A Case of Fibromyalgia

  Wade is in many ways your classic Vermonter. Old school classic. Not one of the expatriates from the coastal regions who fled some alloy of the congestion, affluence and boredom of their native sub/urban life and whose taste for progressive views and Subarus have today come to define ‘Vermonter’ in the mind of much of the rest of the country.

Bona fide old school.   A hardscrabble youth produced a self-described hellion who left home in his early teens, eventually found his way into the army for a few years, and in due course became a trucker before ‘retiring’ to a life of carpentry and woodworking.   Largely self-educated and self reliant, Wade maintains a keen curiosity about the world and especially the people who inhabit it.

He invariably greets you with a firm handshake and a direct look in the eyes, asking a heartfelt “How ya’ been?” in his characteristic laconic, semi-drawl. (He must have picked that up somewhere along his travels because it is the exact opposite of the crisp terse northern New England syllables one might expect.)

A churchgoing person who has even traveled to the big city to spread the Word on the street, his real gospel is tolerance and open mindedness.  Wade loves to engage people in conversation, drawing them out on how they see the world and reciprocating in kind.   Never one to criticize or rebuke, the harshest thing he might say with a smile and a slow shake of the head is, “Well, can’t really say I see it that way, but I guess everyone’s got their own point of view”.

The open mindedness is what must have brought him to my office not long after I opened shop over 25 years ago. He was still driving truck, making long hauls to points south and west, sleeping in the cab and eating who knows what. Not a lifestyle terribly conducive to good health. Amongst other things, he suffered from debilitating headaches, especially when the weather turned cold and especially damp.

Much of the pain appeared to originate from the sinuses, but could wander around to one side or the other, the back or the top of his head. Actually, if memory serves, his head was aching to some degree or other most of the time. But the intensity could ramp up ‘something fierce’ – depending on the modalities of worse cold, very much worse damp.

I decided to give Wade a dose of the nosode Medorrhinum based on the affinity for the sinuses, the sensitivity to dampness and his early wild history. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him at the time that I was prescribing homeopathically prepared gonorrhea – a nosode being a remedy made from disease tissue. That might have been a bit much, but I felt confident in my choice…

We still laugh about what happened next. He called me a day or two later, half in agony and half in amazement.   “You told me this might happen, but man, my head is throbbing and stuff is just pouring out of my head’.   It was a clear homeopathic healing aggravation – every orifice in his head was discharging liquid and mucous all at once. I assured Wade that it was a good thing and to try to persevere through it without any antihistamines or other drugs. Within another few days it did subside and he felt markedly better.

Wade was intrigued by the experience, and characteristically, decided to learn some homeopathy himself, mostly to quench his curiosity but also with the goal of prescribing for his own family and animals. Observant and inquisitive by nature, it was surprising that he appeared to have quite a knack for it. Wade always seemed up for the challenge of figuring out which remedy might best fit the patient and enjoyed a considerable degree of success.

I’ve seen him off and on over the years since. Sometimes his headaches would return, or there would be some aches and pains, and for a while we were dealing with high blood pressure. But he always responded well to remedies and over time learned that eating well – especially staying away from his much beloved ice cream – was just as important.

A couple of years ago, Wade came in to consult about a new complaint. For a number of months he had been experiencing diffuse and debilitating muscle pains that moved between various spots mostly in his face, necks, shoulders, and back. His energy was poor and it become hard to work, though he still managed it for short periods of time.

“I feel like I’ve been pretty beat up or like I’ve been busting my butt all the time when I haven’t. Looked it up on the computer, and I’m pretty sure it is fibromyalgia. I got the tender spots and everything.”   He probably was right - the types of pain, sensitive pressure points and low energy seemed pretty typical FM symptoms.

The term ‘fibromyalgia’ has only been around since the 1970’s, having replaced what used to be called ‘fibrositis’.   Aside from Wade’s complaints, people with FM often have cognitive problems and poor sleep. Despite the fact that millions of people in the United States are diagnosed with the disorder, it’s cause is poorly understood and conventional treatment options are non-curative, being mostly limited to pain relief and enhancing sleep.

Fortunately for Wade, FM can respond quite well to homeopathic treatment. As with almost all ailments, the homeopathic diagnosis and treatment depends not on its typical or common symptoms, but on the characteristics that are ‘peculiar’ to each particular presentation. When carefully investigated from a homeopathic perspective, individuals with the same conventional diagnoses will, in fact, present differently. The key to successful treatment lies in those differences.

On the surface, his complaints were most =ly typical of the syndrome. Yet, when exploring them more thoroughly, there were distinctive aspects of his case, the conditions that made him feel better or worse as well as the way he experienced his illness that provided the ‘characteristics symptoms’ necessary for a homeopathic prescription – or, in this case, a series of prescriptions.

Those conditions, what are called ‘modalities’ in homeopathy, were that his pains were exaggerated in the extreme by dampness and cold. This applied especially to his face and scalp. Sensitivity to cold and damp are not uncommon modalities, but what made it stand out in Wade’s case was his extraordinary degree of sensitivity.

A secondary, but still strong modality was that the consumption of milk clearly aggravated his condition. He also did not do well with sugar and wheat.

An important aspect of the case was the particular quality to the way Wade described his experience of his illness. “It’s like I have been beat up” was how he put it right at outset of our consultation.   Or, similarly, “like I’ve busted my butt.”

When I asked him what else he was sensitive to besides the cold and damp weather, he responded, “I can’t stand drama.”   Asked to explain it further, Wade described how sensitive he was to arguing. Not that he was intimidated by it, but that “I could go ‘mental’. I get really revved up immediately…. And criticism really bothers me, too. I could get hostile.”

Having known him for a long time as an amiable, tolerant person, it was a bit surprising to hear this response.   But he reminded me of his early life and his less than ideal upbringing. “Everyone was hollering all the time – my aunts and uncles, my mother. It was hostile. I took care of myself since I was 11 or 12, and left home by 15. I didn’t have any money, so didn’t fit in at school, either.”

“By my 20’s and into my 30’s, I was just a fighter – a scrapper. I was combative and would lash out quick or just beat someone up. It wasn’t until my mid-30’s that I really developed my own personality as a mature person. Today, I can’t stand anyone picking on anybody. If I hear of some picking on a wife or a kid or an animal…”

Prompted to describe anything else he is sensitive to, he went on, “I’m a loner. Don’t hang out with people except on my own terms. I’m going to do what I’m going to do.   So, I’ve never liked bosses much. I guess they are sort of like me – they want it their way. Don’t have much use for their toys and fancy vacations, anyhow. I don’t have a lot of stuff, could live in a tree hollow.”

“One more thing is I’m real impatient with people who can’t take care of themselves. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. I have always tried to be productive, to take care of my obligations and myself. I make money to eat and pay the bills.   Money is really a false security. The only real security is to do things to take care of yourself.”

Although many other details came up over the course of our hour and a half discussion, these were the main points: muscle pain, sensitivity to cold, damp and foods, the feeling of being beaten as well as beating others, and this very strong work ethic.

The remedy I prescribed was Ferrum Metallicum – homeopathically prepared iron.   As with the substance itself, there is great strength in the Ferrum personality and there is much ideation that may extend into the dreamlife about fighting, battles, and war. They are very sensitive to the prospect of being beaten – to the extent of being very reactive to criticism or argument as well as responding negatively to being ordered around or otherwise dominated.

In fact, it can be a wonderful remedy for those very determined, stubborn young children who hate being told what to do. Determination also manifests in their attitude toward work. They generally are very hard workers who persevere in their endeavors, and can, as in Wade’s case, find it hard to understand those who apparently don’t share that ethic.

The flip side to Ferrum - and in homeopathy most remedies do have a polar opposite side - is their weakness. They can be hypersensitive to the environment and foods, prone to feeling cold, food allergies, anemia and weakness. Their ambition can surpass their physical strength.

A month after taking a dose of Ferrum metallicum, Wade reported that he felt 80 percent improved.   The pains were much better and he could work with greater ease and for longer durations. This level of improvement maintained through the next year and subsequent doses of the remedy. But that last 20% remained, chiefly in his susceptibility to the cold damp weather as well as sensitivity to poor food choices.

At this point in the case, I decided to look for a follow-up remedy that specifically addressed the remaining issue regarding the weather. The first remedy prescribed, Rhus toxicodendron (homeopathic poison ivy), a well-known remedy that is especially worse in the damp, produced little result. It was then followed up a prescription of Dulcamara, a plant commonly known as ‘Bittersweet’ or ‘Woody Nightshade’.   It is, in fact, a member of the Nightshade (Solanacea) family along with, amongst others, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tobacco and the oft used homeopathic remedies Belladonna (Deadly nightshade), Stramonium and Hyoscyamus.

The keynote of this remedy is the tremendous sensitivity to damp weather as well as aggravation from cold. Wade reported a marked amelioration after Dulcmara, noting that the rain no longer was such a bother. He still needs to be careful with his diet and avoid sugar, wheat and dairy, but overall is doing much better.