensified on the 4th day and became quite raised, remaining till the seventh day, after which the redness, bumpiness and itching all began to subside. By the second week, the rash was fading, flat, and no longer itchy.
Towards the end of the second week, my nose seemed to become clearer than ever, and the third week brought a distinct sense of perkiness - a quality which had been sadly missing from my life for many years, buried deep beneath the thick blanket of M.E., a sub group of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome characterised by inordinately exaggerated exhaustion following any activity, either physical or mental.
Both the clearer nose and the perkiness continued for another three days, until I was plunged back into the much more familiar continuous exhaustion, beginning a see-saw fluctuation in symptoms that would continue for the next few months.
For better or worse
At the start of week four, I had a day without any headache - a departure which was extremely rare for me - and my nose was so clear that I found myself breathing through both nostrils at once on several occasions during the day. Again, this is something quite new - something I haven't done much since I was a child.
For so many years, it had taken an inordinate act of will in order for me to initiate any movement at the start of each new day, such is the depth of exhaustion I have grown accustomed to. However, on the fourth day of the fourth week, I woke to find myself raring to go! I couldn't wait to get up and greet the day.
As it happened, I was to have visitors that day - something that would usually wipe me out for several days at least - yet, on this occasion, I not only survived the visit unscathed, but actually had moments during the day which brought back distant memories of what it felt like to be well.
I began the next day by celebrating a distinctly less severe level of exhaustion than I would have expected to experience after a visit, but, then, I noticed a change in my bowel habit. My normal, single daily defaecation was replaced by several smaller ones, and the warning sensations before these were more like those I associated with impending diarrhoea.
This gastrointestinal sea change continued with a sudden increase in gas production, and was accompanied by periods of queasiness, even a couple of unexpected spells of sweating.
In spite of having Crohn's disease and, over time, developing strictures which have required surgery, I have been spared the worst gasro-intestinal symptoms, so these new digestive developments were obviously due to the presence of my new partners.
The diarrhoea began at the end of week four, accompanied by nausea, more gas and sweats, no doubt all due to my body's attempt to rid itself of my newly introduced harem. But, undaunted by the onslaught against them, my already highly treasured companions continued their ministrations and delivered, at the start of week five, another headache-free day.
One of the many weird symptoms which have manifested as part of my experience of M.E. is poor temperature control, and this has been a problem for me for many years, during which time I have had to carefully control the temperature of my environment in order to remain comfortable. In spite of installing numerous thermostatic heating controls, it has still been necessary to resort to frequent adjustments to clothing during the day, and to bed clothes at night, in order to maintain comfort.
Half way through week five, I began to realise that I was able to tolerate a slightly lower ambient temperature, and found that I could keep the temperature in both my lounge and bedroom half a degree Celsius lower than I would have needed previously - an insignificant change to a healthy person, but a major improvement for me. And whereas, previously, it would take me over an hour to cool down sufficiently after a shower to be able to put my normal clothes back on, I was now able to get fully dressed less than half an hour after showering.
Having been unable to eat normal food for many years, due to allergies and overwhelming food intolerance, I had lived exclusively on a special hypoallergenic formula feed prescribed by my GP. Fortunately, during most of this time, I was really not interested in normal food. I could inhale the aroma of other people's cooking, but not feel any desire to eat what was being cooked. Now, at almost the sixth week since my new relationship began, I found myself suddenly taking an interest in any cooking smells that assailed my nostrils, and I began to have yearnings to eat whatever foods were being prepared - my first experience of real hunger in years.
Then, just as I was beginning to adjust my thinking towards the possibility of maybe trying some normal food again, I began to get stronger abdominal cramps and more diarrhoea as week six began. From then on, diarrhoea, gut ache, nausea and intestinal rumblings began to be the norm on about three days out of every seven, interrupted only by occasional constipation and accompanied by increased fatigue, although this was not so much my usual 'weary-but-wired' fatigue as an almost pleasant, very relaxed, languorous state, and I was actually feeling quite perky again in spite of this. My headaches were also now significantly less severe than hitherto, so there was plenty to feel grateful for while sitting on the loo!
Early in week six, I began to feel pleasurably better than I had for a very long time, with a new buoyancy and optimism, and I realised that the eczema in my ears, which used to itch more or less constantly unless regularly creamed, was now somewhat less itchy than it had been for years, having been improving gradually for the previous couple of weeks.
During week seven, it dawned on me that I was also no longer being woken during the night by the intractable catarrhal throat irritation which had dogged my nights for countless years. What an absolute joy finally to be free of that particular symptom!
Week eight brought another headache-free day and, in week nine, I had a truly remarkable encounter with my osteopath. He and I had often discussed M.E. while he worked on my back and, having told me that M.E. is a condition which he sees in a significant number of patients, he had explained that he doesn't need a patient to tell him that they have this illness because its presence is clearly revealed by the quality of their tissues. On this particular occasion, he said that not only was there a marked improvement in the longstanding problem with over-tight ligaments in my lower back, but that the quality of my tissues was now also quite different and no longer what he would expect to find in someone with M.E!
Then, as if to bring me back down to earth, I had several days of feeling quite lousy, as if I had an infection. Yet an absence of infections had long been a feature of my condition. Others around me would drop like ninepins when bugs weren going around, but never me! My immune system was apparently in permanent overdrive.
If the sudden light-headedness, weakness, runny nose and sore throat that I now had were indeed the symptoms if an infection, then perhaps this was evidence that my immune system was at last being brought back into line by my accomplished companions.
For the following few weeks, the gut symptoms held sway and I continued to experience frequent nausea, general abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea and increased fatigue, all of which I could have reduced or even avoided entirely, had I introduced my 35 lithe little partners in stages rather than all at once, but there is evidence that a more rapid introduction promotes a greater therapeutic dividend in the long term, so I had decided to go for broke.
Even though I was now on a roller coaster that one day lifted me to the heights and then, the next, plunged me back towards the depths, there was already SO much to be grateful for, and I had absolutely no regrets. I knew that the gastrointestinal upheaval would eventually be over and my carefully chosen companions would re-establish their ancient role and keep their covenant with my species. So I dug in and looked forward to that day.
Not just a dream
I don't normally remember dreams but, eleven weeks and five days after my new partners moved in, I woke suddenly in the night with an extremely vivid recollection of a dream. I was in an oriental take-away (not my usual haunt, of course!) trying to decide what, if anything, I could safely eat, when I became aware of someone telling me that I could have rice, meat and vegetables. Could this, I wondered, be a message from my little hookies that my immune system was now sufficiently subdued for me to resume eating these normal foods?
Bizarre though the idea may be, this dream did appear at just the time when allergies typically begin to respond, so, over the next few days, I began, very gingerly at first, to try a little chicken and, as that was OK, some rice, and then potato - all without any adverse reaction, which was utterly amazing after so many years of overwhelming food intolerance.
As I experimented, I found a few foods that brought on some of the old symptoms, though not the abdominal pain, which had been the worst feature of my reactions to food, and I eventually established a list of foods that I could tolerate, including a good selection of proteins (white fish, goat's milk products and eggs); starches (rice, potatoes, buckwheat and polenta); root vegetables (carrot, parsnip and sweet potato) and several fruits (apple, pear, peach and raspberries). And chocolate, which I just HAD to try and, to my delight, found I could also now tolerate!
From week 13 onwards, I began to feel generally rather good and, by 18 weeks, my boon companions were treating me to meals consisting of gradually increasing portions of a variety of normal foods, along with a correspondingly reduced quantity of my formula feed. At week 20, I counted 45 foods that I could tolerate and, by week 24, I was obtaining half my nutritional needs from normal food.
At week 26, I had my first meal in 16 years without any of the special feed, and, the following week, had three entirely normal meals in a row, although this revealed that, while I was able to tolerate the food, my gut was not coping as well as it might with the additional bulk, having only had to deal with a highly refined, low-residue diet for so many years.
So much to celebrate!
The diarrhoea, which had continued as an intermittent backdrop to all the other developments, finally petered out at week 24, at which point I calculated that I had had a total of 47 days of diarrhoea during 19 weeks. As this was the only major 'side effect' I had experienced, it seemed a very small price to pay when viewed alongside all the benefits that were coming to light.
As well as the really quite astonishing fact that, after such a short space of time, I was now able to eat a sufficiently large range of foods to be able to enjoy what was beginning to look like a normal diet, there had also been many other improvements, as a result of the considerable control that my companions were clearly exerting over my longtime errant immune system.
As I took stock of the events of these momentous months and reviewed the detailed diary I had kept, it became clear that, during the time between starting to eat normal foods again and finally waving goodbye to the diarrhoea, several additional aspects of my health had gradually been improving, almost imperceptibly.
I had recently felt able to trim the small hedge at the front of my house - something I have had to get others to do for me for such a long time - and, although exhausted afterwards, I didn't need several days in bed to recover, as I would have done in the past. Admittedly, I was weak and wobbly the next day, but I felt remarkably well at the same time and exhilarated that I had achieved so much.
Whereas exhaustion had previously encompassed and pervaded every aspect of my life and been inescapable, it was, by now, far less extensive and much more clearly defined. It would still come and go, but now started from a higher base line, so I actually got to have moments without it, and it was easier to manage by judicious resting.
I found that I no longer needed to go back to bed for a couple of hours in the middle of the day in order to prevent myself from sinking into extreme exhaustion, and a brief rest in a chair was now all that was required to recharge my battery. Perhaps this was related to the positive changes in my tissues detected by the osteopath, and which he has since confirmed are continuing, towards normality.
After years without a single headache-free day, I am now enjoying periods of up to nine days in a row without this affliction, in addition to the greatly improved temperature control, and the generally much clearer nose.
Even the Restless Leg Syndrome that would often interrupt my rest, meditation and sleep, has ceased to be a problem, and the excruciating itches that would frequently develop on my hands, feet and back without any obvious sign on my skin, and which would persist, in spite of treatment, for two to three days, have almost disappeared.
And, finally, due to the resolution of the nagging, intractable throat irritation and the fact that my sleep is of a much better quality generally, I now need far less time in bed to set me up for the day ahead.
There is still fluctuation in my health; some foods may remain that I can't yet eat, and the M.E. is still evident, although improved, but it is still quite early in the long process of readjustment between my new companions and my own body.
Based on the available information, I don't expect a final equilibrium to be reached until we have been together for approaching a year, and the experience of the few others who have trodden this path before me suggests that the beneficial changes could even continue to accrue beyond this point. Obviously, the magnitude of any benefits will gradually reduce as time passes, but there is clearly still scope for further improvement.
My situation now is very similar to what it was 20 years ago, when I was facing enforced, very early retirement due to the M.E. and already having lost a number of foods from my diet as a result of the encroaching food allergy and intolerance. Today, however, I'm moving in the opposite direction - a truly incredible result!
One of the developments which I consider most significant is my regained tolerance for herbs and food supplements. After having been unable to tolerate any supplements for a number of years, I have now already reintroduced several, and am looking forward to once again being able to use food-derived 'medicines' to treat any illnesses that I might develop in the future. I should also be able to more effectively treat whatever degree of M.E. I might be left with when my wonderful companions have done as much as they can to restore my health.
Looking back eight months, to when I decided to take the plunge and acquire some health-promoting helpmates, I remember feeling a surprisingly strong sense of urgency which drove me to make the final decision quite quickly, in spite of the considerable cost involved.
I'm now SO glad that I responded positively to this urgent prompting, because the particular hypoallergenic feed, which has been the only form of food that I could tolerate for several years, has recently been discontinued, and I am currently coming to the end of my remaining stock of this lifeline. Had I not decided to share my life with a harem of helminthic helpers, there would eventually have been no food left that I could eat, and my survival would have been in doubt.
If anyone reading this also has allergies, food intolerance, M.E., or any one of the autoimmune diseases, I heartily recommend that they try an intimate relationship with helminths.
The only requirements are that clients provide a few details about themselves, that they get a blood test carried out and have a doctor who will continue to care for them and their new companions, and that they pay the appropriate fee - by payment plan, if required.
There is no need for would-be clients to send a picture of themselves, but a pin-up of one of their prospective partners can be supplied on request!
First Published in November 2009