If you have a unique or chronic health problem that your doctors can’t solve, the key to finding a cure can usually be discovered by delving more carefully into your illness history. Most doctors have limited time and motivation to do this because they’ve been trained to used the tools of their trade, which typically involves much more of a ‘physical’ examination than a verbal one. The good news is that 80% or more of all illnesses are caused by an external or environmental source, as opposed to an internal or genetic one. This means that if you can track down this external agent, you can usually find a quick and painless cure by simply removing the offending agent from your environment.
Finding this destructive agent is not always a simple matter, especially if you’ve been suffering with your ailment for some time. It’s not easy to connect the external events that may have contributed to your illness if they happened a fair time in the past. Just like a good detective, you have to know how to sniff out and uncover the unsavory elements causing you harm. Twenty-five years of intensive problem solving across a wide range of health problems has taught me there are three key places to focus your search, which can be boiled down to three key questions: Who, Where, and When.
The first category—Who—relates to who is affected, and who isn’t. Start by identifying the people in your environment who are most similar to you in terms of habits, lifestyle, location, activities, diet, etc., whom who you would reasonably expect to contract your same illness, but they did not. Intuitively, if you have a lot of common ground with all of these people but none of them have your illness, there must be something different about you that has disposed you to acquire it. Once you’ve identified the most similar people you know who do not have your symptoms (start with direct family, roommates, siblings, coworkers, and close friends), identify everything and anything that is different about you compared to them. This can relate to any or all of the following: diet, exercise, activities, lifestyle, locations visited, work, people interactions, etc.
By way of example, a well-publicized incident a few years ago involved flight attendants for Eastern Airlines who were coming down with a strange and burning rash on their face, hands, and neck. Upon closer examination it became apparent that only junior flight attendants were being affected—senior flight attendants never experienced the symptoms. One of the key differences with the junior flight attendants was that they were the ones who demonstrated safety equipment—specifically life vests—whereas the senior flight attendants announced the procedure over the public address system. A caustic red dye was subsequently found on the vests which was causing the problem, and this was quickly removed after which the problem resolved.
The second category—Where—relates to the locations where you are experiencing the symptoms, and where you are not. This further breaks down into two subcategories: where on your body you are experiencing the problem, and where geographically you are when the symptoms occur. Just as you did for the Who category, ask the critical distinction question: “What is different about these locations compared to very similar locations where the symptoms never present?” In the case of your body for instance, look at mirror sides or limbs that are unaffected.
I once had a client who illustrates this connection very clearly. He presented with unusual numbness and tingling in his fingers, but only on the outside of his little fingers and thumbs (both hands)—not on any other fingers or other parts of the affected digits. Because his symptoms started soon after a severe rear-end auto collision, his doctors surmised the problem must have something to do with his cervical (neck) nerves as a result of whiplash. However upon closer inspection, we were able to trace an alternate path for his symptoms when we compared the affected to unaffected locations on his hands. We found that he gripped the steering wheel tightly and pushed back hard against it at the moment of impact, since he could see the car rapidly approaching in his rear view mirror. He went back to his doctors and had cortisone injections into his hands to prove that the damaged nerves were in his hands, not his neck.
The last category—When—that often reveals the cause of your illness relates to the timing of presentation of your symptoms. Dig back carefully into your illness history and ask three related questions: When did my problem first occur, when has it subsequently presented, and what was I doing differently at those times compared to the times prior and since when the symptoms have not been present? I had another client who had a nasty habit of experiencing very painful recurring kidney stones around the same time of year: early January. When we carefully examined what he was doing differently at that time of year (and in the recent prior period), he revealed that he always eats a junkfood-rich diet over the Christmas holidays and gains a lot of weight, then goes on a crash diet in January and loses up to 20 pounds in only a few weeks. His doctors were subsequently able to test and confirm that these changes in diet coupled with rapid and severe weight changes were creating a build-up of crystallized sediments in his kidneys, which eventually were passed as kidney stones.
So if you’re looking to solve a tough and intractable health problem that is perplexing your doctors, be a good detective: look deeply and carefully into the history of your illness and focus on the differences and changes relating to these three key problem-producing areas. You might just find that being a good detective pays off quickly in personal health dividends!
By Reid Jenner