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Most of us go through life without ever having to think about what a precious gift it is. Occasionally, however, things happen to us that interrupt our routine and make us consider this question: a spouse dies, a serious accident happens, a relationship ends, you get sick. When these events occur everything about how you viewed life changes. You are faced with many questions one of these is invariably, why me?
This post is about my disability and me. While I am going to deal with an extremely personal experience and how it changed my life, this story is important for other people going through similar trauma. While this story is about the events that precipitated these changes how I dealt with them is the real story.
In 1999 I was forty-nine years old. I worked in the financial services industry. I dealt in investments, insurance, trusts and estate planning. I traveled extensively in my work doing one on one service. I was married and had a young son. I had just bought a new home for my wife’s father and us. My wife and I were taking care of him as he was dealing with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. All in all things were going well, or so I thought.
Like many men I just won’t go to a doctor unless I am fairly certain that I might die if I don’t. I’m not quite sure why men react this way; it’s just the way we’re wired I guess. In September of 1999 on a Friday I got up in the morning to start a new day and immediately noticed something odd; my feet were completely numb. I’m not talking mild tingling I’m talking stone cold dead can’t feel a thing numb. Now I’m not a doctor but I understood immediately that this was not a good thing. It especially worried me because I had been having some problems with my general condition for about two years. It was nothing obvious that I could pin down just some vague weakness and general malaise. I had dismissed this initially as being attributed to a lack of exercise and my generally sedentary job. I immediately called my doctor and made an appointment. I got in to see him that afternoon.
My doctor was an older gentleman who had a very fatherly bedside manner. I liked him a lot. So I paid close attention when he said after examining me “Well, I’m not sure what you have, but I can tell you it’s not good.” “I think we need to get you to a neurologist.”
Oh great, I thought to myself, that’s exactly what I needed to hear.
At that point panic kicked in; I mean serious panic! When I called to make an appointment I was informed that the regular neurologist at my health plan was out of town and I wouldn’t be able to get in to see him for about a month; that was way to long. I frantically searched for another one in my PPO book and made some calls. I finally found one who could see me immediately. I then got my primary doctor to give me a referral and I made an appointment to see him the next week.
When I got to his office I told him about what had been going on with my general condition and the appearance of this new symptom. He examined me for only about ten minutes, did some visual tests and then declared, ” Well, you have Multiple Sclerosis.” “What,” I asked,” “Are you sure?” “Oh yes.” he replied, ” It’s about a 95% certainty, but we’ll do an MRI just to be sure.”
I thought to myself “Multiple Sclerosis what the hell is that?”
Oh great! My first question, since I knew nothing about MS was am I going to die from it? I was relieved when he said no probably not. Wait did he just say probably not? He did say that life from this point on would be very inconvenient for me. “Oh great”, I thought. Wait a minute what did he mean by probably not?
The MRI confirmed his diagnosis; I had lesions (scars) all down spine and in my brain. I did indeed have MS.
After the MRI my health spiraled out of control. I had several back-to-back full blown MS attacks. They call these attacks exacerbations. It’s a nice fuzzy term for a full bore frontal physical assault by this disease. How did it feel? A close analogy would be how you might feel if you had survived a head on car crash with a larger truck. I was literally flat on my back unable to do anything for about three months. I couldn’t get up, I could barely move. I thought my life was over.
Now I was brought up in the 50s. Most people of that era had fundamental faith in several key elements of American life. They all were certain the Government would never ever lie to you, the court system was where you went to get justice and if you got sick doctors would know why you were sick and could cure you. That’s what I was always told and it’s what I believed. Most people, I found, also believe this.
So imagine my surprise and utter astonishment when on a follow up trip to my neurologist I asked him two innocent questions that shattered my life. I asked him “Why do I have MS?” I followed this up with this question. “What can we do to cure this?” His answers stunned me. He informed me that the medical community knew nothing about what caused MS, nothing. Before I had time to process that he went on to state that they didn’t even know why the few drugs available for the management of MS symptoms worked. I was dumbfounded. They didn’t even know how the drugs used to manage MS symptoms worked? I then thought, manage! I don’t want this disease managed I want to get rid of it. Visions of Richard Pryor and me side by side in twin wheelchairs danced through my head.
Even though my confidence in him was less than enthusiastic I decided to listen to what my neurologist recommended for treatment. The initial treatment recommended consisted of daily steroid infusions. This, he explained, was to try to reduce the inflammation. Since I had no other options available I decided to see if any of his recommendations would help. So I started the steroid therapy. It did absolutely nothing to relieve the exacerbation; In fact the steroids were horrible physically.
He then prescribed Interferon-b injections. Interferon-b is the drug Avonex and a favorite treatment for MS. This drug is about $4000.00 a month. Wow what’s up with that? The Avonex seemed to slow the exacerbations but physically the Avonex injections were worse than the disease. After an injection I was useless for about two days. The drug would knock me out in bed; I couldn’t even get up. Since I learned the exacerbation sometimes came in waves, as the initial attacks abated I was slowly able to get back to work. But nothing was the same; I was constantly worn out and tired. The bad thing about MS is that the disease makes you constantly tired and drained of energy. This is what I immediately noticed. Just walking to the kitchen or the mailbox was so physically tiring I had to rest for four or five hours. The least amount of exertion and I was done for the day. Over the next few months I slowly resigned myself to the disease.
This is when my mindset began to change. What I had been taught about doctors was completely false! I felt violated. What else was a lie? I reasoned that I could probably do a better job of helping myself than my neurologist. I was the only one in this game that had a personal stake in it. My neurologist wasn’t sick I was. There had to be something better and I vowed to find it.
So I began to read a great deal about MS in particular and disease in general. One thing that caught my attention immediately was an area of research in the possible cause of MS. It was thought that some sort of viral or other infection triggered the auto immune response of the body attacking the myelin on the nerves. This made complete sense to me. There seemed to be no other in depth information about this research though. I do remember tucking this away in my memory as fairly interesting.
On August 2, 2000 I was in Las Vegas Nevada for a business meeting. At this fortuitous meeting, I sat next to Gordon Melcher President of East Park Research. Gordon introduced himself to me and after a bit told me about how pathogens like fungus, virus, mold and parasites were some of the main contributors and root causes of disease. These diseases included MS, many cancers, herpes, shingles Alzheimer’s, flu, colds and respiratory infections; just to mention a few. They caused disease because the pathogens would suppress the immune system to a point that the body couldn’t ward off the disease and protect itself. My mind clicked. The research into MS about a viral or some other infection possibly triggering the disease was dredged from my memory.
I had taken the first step.
I continued my research and discovered some amazing facts. On the MS side I actually spoke with two RNs that had been clinically diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and had actually cured it! I was startled. On questioning them they told me they had zeroed in on nutritional supplements to reverse the effects of the disease. This sounded crazy but that’s what both of these women, who were trained in western medicine, were telling me.
On the general aspect of my research I found some amazing answers to western medicines lack of understanding of my condition and most disease states generally.
I discovered that the medical establishment did not know what caused most disease. That was a real shocker. So if you asked your physician why do I have multiple sclerosis, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis, ulcers, diabetes, or just about any condition they just don’t know the base cause. What you get instead is a list of contributing factors but you get no focused “this is why you have this disease” answer to your question. I reasoned how can they cure it if they don’t know what causes it? This piece of information explained why I got the “nobody knows” answer from my neurologist.
I engaged in this research for years. What I discovered and have personally put into practice has served me well.
MS has a host of symptoms that it can manifest. Some people get some of these but not others. There are, however, some symptoms that are common to all MS patients. Here is a list of the common ones, all of which I did have and all of which I eliminated: brain fog, vision problems, cognitive issues, waves of exhaustion, loss of energy and stamina. I eliminated all of these with high doses of nutritional supplements; very specific supplements targeting different engines in my body. It was amazing and personally empowering.
Even though this did wonders for my body the MS attacks had done some serious damage to my nervous system.
I also learned a lot about cancer. I was especially interested in this as I had three relatives die from various forms of cancer. What I discovered about cancer and standard cancer treatments was, to say the least, shocking.
The biggest thing I learned from all my research was this. If you get gravely ill, whether you get well or you die is completely your choice. Your decision as to what treatment you take or not take will determine the outcome. The treatment choices are your decision alone and no one else’s. I have known people who put all their faith and trust in a physician’s decisions and are now dead because they did. They never took into account that all they were to their doctor was just another patient. They weren’t that doctor’s mother, brother, sister, wife or husband. I’m not against western medicine and this is not an overly harsh criticism it’s just the way it is.
Life is curious. Most of us travel through it thinking we have it handled and have total control. But sometimes, when things happen to derail your course, you are faced with the reality that you have absolutely no control. Some people react to these kinds of events in a negative way. They get completely thrown off track, mentally devastated and never recover. I, on the other hand, took it a different way. The MS forced me to slow down and consider some of the bigger questions of life that I had been completely ignoring. It was actually refreshing.
One thing I had to deal with was the financial devastation my MS caused. Although I had helped myself physically with my research the MS had given me some major physical blows. The disease had dramatically affected my mobility by scaring my spinal cord and the right lobe of my brain with lesions. This basically shorted out the nervous pathways to my legs. As a result I couldn’t walk or drive a car. I couldn’t easily meet with people in their homes or travel. I had to find something else to do.
At the time I was struggling with this I didn’t have a clue of what I was going to do. However my faith in God kept me going. I prayed to God for a solution. I knew, because of my faith, that a solution would present itself and it did. By a serendipitous series of events I became involved in an unrelated business that I found I had a knack for. This was an answer to my prayers and helped replace the income from my prior life. This new direction also involved my writing skills. I had been writing for years but had never seriously considered it as a profession. This disease changed that and now I am a full time writer. I have also just published my first book and am currently working on several more.
The lessons I learned from this are you never know where life is going to lead you. Even if it takes a wrong turn you should never ever give up. It’s also no ones fault when things go bad; stuff just happens sometimes. Don’t blame the universe and don’t blame God no one is out to get you. The best course is when bad things happen to you pick yourself up, move forward, and be thankful you have been given this most precious of gifts.
© Richard Woodling 2013