It was noon on a Friday afternoon in Las Vegas in late October. After giving my presentation for the American Association of Integrative Medicine, I started exhibiting a low-grade fever, followed by chills and body aches. I had excessive thick and cloudy mucus buildup in my throat and a severe sore throat.
After 10 days of these symptoms and taking my herbal prescription (ban lan gen 15 g, jing ying hua 15 g, jie geng 15 g, nui bang zi 10 g, huang qin 10 g, tian hua fen 10 g, dang gui 8 g, huang qi 8 g, xi xin 3 g) along with my Sambucol Elderberry Extract, I finally started to feel better.
However, a peculiar rash began to develop from my knees down to my ankles on both legs. I had severe pruritus and redness. There were multiple patches all over my body. I started to feel like Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist who usually writes about his unique cases and the usual doctor-patient relationship from the doctor's point of view. In his book, A Leg to Stand On, in a parallel instance similar to mine, Dr. Sacks is a patient who suddenly realizes that he has a neurological problem with his leg; he can't "locate" it. I often thought about what was going through Dr. Sacks' mind as he came to his realization that he had a neurological disorder. Did he wonder how he could have gotten to this point? Or how can he recover from this disorder?
For me, the question that was embedded in my consciousness was, "Can I recover from this condition?" Helpless and fearing the unknown, I went to my family physician. I asked him if I had scarlet fever. The time between becoming infected and having symptoms of scarlet fever is short, generally one to two days. The illness typically begins with a fever and sore throat. A rash usually first appears on the neck and chest, then spreads over the body. It is described as "sandpapery" in feel. If left untreated, scarlet fever (like strep throat) can result in more serious conditions that affect the heart and the kidneys.
My physician suggested that we do a urine test to rule out scarlet fever. The test came out negative. My physician believes that I had a reaction to an allergen. So, he prescribed a Medrol Dosepak and Atarax for my pruritus. I thought to myself, "Great, I will finally start to feel better." However, I felt sedated for the majority of the time that I was on these medications. The redness and severe pruritus did not dissipate.
Determined, I changed everything. I went on Dr. Andrew Weil's anti-inflammation diet. Generally, inhaled allergens such as dust mites or tree, grass, or weed pollen produces respiratory symptoms. Ingested (food) allergens will produce skin and/or gastrointestinal symptoms. So, I completely eliminated my consumption of foods made with wheat flour and sugar, especially bread and packaged snack foods. I eliminated my consumption of high fructose corn syrup. I ate more beans, winter squashes, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. I reduced my intake of saturated fat by eating less butter, cream, cheese and other full-fat dairy products, and unskinned chicken and fatty meats. For omega-3 fatty acids, I ate more salmon (preferably sockeye) and sardines packed in water or olive oil. For my fiber intake, I increased my consumption of fruit, especially berries, vegetables and whole grains. Ready-made cereals can also be good source of fiber. I also took fish oil supplements and drank six to eight glasses of pure water every day. To be sure that my allergies were not caused by dust mites, I dry-cleaned everything and vacuumed excessively. I moisturized often and liberally using Cetaphil to alleviate my dry skin caused by the inflammation and pruritus from my allergies.
I also decided to slow everything down. Stress and other emotional disorders can worsen dermotological disorders such as atopic dermatitis. I don't know if 20 speaking engagements last year was excessive, but I decreased the amount of presentations that I had for the upcoming year to five. I promised myself to just do one major project a year instead of focusing on three to five major projects a year. With my book finished, I really had my IRB-approved acupuncture research as the only major project that I had for the upcoming year.
Taking Dr. David Kessler's book, The End of Overeating, to heart, I eliminated all sugar, fat, and salt from my diet. In his book, Kessler, the former FDA commissioner, explains how "the desire to eat, as distinct from eating itself, is stimulated in the brain by an almost infinite variety of diabolical combinations of salt, fat and sugar. Although not everyone succumbs, more people of all ages are being set up for a lifetime of food obsession due to the ever-present availability of foods laden with salt, fat and sugar."
There is a correlation between Chinese medicine and what Dr. Kessler writes in his book. In Chinese medicine, diets consisting of high sugar, fat, and salt lead to changes in the body similar to a Western perspective where you start displaying high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia and weight gain.
What has happened to me, from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, was a buildup of dampness that turned into heat. According to Dr. Yihou Xu in his book Dermatology in Traditional Chinese Medicine, my symptoms of pruritus and deep, red rashes in the lower-half of my legs (from the knees down) suggested damp heat in the lower jiao. Severe pruritus that I am exhibiting suggests that long-term dampness led to a yin deficiency. Additionally, my greasy and yellow tongue coating suggested damp heat as well. The best formula for my condition would be Xiao Feng San. The formula consists of fang feng, ku shen, shi gao, sheng di huang, jing jie, chan tui, niu bang zi, hei zhi ma, zhi mu, dang gui, cang zhu, mu tong and gan cao.
For my treatment plan, I started myself on intensive NAET treatments for yeast, dust mites, wool, cedar, artificial food additives, corn syrups and medication sensitivities that I may have developed this past year. I also started taking an acidophilus supplement and started back on my meditation and guided-imagery regimen every morning.
With a sense of empowerment, I recovered from my allergies. My pruritus and rash dissipated and I stopped my Atarax (antihistamine) medication. Feeling balanced, I learned to live healthy again with compassion, love and abundant health.
Joe C. Chang has worked as an acupuncturist at two integrative PTSD programs for the military. Additionally, he has worked as a volunteer acupuncturist with the Austin Veterans and Family Advocacy Council in their Veterans Team Recovery Integrated Immersion Program.