The Unwell Experience

The Unwell Experience (Not Ready to Die)

Or . . .

How’d a fitness guy get so . . . . unwell?

I. The Hurricane and the first Flawed Conclusion

Hurricane Wilma blew through South Florida in October of 2005 and took my office roof with her.  While my house and property had only minor damage, my business headquarters were destroyed.  The roof of the building was gone, the building was flooded, and every computer, piece of furniture, piece of exercise equipment, and every single piece of paper was damaged by water.  Once the water drained out into the street (there were literally 12 inches of standing water in the building) the carpet and drywall were clearly ruined.  That’s where my stupidity kicked in.  This was a challenge, I had to respond, so rather than walking away and trying to recoup some insurance $$, I went to work.  I was determined to “fix” the office.

I paid contractors and laborers in cash to tear out the rotting drywall and carpet, and together with my landlord, worked feverishly to restore everything structurally.  For three months dust was flying, and for those three months I was in the building every single day.

By March 1, 2006, the office looked as good as new.  New carpet, new walls, new paint, new computers, new artwork, new furniture, and I thought a new beginning.  By April I had developed a horrible cough and it seemed to get significantly worse when I was in the office.  There was also a very strong mildew smell, but nobody seemed to be bothered by it except me.  I asked the landlord to do a mold test.  They sent in a guy who stood on a ladder, waved something around, and left.  Three days later I was told the mold in the building was exactly equal to the mold count outside.

Flawed Conclusion #1: the respiratory hacking isn’t the result of mold. I must have some other irritant bothering me.

I went to a family doctor.  She told me it’s likely an allergy, and she explained that there are different types of mold, and even though the overall mold count wasn’t high, I might be allergic to a specific type.  She referred me to an allergist and my journey had begun.

Here’s what I failed to understand at the time.  Mold is insidious, and a simple “air quality” test is not at all diagnostic of a true problem.  Mold thrives in a damp environment and if mold was living and growing in the AC ducts, or under the new carpet, or in the wood of the salvaged furniture, it could bring serious damage.  Ah, if only I knew then what I know now.

II. New Construction and Allergies?

As the new drywall was put in place, the contractors wore face masks as they pasted and painted.  Visqueen covered the furniture to protect it from flying debris and the plastic sheets were covered in mountains of white dust.  Whatever circulated through the internal environment also went right into my lungs, but I didn’t realize that until months later.

Flying debris wasn’t the only assailant.  Carpet glue has toxic chemicals, as do most commercial paints, and both new carpet and new furniture are preserved with formaldehyde.  I didn’t know any of that as I went for my series of appointments with the allergist.  I just thought I had a bad cough.

After a series of tests, the results were clear.  My pulmonary function was severely compromised, and I was definitely allergic to dust and cats with mild hay fever.  The allergist invited me to consider allergy treatments (shots) but in all honesty, my life hadn’t changed in relation to cats or normal house dust, so I had to believe something else was going on.  He sent me to a pulmonologist.

I haven’t smoked a cigarette since the age of 17.  I’ve always been an athlete and would still play a full court game of basketball at 46 years old.  That’s why when the pulmonologist told me I’m testing as if I have emphysema, I found it hard to swallow.  Despite my difficulty in accepting his diagnosis, the reality was, it was legitimately hard to breathe.

The pulmonologist gave me two inhalers and prescriptions.  I used one of the inhalers that same day and felt anxious and jittery.  I decided I wasn’t going to use them at all, nor was I going to fill the prescriptions.  I tried to go the common sense route.  If the office made it worse, staying out of the office would make it better.

Over the next four weeks my lungs, gut and sensibility reminded me often to stay out of the office and my cough diminished.  I went back to the landlord, explained what had been going on, and shared my belief that something in the office was affecting me.  They did another mold test and the result was the same.  No dangerous mold.

I kept the office open but minimized the time I spent in there. Although my breathing improved, every time I’d be in the office I’d feel a constriction in my throat, and worse yet, I’d sort of lose alertness.  I wasn’t falling asleep, but I didn’t feel awake.  I’d find myself walking out to the reception area and forgetting why I went out there, and I decided that, at least for the time being, I’d set things up so I can work from home.

III. What Color is That Tie?

The following September, I was probably spending a total of four hours a week in the office, and even with the limited time within the four walls, my cognition was affected and I had trouble completing an article or staying focused in a conversation.  I was going through a divorce at the time, so I chalked it up to stress, but I must admit, my gut was getting wiser.  It somehow knew something else was going on.  It was reinforced when the symptoms became odd, varied, and extreme.

Every night I’d awaken with horribly painful cramps in my feet.   I started to develop a strong awareness of the odors of commonplace items.  I couldn’t stand the smell of the shower curtain, the dishwasher, or silverware.  That’s where it starts getting crazy.  That’s where I became seriously concerned as these symptoms were so bizarre I didn’t even feel comfortable telling people about them.

One morning I was getting dressed and attempting to choose a tie.  I looked at my shirts, looked at my ties, and realized I couldn’t identify colors.  Everything appeared to be in shades of gray.  I couldn’t tell the difference between blue and green or orange and red.

A week later my fingers didn’t work.  I’d think “tie shoes” and my hands would just hang there, and two days later I developed tremors.  This was real.  I was scared.  I made an appointment for a series of neurological tests.

For three days I went through cat scans, dye injections, sleep state monitoring, brain wave testing, and examinations.  I couldn’t hold my tongue still, I couldn’t turn my head all the way to the left without it shaking uncontrollably, and my fingers, when they moved, moved together, like claws.  For the first time in my life I felt what it feels like to be the patient.  The doctors and technicians poked, prodded, injected, and explored, and the following week I was scheduled to meet with the neurologist.

IV. The Diagnosis

I don’t know how I managed to maintain a positive outlook, but I did.  I knew whatever I was dealing with was going to be fixed and I’d have yet another story to tell.  That positivity faded fast when the neurologist told me I had Parkinson’s Disease.  He was looking at a computer screen when he told me.  When he turned to me he must have seen the color drain from my face.  I suddenly had a vision of the future where my then-two-year old daughter visited her dad who was shaking and trembling in a wheelchair.  It might have been the worst moment of my life.  The doctor looked at me and said, “don’t worry, there are medications.  You can still have a good quality of life for many years.”

My throat went dry.  I felt angry, defeated, cheated, and distraught and as I left the office with new prescriptions, I took greater notice of the disabled patients in the waiting room.  I didn’t cry, but I wish tears came.  I think it would have relieved some of the despair.  That was a very bad day.

The following morning I woke up and I made a decision.  If in fact I did have Parkinson’s, I’d use this experience, find Michael J. Fox, and connect with his mission to find a cure.  Then there was the other possibility.  Maybe the diagnosis was wrong.

My symptoms were becoming apparent.  People started to ask me why I’m shaking.  People commented on my attention span being limited.  I still, however, had a full schedule of speaking appearances and I was getting concerned.

There were three biggies on my calendar.  The day after the Parkinson’s diagnosis I had to fly up to the Northeast to do a keynote presentation at the IDEA conference.  The presentation was at 7 AM the day after my flight.  The hotel room was filled with chemical odors and disarming smells and I felt as if I was losing consciousness more than once.  In the morning I walked into the ballroom and I could feel my body trembling.  I was having trouble remembering my presentation.  I tried to cover things up by being overly exuberant but I think it was so far off the deep end I seemed manic.  My presentation was awful.  I knew it as I was going, and I was so anxious to get it done I spoke faster and faster.  I felt woozy and didn’t know if I’d be able to make it through.  I knew how bad I was, I was embarrassed, but most significant was my fear, an emotion I’d never really known before.  I saw my entire career crumbling.

The second biggie was a scheduled presentation in Italy for Richard Branson’s group.  I struggled with it.  I was being more affected than ever by smells and fragrances and when I’d walk by someone wearing perfume my brain felt as if it switched off.  The thought of being so far from home, exposed to conditions that were unpredictable, and still believing I might have Parkinson’s, I made a difficult decision.  I withdrew.  Rather than simply backing out, I called one of the only two people I know could fill in for me and do an exceptional job.  Kelli Calabrese made the trip to Italy and was very well received.

The third scheduled event was the shooting of a video for a home exercise program initiated as a start-up by a company in Madison, Wisconsin.  My hands didn’t work.  I was losing coordination.  I was starting to stutter and often forgot words. Sometimes wrong words came out of my mouth and I didn’t know it until I noticed that “what are you talking about” stare.  I called the founder of the company and explained my dilemma and my diagnosis.  He felt very strongly about me doing the video.  I sent an email pleading to reschedule, but the response was, “we already committed to the video company, the location, the participants, and we’ll lose a lot of money” so I agreed to do it.

It was bad. I had trouble remembering what I was supposed to say.  I had difficulty maintaining my posture.  The studio smelled like cleaning supplies and I struggled to maintain consciousness.  I shouldn’t have gone, but prior to this experience, I had never cancelled a presentation. I felt an obligation so I went against my better judgment and put others before myself (as is my character).

V. Knocked Out and Awakened at O’ Hare

The evening of the shoot we went to dinner at a local steakhouse.  The partners ordered a bottle of wine and proposed a toast.  As I went to sip the wine I had a muscle spasm in my elbow flexors and I whacked myself in the mouth with the wine glass.  Everyone laughed, including me, but I was becoming increasingly aware of tremors, twitches, and spasms.

The following day I flew on a small plane from Madison, Wisconsin to O Hare airport in Chicago.  As I walked to my gate, I walked by a cluster of women with perfume and the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground with people standing over me asking if I’m OK.  I blacked out before hitting the ground, but witnesses said I walked right into a support column.  Wham!

A young attractive woman waiting for a flight to Boston took an interest in me and we sat, had lunch, spoke, laughed, and I started to feel better.  I told her what I’d been experiencing and she told me her father is a doctor with training in both Eastern and Western medicine and the sensitivity to chemicals was not unfamiliar to her.  She also told me her father had dealt with many patients who were misdiagnosed.

As she boarded her flight, my phone rang. It was my then-sister-in-law Michelle who was suffering with Lyme Disease and was calling me to inquire about a good source of whey protein.  I told her what had just happened to me and she asked me if I’d ever heard of Dr. Shoemaker?  I hadn’t.  She met people who spoke very highly of him as she sought out treatments for her Lyme Disease and she had experienced many of the odd symptoms I was describing.  She recalled that I had an issue with water damage in my office and said the magic words.  “Dr. Shoemaker deals with mold toxicity.”

A light bulb went off.  If you believe in fate, you’ve got to believe that was an odd chain of events.  I met a stranger who told me doctors misdiagnose and within the hour my phone rang and I was told of Mold Toxicity.

I plugged in my laptop and looked up Dr. Shoemaker.  I ordered his book Mold Warriors and paid for overnight delivery.

VI. Mold Warriors

The book, Mold Warriors, described virtually every one of my symptoms!  There was a questionnaire that began, “have you been in a damp building?” and went on to ask, “are you sensitive to smells and fragrances?”  I decided I had to visit with Dr. Shoemaker.  Finally, someone who seemed to understand what I was going through.  There was a challenge. I live in Florida and Dr. Shoemaker had an office in middle-of-nowhere Maryland (Pocomoke City to be exact).  He also had a very extensive application process.  He had to accept you as a patient and he had a waiting list.

The book had a co-author.  Dr. Schaller.  He had an office in Naples.  Naples was a two-hour drive for me.  I called Dr. Schaller’s office and made an appointment for the following week.  I drove over there spaced out, trembling, struggling with a windfall of emotions, but hopeful.  Dr. Schaller charged me $2650 and had me sign a pile of papers waiving any rights.  I would have normally been concerned, but this man, I believed, had the cure for me.

He set up a “treatment plan” where he would prescribe Cholestyramine, an old cholesterol medication, that had been evidenced to scavenge mold mycotoxins and every two weeks we would have a telephone consultation.  He also recommended $1100 worth of supplements that I ordered from his website.  I was going to do whatever he suggested as I wanted desperately to be restored to health.  The CSM helped, but I had to do five shots of it a day (powder mixed in liquid).  My cognition seemed to improve and the tremors seemed to lessen, but every few weeks I’d have to go through a telephone consult that ran $750 in which he read to me from the Physician’s Desk Reference.  I was instructed to order more supplements and within a month I was into him for over 6 grand (not covered by insurance) with only mild improvement.  He called me to discuss a drug called Actos and its anti-inflammatory properties as I was being written a ticket on the side of I-75.  I told him I couldn’t speak right then and I hung up as the cop returned to my window.  I received a receipt three days later indicating that Dr. Schaller had charged me $750 for the call.  I flipped.  I called Dr. Schaller’s office and spoke to his receptionist who didn’t seem the least bit surprised or affected.  She tried to de-escalate my anger, and it became clear that this type of call was commonplace for her.  I hung up and called Dr. Shoemaker.  It was 5 PM and he answered the phone.  I started telling him about my experience with his partner and he interrupted, “he isn’t my partner and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone upset with his treatment.”

I calmed down.  “Dr. Shoemaker, I have two simple questions.  If I do, in fact, suffer with mold toxicity, can I make an appointment with you and can you help without raking me?”  The following day I was filling out 20 pages of application papers and the next week I flew to BWI and drove three hours to Pocomoke City.

Dr. Shoemaker did a very thorough examination, took more blood from me than I knew was in my body, invaded my face with a giant Q-tip, sent me for more brain MRIs,  did an EKG, and a very complete background review.  He gave me a color contrast eye test which I failed miserably.  Failure of that test was an indication that mold toxicity was present.  It was reinforced by my labs.  He had me continue with CSM, but added an injectable (very expensive) drug called Procrit which he believed would restore oxygenation to the affected parts of my brain.  I took it for 14 days.

Two weeks later, my tremors were gone completely.  I did not have Parkinson’s!

I had been through a difficult and emotional journey and really felt a bond with anyone who had been stuck in the flawed medical system trying to find answers.  Conventional medicine failed me miserably, and cost me a fortune.  Had I found Dr. Shoemaker out of the gate, my entire treatment plan would have cost me less than $2,000, airfare included.  I felt this would contribute to my professional ability to help people find fitness and . . . . restoration of health.

Upon returning, I hired a mold investigator Dr. Shoemaker recommended.  Gary Rosen went into my office with cameras, moisture detectors, and petri dishes and four days later he sent me a letter saying the office is not habitable.  He had pictures of black mold living under the floorboards, DNA evidence of mold in the A/C ducts, and a complete assay of the levels of mold that far exceeded toxic levels.  That got me out of my lease.

I wish I could say that was the end of the journey.  It wasn’t.  After my divorce I rented a place near my gym since my office was no longer mine.  I brought my daughter to see the home I was renting and as we played I felt symptoms suddenly returning.  We went outside, took a walk, and I felt better.  The following day I went back into the apartment and again the symptoms returned.  I had Gary do a mold test.  Mold free!  I didn’t realize at the time that the toxins in the paint and carpet were triggering an auto immune response since the mold experience left me with a residual condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

VII. Getting to Know MCS

I tried to explain my challenge to my new landlord and after days of back-and-forth accusations, I managed to get out of the apartment lease losing one month’s rent and now had to find a place to live where I wasn’t affected by chemical fumes.  I found one in a great development called Artesia.  I did another round of procrit, developed a new supplement regimen with NAC (to increase glutathione) and fish oils (anti-inflammatory) and started to feel like my old self again.  I had to avoid perfumes as an exposure could send me reeling for days, but I developed some new habits that lessened my exposures.  I chose restaurants with outdoor seating, told my staff not to wear fragrances, stayed out of elevators or close quarters, and avoided shopping malls.

Life was starting to return to a sense of normalcy and I wanted to get back to my writing.  I was dating a girl who worked at City Furniture and I asked her to order me a nice furniture set up for my home office. She chose a beautiful set with a desk, hutch, computer table, and file space and it looked great in my new place.  An hour after the delivery guys left, I passed out.  I sat outside until I shook things off, and within minutes of returning to my home, and sitting in my home office, my vision went blurry.  I learned something that day.  They treat furniture with formaldehyde, a chemical toxin.

From that day forward, my home office was off limits.  Every time I had a serious exposure it seemed to increase my sensitivity.  Through a series of phone calls to doctors I knew, I found Dr. Albert Robbins, an environmental medicine specialist in Deerfield Beach.  He’s a great guy.  He’s a caring doctor and he has a very clear expertise in the health issues we are beginning to experience due to shifts in our individual and collective environments.

Dr. Robbins has a pretty diverse tool box and he begins by creating an awareness of the integration between mind, body, and spirit.  We often exchange book titles and recommendations and he’s been open minded about all of the research I’d been doing since I came to understand what I was dealing with.  Whenever I have a reaction, I visit Dr. Robbins and he floods my body with a glutathione solution applied intravenously.   He’s also treated some of my symptoms with a drug called gabapentin and he adjusts things as my sensitivity levels shift.

I avoided the room with the new furniture, worked out daily, ate super clean, and saw Dr. Robbins a few times a month and again I started to feel OK.  Not great, but at that point I was happy to accept OK with the promise of getting better.

I started doing some small speaking appearances and conditioned my assistant, Stacey, to remind hosts and attendees that they should not wear fragrances.  She calls hotels and asks that they don’t use any chemical cleaning supplies in the room I’m going to stay in and that they open the windows for a few hours before I arrive.  Some hotels are even willing to put in air purifiers and/or dehumidifiers.

Dr. Robbins prescribed some compounded formulas for B12 and Glutathione that help me calm a reaction when I travel.

I was on my way up to Maryland to do a seminar for a group of fitness pros when the next major incident occurred.  As I was stepping onto the airplane, I was hit by a whoosh of perfume and my vision went black.  I literally couldn’t see.  I passed out and woke up with a doctor leaning over me in first class.  My vision gradually came back.  Things were blurry but I could see.  I got off the plane, took a walk, and arranged to fly in on a later flight.  The episode passed but the experience of losing my eyesight, even momentarily, shook me.  I was trying to get back to the life I knew, but there were constant reminders that I wasn’t the same.

Since I was flying to Maryland, I made my second appointment with Dr. Shoemaker.  The labs showed that many elements of my condition had worsened.  He was experimenting with a new compound, Vaso Intestinal Peptide (VIP) and I became a research subject.

I started to become very aware of a distinct irony.  Prior to becoming a patient, I set out to better understand how exercise and nutrition could help to offset the symptoms so many accept as elements of aging.  It began to settle in.  I had become my own target audience.

There were several subsequent episodes, four of which landed me in the Emergency Room or Urgent Care Center where I was given breathing treatments and released.  I felt as if I had some control, but not enough.  With time, subsequent episodes seemed to leave me damaged for longer periods of time, and they started to overlap.  I couldn’t quite recover.  Over the course of the next few months, I lost so much muscle and gained so much fat (despite working out and eating clean) I had to buy new clothes.  My waist had never been an issue, but it was growing and my arms, despite years of heavy lifting, no longer filled out my sleeves. It seemed the more I committed to exercise, the most muscle I’d lose.  Dr. Robbins checked my CPK, an indicator of muscle breakdown, and it was very high.  My testosterone was very low which had never been an issue for me and estrogen levels were alarmingly high.  I felt lost and confused.  I wanted to find an expert who was ahead of me in researching integrated holistic change.  I found Dr. Mark Hyman.

I met Dr. Hyman at the Ultrawellness Center in the Berkshires.  The Massachusetts mountain air felt good.  I walked outside as much as I could just to appreciate the renewed ease of breathing.  When I went to see Dr. Hyman I was again optimistic.  I’d been to see previous doctors with a sense of desperation, but by this point in time I knew what was wrong with me and I better understood the connection between my symptoms.

I’ll be honest.  I like Dr. Hyman.  He’s not only an exceptional doctor, he’s an exceptional guy.  With that said, he took lots of blood and urine for lab work, infused a glutathione cocktail, and while he was very thorough, I don’t know that he offered me any real help.  If I had found Dr. Hyman earlier in my journey he would have had extreme value but at this point his advice was very much in line with everything I was already doing.  He had me add CoQ10 and a probiotic formula to my supplement regimen and I left there feeling as if I had a new friend, or perhaps a colleague.

VIII. Managing the condition

I returned home accepting that this was a condition I’d have to continue to manage, but I didn’t grasp the long term debilitating impact.  Not yet.

During the course of my health exploration, I was involved at Fitness 21 on a very part time basis, but now I decided that I was going to jump back in and appreciate the impact I could have on the lives of others.  It was a noble move, but probably not the best move for my health.

Hours in the club each day left me exposed to perfumes and the air quality in the building was probably not the greatest.  I’d leave there every day with my eyes bloodshot and my brain a bit foggy.  I was very connected to the betterment mission and I could do whatever was necessary, but I found myself soon leaving there exhausted, coming home wanting to sleep, and then struggling with insomnia.  The muscle loss continued and my body composition continued shifting . . . not in a good way.

That’s about the time my lease was up and I bought a new home in Boynton Beach.

The new home near killed me.  There were smells from paint, air fresheners that were tucked away in corners, and the carpet, pressed wood cabinets, and cleaning supplies had me woozy.  I brought an “expert” in to help me minimize the impact of the smells.  He told me to buy UV lights, bake the walls (honestly), and remove all of the pressed wood.  He charged me $1000.  I did bake the walls and it helped, but I was now living in an environment that I struggled to maintain health in.  Over time I bought formaldehyde neutralizers, odor absorbers, and 17 air purifiers located throughout my home.  I put a UV system and Merv 11 filters in my air conditioning system, and over the course of my first year in the home, while my condition worsened, the home improved.

One day I came home from  Fitness 21 and there was a horrible smell in my house.  I felt very symptomatic.  It turned out the cleaning company I’ve used for years sent a new girl and she used stainless steel cleaner throughout my kitchen.  My heart started racing, my tremors returned, and I avoided the kitchen.  That same day, my assistant Stacey stopped by and she was coming from a meeting.  She had perfume on.  I was spinning.

The following morning I woke up at 4 AM with my heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to come right through my chest.  I took my pulse and my heart beat was erratic.  I tried to sit outside, calm down, and relax but I couldn’t help coming to terms with the fact I was feeling virtually every symptom of a heart attack.  At 7:30 AM I called my sister.  She’s an E.R. nurse.  I didn’t want to be the guy in denial who sits at home and unnecessarily dies of a heart attack.  My sister told me to go to the E.R.  I went.  I packed a small bag, just in case, but I had every intention of picking my daughter up at school at 2 PM.  I just wanted to be reassured that I wasn’t about to leave this world.

I walked into the hospital with my heart pounding hard, but I arrived in good spirits.  I chatted with the security guard and was directed to the registration desk.  The nurse sat down and her perfume hit me hard.  I stood up and told her I have a condition known as chemical sensitivity.  She told me to sit back down if I wanted to get through check-in quickly.  I sat down and felt my symptoms worsen.  I tried to turn my head, but I was surrounded by her perfume and it was affecting me.  She thought I was nuts and when I told her I take gabapentin, the medication Dr. Robbins used to manage my reactions, she almost nodded as that particular medication is often used for bi-polar syndrome.  She was convinced I was a whack job.

I went into the back, put on a backwards gown, and two EMT’s hooked me up to an EKG monitor.  They looked at it with concern.  I asked what they saw and they said they weren’t able to tell me. The doctor would have to do that.  In short order the doctor came in.  He recognized me from the gym and made some small talk and finally I asked, “Doc, what’s the deal?”

He told me he saw a series of repetitive PVC’s (premature ventricular contractions) and that my heart rate was very irregular.  I told him about my condition (MCS) and he looked confused.  I think he pretty much ignored what I was telling him and did what protocol dictated.  He ordered a chest x-ray, some blood draws, and told me a cardiologist would be in to see me.  A male nurse in pink scrubs came in to draw my blood.  He was wearing cologne.  Ugh.  I held my breath as best as I could but I was totally spaced out and just anxious to know what was going on with my circulatory system.

A female nurse came in, handed me a remote, turned on Judge Joe Brown, and told me the cardiologist would be in before noon.  I reinforced that unless there was something severe going on, I had to pick my daughter up at two.

I watched Judge Joe Brown, a bit of Judge Judy, and in walked the cardiologist.  He was wearing cologne.  I think he marinated in it.  I became short of breath.  I asked him to back away.  He looked offended.  I explained again that I had chemical sensitivity but nobody seemed to hear it.  He told me my chest x-ray looked fine but that he was concerned about the irregular heart beat.

“Did you take a lot of caffeine?”

“No, I don’t even drink coffee.”

“OK, let me look at your labs.”  He walked out and the female nurse came in.  She put an IV needle into the back of my hand.  I asked what she was doing and she told me the cardiologist wanted to admit me.

“Admit me?  What’s wrong with me?”  I was agitated so she called in the E.R. doctor who knew me from the gym.

“Doc, why are you admitting me?”

“The cardiologist wants to run some tests.”

“What tests?  You did an EKG, chest x-ray, and ran blood labs. What else is he going to do?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I told you I wanted to be out of here in time to pick up my daughter.  If I have to make a phone call I will, but I’d prefer not to be in the hospital unless someone can tell me why I’m staying.”

I started ripping the electrodes off.   I couldn’t stand the fact that nobody was considering that I had a very real issue that was being aggravated there in the hospital.  I didn’t want to spend another second wired down to a bed while cologne and perfume hovered over me.  The female nurse came in and grabbed my pants off of the chair before I could get my hands on them.  I went to pull the IV out of my hand and she screamed . .  . STOP!  I’ll do it.  Just calm down.  Nobody’s going to stop you from leaving but please calm down.  I did.  After all, she had my pants.

“Phil, if you leave the way you’re about to you’re going to be charged a fortune for all the tests.  Your insurance won’t cover any of it unless the doctor signs you out.  Let me talk to the cardiologist and get you checked out properly, assuming of course you aren’t about to die.”

Five minutes later the cardiologist returned.  He kept his distance this time and he said, “your magnesium is low, that’s why it happened.”  He wrote a prescription for magnesium gluconate.  I put on my pants, checked out properly and picked up my daughter, but not before I called Dr. Shoemaker and told him what happened.  He told me to come see him and I did.

Before I flew up to Maryland I went to the hospital to pick up my records.  The cardiologist wrote on his report, “excesses of caffeine led to PVCs.”  Whaaaaat?

Dr. Shoemaker ran some labs and an EKG and the EKG was totally normal.  No irregular beats.  He believed the load of chemical overwhelm was responsible and I had to agree.  It started with the stainless steel cleaner and escalated.  In Pocomoke City, I didn’t smell a whiff of perfume and everything appeared normal . . . sort of.

I returned home and Doc Shoemaker prescribed an ECG stress test with a measure of pulmonary artery pressure.  He suspected the mold had damaged my pulmonary artery and it was in part responsible for the reaction.  He was correct.  While my heart was strong, the pulmonary artery was stiffening, and if the process continued, it was at best two years before my heart stopped permanently.

I then went for another brain scan and was told the lesion in my frontal lobe had grown and if it continued to grow as it had been it would soon affect motor function.

To top things off, I went to the eye doctor as I’d been experiencing bouts of tunnel vision and she told me I was losing my eyesight.  The rear wall is so inflamed, it isn’t exerting the right pressure and this can lead to blindness.

I don’t know how I find it in me to see a positive.  I took it all in.  My heart will soon stop, my brain will shut down my ability to move, and to top it off I’ll be blind.  Not a whole lot of positivity there, is there?  Well, if you’re me, you find it.  I felt a renewed mission to prove the doctors wrong, to find a course of action that allowed me to move back along the continuum that the mold pushed me along, back toward health.  I was going to follow the program I created for the unwell.  What a great story I would have.  Up until this point I could only share stories of clients, but wow, what if I saved my own life.

So I put things in perspective and forged ahead meeting with doctors, not only for my own concerns, but to offer an exercise and nutritional solution for those who suffered with those easy to diagnose dis-eases such as type 2 diabetes and primary hypertension.

In line with this mission, I revised my Be Better program, a program I created to help personal trainers find new levels of excellence.  I added new material, extended the program two months, and feel that I have a vantage point that is uniquely positioned for seeing the true potential of the personal trainer.

In wanting to reach out to trainers who truly seek excellence, not for ego but for altruistic commitment to helping others, I established a few portals, one of them being my Every Personal Trainer Needs to Know group on Facebook.  I recorded segments with experts who all had their own related vantage points so further empower trainers to raise the bar on their own potential.  In that I interviewed Dr. Delrae Messer, a beautiful fitness competitor and chiropractor with a very holistic view of health.  Without any knowledge of my condition, she shared her own experience which included toxins invading her body.  “Off the air,” I spoke with her and asked her for direction.  She referred me to Dr. Pompa, a former MCS sufferer who found real solutions and now speaks nationally on undoing toxicity.

I was encouraged speaking with Doctor Pompa, and in our initial conversation I told him that I’m still affected by the paint in my house.  He mentioned non-VOC paint.  He didn’t actually suggest I repaint my home, but he opened my eyes to something new.  VOC’s are volatile organic compounds, toxins that off-gas from building materials and paints.  After hanging up with Dr. Pompa, I called a local painter and asked if he could paint a few rooms in my house with non-VOC paint.  Four days later painters, ladders, and drop cloths were in one of my bedrooms.  The cans clearly said “Non VOC.”  I was excited that this would “cure” the sensitivity I had to my own home.  After the painters left, I found my head spinning.  The smell of this new paint was as bad as the original paint when I moved in . . . maybe worse.  I decided to move out for a few days while the paint dried.

As soon as I walked back into my house, it hit me.  It was bad.  I called Dr. Pompa.  He reacted, “I didn’t tell you to do it, I just mentioned it’s something you might try down the road as a last resort.”  He directed me to Joel Hirshberg of Green Building Supply in Iowa.  Thanks Doc.  That was a great recommendation.

Joel explained the “scam” behind commercial paint manufacturers using loopholes in labeling laws to label paint with toxins as non-VOC.  I ordered new paint from Joel and had to again pay painters to come in and paint over the smelly stuff.

So, here I sit, outlining my experience in hope it might be of value to others who are wondering why they’re experiencing weird symptoms after being in damp buildings or exposed to  new paint or carpet.  I thought this might provide some direction for people who are wondering why perfumes suddenly started causing brain fog.  I feel as if this exploration brought me to a place I should have been in months after the mold incident.  I wish somebody could have outlined this for me.

Dr. Shoemaker, Gary the mold guy, Dr. Robbins, Dr. Pompa, and Joel Hirshberg are the experts I wish I’d found years ago.  I could have bypassed not only the physical deterioration, but also the emotional starts and stops that came with misdiagnoses.

Where am I emotionally right now?  Let’s see.  I have months to live, I’m going to lose motor function, and I’m going blind.  That’s a part of the story.  The next chapter will show complete recovery and optimal health.  I believe that.  I really do.  I’m going to give the next Be Better Project my all as I hope, whether I leave this earth a year from now or 60 years from now, will serve as my legacy.  Ditto for my A.L.I.V.E. protocol, the exercise and nutrition regimen I’ve been using to help people reverse dis-ease.

I would love to say I’ll respond to all emails, but the volume is already overwhelming.  With that said, I will tell you I do the best I can to respond to all the emails I receive, so if I can be of help or provide direction, if you are struggling with bizarre health issues that connect with some of what I’ve outlined, or if you are a fitness professional ready to move into the new millennium with an enhanced power, greater potential, and a far greater sense of reward, email me at

6 Responses to The Unwell Experience

  1. Pingback: Not Ready to Die | Phil Kaplan's ALIVE and Better

  2. Ryan Saplan says:

    Wow, what an amazing story. It’s a hell of an experience and I look forward to hearing about it as you over come this “bump” in the road. I’ve never met you, but you were the start of my success and have always been a genuine source for my inspiration.

  3. Pingback: Realizing my chase has been for all the wrong reasons. « This Getting Rich Stuff is Harder than it Looks

  4. Kimm Evans says:

    Im feeling a kaleidoscope of things right now. Mainly amazed! I’m more proud to be a part of the Phil Kaplan experience than ever 🙂

  5. Nic Reeger says:

    Wow Phil. Wow. I’m extremely proud to know you. I’ve never heard a story like yours and this story will be passed on to everyone I know. Knowing you as I do I too believe you will beat this. The mind is an amazing thing. Combined with your will and savvy this afflictions ass is grass !

  6. M. says:

    Wow, what a voyage. Thank goodness you haven’t been tagged with psychiatric condition, otherwise, that would of been considered the reason behind many of these “events”. Hang in there Phil and realize you have friends that are here to help.

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