"The whole world fell apart," says Cindy Short of the period following the birth of her second child in 1982. The overwhelming fatigue she experienced would not go away. She had diarrhea, insomnia, hives, and worst of all, she started missing appointments and forgetting common words in ordinary conversation. "I felt like I had a stroke," she says. After a tortuous series of consultations with medical specialists, Short, now 35, has achieved a tenuous stability. She, her husband, and three children reside in a south Evanston home that has been made into a veritable fortress against hordes of hostile creatures. Banned are newspapers and books, noncotton clothing, after-shave lotions and deodorants, all nonorganic or processed foods, natural gas, alcohol, tobacco, houseplants, and most soaps and cleaning products. The Shorts dare not buy new furniture or carpets or have the rooms painted. All water is filtered, and an air filter stays on in the bedroom all night. Cindy Short ventures outside on sunny days for walks down side streets, where the levels of automobile exhaust are relatively low. "What we're going through isn't unpleasant," she says. "It's devastating!"
For the first 30 years of his life, James LeRoy regarded himself as "the healthiest person alive." An avid outdoorsman, he was into hang gliding, parachuting, and running five miles a day. Then on November 26, 1982--he can remember the exact date--everything changed. At first he thought the headache, fatigue, and disorientation were flu symptoms. But they hung on for weeks--and years. LeRoy, a computer consultant, is still struggling to regain his old form. The list of foods and other substances he must steer clear of includes coffee, milk, anything with artificial preservatives, cigarette smoke, varnish, pesticides, and perfumes. One good whiff of the fumes from the dry cleaning plant near his suburban home can bring back all the old symptoms with a vengeance.
Fourteen-year-old Sharon Wittenberg had a lot of allergies in early childhood, but she lived a fairly normal life until she started her first year at Evanston High School last September. She developed severe arthritislike pains in her knees, shoulders, and back, and she couldn't stop sneezing in the halls and classrooms. After an hour at school she was soaked with sweat, dizzy, and headachy. Because the condition only got worse after several weeks, it was decided that she should remain at home, where she now does her schoolwork and is visited by tutors five hours a week. A couple of her girlfriends stop by once in a while, says Sharon, but most of her former companions are busy with their own teenage activities. "She's a valiant kid," says her mother Linda, "but she does get discouraged sometimes. This whole thing is horrible, just horrible!"
Short, LeRoy, and Wittenberg, along with a growing number of Americans, have been diagnosed as suffering from "Environmental Illness" (EI)--a decidedly nonspecific term to describe a puzzling illness or set of illnesses that, if unchecked, can gradually incapacitate victims, turning them into invalids. In effect, those with EI find themselves living on an alien planet whose flora and fauna seem bent on destroying them. Like the lovable little creature from outer space in the movie E.T., they discover that the earth is an inimical place: food, water, and air are toxic to their systems; they become allergic to almost everything. Only there's no spaceship to swoop down and take them home.
So they try to cope, not only with the illness, but with a large segment of the public that eyes this sickness with grave suspicion. "Better if I had a brain tumor," says one sufferer. "Everyone knows what that is. You can see it, measure it, even cut it out. But EI! People look at you like you made it up, like it's all in your head!"
The lengths to which victims go to attain relief are sometimes extreme. One man learned he could keep newspapers in the house without becoming ill from the chemicals in the ink if he baked them in the oven (at 250 degrees) for an hour. A desperate wife and mother fled her family and moved by herself into a mobile home in the desert 40 miles from Phoenix; she relishes the monthly weekend visits from her husband and four children, though she's sick for several days after. Some EI patients have found they can tolerate exotic foods like lion, antelope, or buffalo meat, while a slice of bologna would trigger paroxysms of pain and nausea.
In the Chicago area many EI sufferers are finding advice and friendship in what are called Environmental Illness-candida support groups; they meet monthly in the extremely sterile homes of the participants. In the meetings, says James LeRoy, who coordinates four support groups (in Flossmoor, Bensenville, Arlington Heights, and Evanston), a new member discovers he is not the only one with peculiar, baffling symptoms. "When I went, it was the first time I ever met people who could really understand what was happening to me," says LeRoy.
According to a psychiatric social worker who is also an EI victim, the groups are especially helpful in providing an exchange of information and even giving members the initiative to get better. "With an illness like this, you get to feel like a victim all the time," she says. "We need to take charge of our lives again. That's an important step on the way to improvement."
For EI sufferers, taking charge means, first of all, trying to understand what is happening to their bodies, and then seeking some relief, maybe even the beginnings of a permanent cure. And in recent years most of the talk at support group meetings focuses on the hope offered by clinical ecologists--a new breed of doctor with a fascinating theory and treatment for the illnesses that grip their patients. Indeed, the work of two pioneers in this area, Dr. C. Orian Truss of Birmingham, Alabama, and Dr. William G. Crook of Jackson, Tennessee, is widely discussed and occasionally debated at support group meetings. In the Chicago area, Dr. Theron G. Randolph and Dr. Robert Marshall are two whose practices are almost entirely devoted to EI and related illnesses. Both are regarded by clients as gurus who have achieved amazing results where old-fashioned medicine has failed.
Yet traditional allergists, the doctors who might otherwise be seeing these patients, take umbrage at the theories and treatments offered by these new specialists. "There is no scientific evidence for what these ecologists are proposing," says Dr. Donald Aaronson, an outspoken Des Plaines allergist. "The fact is that there are a lot of people out there who just don't feel well and are looking for someone to legitimize that feeling. They should be under the care of a well-trained internist who can refer them when necessary to an allergist or a psychiatric counselor." The AMA itself takes no position whatever on the clinical ecologists' approach.
The most intriguing theory proposed by Truss and his colleagues concerns the disease-fostering role of a little-understood, one-celled yeast that lives in the intestines of just about every warm-blooded animal on the earth. Called Candida albicans, it is normally harmless, kept under control by the friendly bacteria that coexist with it in the mucous lining of the gut. For centuries it has been recognized that candida can sometimes spread, especially to the vaginal area of women, where it causes vaginitis in the form of a yeast infection, or to the mouths of infants, where it produces a white coating on the tongue called thrush. Beyond that, no one worried much about the tiny organism.
Within the last 30 years, however, levels of candida have markedly increased in many people. A major reason may be that modern drugs and diets stimulate its growth. Under certain conditions, it seems, candida can change from its yeastlike, noninvasive state into a parasitic fungus that spreads like wildfire through the gut. In this invasive form, the theory goes, it can pierce the cells of the gut's mucous membrane and release toxic substances into the bloodstream to spread throughout the body. After clinical observation of more than 3,000 patients, Dr. Truss became convinced that this fungus is implicated in a staggering variety of human ills, ranging from acne and simple allergies to multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. Truss and Dr. Crook, whose book, The Yeast Connection, is avidly studied and often quoted by support group members, contend that such candida assaults wear down the body's immune system by overworking it, and thus render it inordinately sensitive to normally harmless chemicals, possibly even preparing the way for invasion by the virus that causes AIDS.
Truss stumbled on the yeast connection in Alabama in 1953 when treating a man in his mid-40s whose immune system seemed to have completely broken down, and his raging fever, cough, and diarrhea resisted every known medication. The only thing that seemed certain was the man's imminent death. "When were you last completely well?" Truss asked him.
Until six months earlier, the man explained, he had been a healthy mine worker. He had cut his finger one day, and when an infection developed, his doctor gave him a substantial dose of recently developed antibiotic drugs. Soon after, his health started deteriorating. Hospital tests showed the man to have a high level of candida in his system, but his doctors took little notice of this, since candida exists in almost everyone, and the higher-than-normal level, they assumed, was a result of his failing health.
Truss wondered if it might not be the other way round: perhaps candida was the cause of his sickness, not the result. The antibiotic, he speculated, might have attacked not only the infection-causing bacteria in his finger but also the friendly intestinal bacteria holding the candida in check. With nothing to lose at this stage, Truss gave the patient a known anticandida medication, and almost miraculously the symptoms disappeared and the man quickly recovered.
Ever since, Truss has been on the candida trail. He has taken additional training in allergies in Boston and has treated hundreds of patients with EI monthly for years, and he has come to believe that uncontrolled candida and its by-products in the human body are a critical factor in allergies and other medical conditions. Broad-spectrum antibiotics (those that attack a wide range of bacteria) were revolutionizing the treatment of infections and saving thousands of lives yearly. Yet they seemed a two-edged sword, at least for some people; they opened the way for candida invasions.
In the 1960s while treating a woman with vaginitis, Truss observed that the anticandida drug nystatin also appeared to relieve her severe depression--a condition no one had assumed was related to her yeast infection. He reported similar results later with other depressed patients. Truss gave anticandida medicines to schizophrenics, and some, he claimed, showed phenomenal improvement. In more recent years, he has used nystatin or candida vaccine in combination with yeast-free diets (exposure to yeast aids candida's growth in the gut) to treat autistic children and people with multiple sclerosis, often, reportedly, with surprising success.
Not only are antibiotics involved in the spread of candida, he determined, but so are birth control pills (which alter the body's hormonal balance and stimulate yeast growth), cortisone, and foods high in carbohydrates and sugar (which candida thrives on).
In 1977, Dr. Truss presented his findings, linking candida to food allergies, at a convention of psychiatrists and other physicians in Toronto, thereby stirring up a major medical ruckus that continues to this day. For some, he has opened up a whole new way of looking at physical and psychological illness. Others believe he has simply succumbed to an old temptation--trying to identify one universal cause for practically every human ill, and then finding an all-purpose cure.
From the beginning, the critics said Truss and his disciples were quacks. And the criticism only increased when Truss and Crook tried later to link candida to chemical hypersensitivity and EI. Where is the proof? asked the traditional medical world. Where are the reports from major research institutions and the articles in scholarly journals?
"I always keep an open mind," says Dr. Aaronson. "All I ask for is the scientific evidence of candida as a disease entity. I haven't seen any." In fact, says Aaronson, the very notion that there is such a thing as EI is suspect. "Sure, there are occupational illnesses," he says, "and some people have adverse reactions to certain substances." But that, he and his allergist colleagues maintain, is no reason to latch on to an overblown theory. The American Academy of Allergy and Immunology labels the candida connection "speculative and unproven."
Lying among the magazines in some allergists' waiting rooms are reprints of articles published by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. One, "Quackery and Questionable Treatment in Asthma and Allergy Medication," clobbers the clinical ecologists' approach as spurious and dangerous. Another rails against the imprecise diagnoses made by ecologists like Truss. Almost any physical complaint, it says, or any combination of complaints is sufficient for an ecologist's diagnosis of EI. The allergists assert that it is they themselves who act on the basis of "demonstrable organic findings" and prescribe proven and appropriate medications.
The absence of overwhelming proof of the candida connection may be due in part, say its enthusiasts, to the fact that the concept is still relatively new, and the medics seriously involved in diagnosis and treatment are so inundated with patients that they have little time for compiling and publishing research. Another, more ominous possibility is that the money needed for research is being withheld. The food, chemical, drug, and manufacturing industries in this country have little to gain and a great deal to lose if EI and its relationship with candida should ever be clearly established. If large numbers of people were to begin treating their illnesses with changes in diet rather than with doses of drugs, pharmaceutical companies could be in big trouble. And if the public were to turn en masse against food preservatives and common chemicals like formaldehyde (which can be found in 8 percent of the products manufactured in the United States, including everything from furniture and drapes to perfume and toilet paper), the entire economy would have to undergo major adjustments.
Gradually, some reputable studies are appearing that seem to support Truss's views. For example, Michigan Technological University scientists have established an alarming synergistic relationship between candida and the staph infection associated with toxic shock syndrome: when candida was added to usually mild doses of the staph, the morbidity rate was found to be 100,000 times higher than if the staph doses had been given alone. A Japanese microbiologist has identified the structure of two toxins sometimes found in candida that depress the activity of certain cells in the immune system. Cornell Medical College scientists have demonstrated that candida can paralyze the activity of white blood cells, which are crucial in fighting infection. And researchers at the National Institutes of Health report finding candidalike fungus infections in the blood of AIDS victims. Dr. Alan Levin, a University of California immunologist who believes that about one-third of the U.S. population is adversely affected by candida, claims that controlling the yeast is an important step in stemming the mushrooming AIDS epidemic.
Researchers are also pursuing indications that even regular strains of candida ferment carbohydrates into acetaldehyde, a compound known to have a devastating effect on the human body: it depresses the body's ability to produce energy from food, disrupts oxygenation of the blood, and blocks the chemical and electrical connections in the brain. Candida's fermenting abilities seem to have been confirmed in Japan: people were coming into clinics apparently drunk, but without having taken a drink. The high levels of candida they showed had turned food carbohydrates in their bodies into alcohol. If the yeast is indeed transforming carbohydrates into acetaldehyde, a relative of ethyl alcohol, scientists would have greater evidence for its link with such a bewildering variety of human ills, especially psychological problems. But as with candida itself, levels of acetaldehyde can be detected and measured in the human body only with great difficulty.
With or without scientific verification, people afflicted with EI-like symptoms will continue to grasp at whatever explanations and remedies they can find to make the planet earth more hospitable.
"By now I should have a master's degree, an established career in education, four children, and be active on all kinds of organizations and committees at school and church," says Cindy Short, a leading figure in the Evanston EI-candida support group. "That's what I always wanted. But I have to adjust to reality, and that's hard for me. I keep praying, Dear God, what do you want me to do with this thing?"
The "thing" came down on her five years ago, but Cindy says she should have seen it coming several years before that. And she feels certain about what brought it on: intensive treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics.
She grew up in Skokie, the middle of five children in a stable middle-class family. "As a kid, I always prided myself on how healthy I was," she says. "I was never hospitalized, never broke a bone, never even had a stitch. Nobody in our family complained even when they weren't feeling all that well. We had this idea of mind over matter."
Peppy and articulate, Cindy graduated from Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, earned a bachelor's degree in education from Western Illinois University, and began teaching third grade at Saint Nicholas Catholic School in Evanston. In 1975, at the age of 23, she married Chris Short, a tall, earnest young man who worked with learning-disabled children. Four years later when she was pregnant with their first child, her water bag broke prematurely.
At the hospital Cindy was given a labor-inducing drug, but the baby, a healthy, nine-pound boy, finally had to be delivered by cesarean section. The next day she developed a severe staph infection in her uterus and her temperature soared to 105 degrees. Unsure of exactly what kind of bugs they were fighting, her doctors put Cindy on four different broad-spectrum antibiotics and kept her on them for eight days, until all signs of the infection had subsided.
"I remember when I was so sick, one of the doctors came into my room and said something about me needing to eat a lot of yogurt," recalls Cindy. "I didn't think anything about it at the time, and nothing more was ever said." Only years later did she learn that yogurt has a high concentration of a substance that fosters the growth of anticandida bacteria in the intestine.
Chris and Cindy went home with their baby, and she told everyone she was as good as new. But she never felt completely well after that. She had night sweats, wild dreams, and insomnia. "Don't worry," advised her doctor. "That happens to lots of women as they get adjusted to their first child." Even months later, when Chris observed she wasn't the same bundle of energy as before, Cindy refused to acknowledge any problem. "I always said I was OK--I had to be OK!"
Things weren't going well, however. Cindy gave up teaching, partly because she felt ill, then had a miscarriage. Her doctor determined that the lining of her uterus was not functioning properly and prescribed progesterone. In 1982, when Cindy was pregnant again, the Shorts moved into a town house that had been recently treated chemically for a termite infestation. Cindy got sicker than ever, waking up each morning with what felt like a whopping hangover and literally stumbling through her daily routines. One day she was so woozy she fell down the stairs. By then she had seen a variety of doctors, some of whom politely suggested she needed psychological, not medical, attention.
After the baby, a second boy, was born, Cindy's fragile hold on health disintegrated almost completely. Fever, headache, and other flulike symptoms were constant. She was bone tired all the time but could not sleep at night. Smoke, cleansers, perfume, and chemicals of almost any kind, because they brought on these symptoms, became intolerable. The strain on her husband and children was severe. For more than a year, members of her church brought in meals on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Cindy, who had always kept track of every family detail, began to forget dates and neglect routine activities, experiencing the sort of memory blackouts associated with alcoholism. "Yet all the time I kept telling myself I was strong," she says. "I'd make up mental lists of things I had to do and go over them again and again so I wouldn't forget."
Meanwhile, her trek through the world of medicine continued. She was checked for gall bladder problems, lupus, thyroid abnormalities, hypoglycemia, and a dozen other possible ailments, but the diagnoses were always vague and uncertain. "An endocrinologist yelled at me," she says. "He looked at my record and said, 'Lady, you're a hysterical, spoiled suburban housewife! Go home, there's nothing wrong with you!' At the time I swore I'd never go to another male doctor again."
In mid-1984 Cindy went to see a psychiatrist who was also an expert on nutrition. After examining her and looking at her long record, he said, "I can tell you this. There is something very wrong with you physically."
"I actually felt relieved," she says. "I had begun to believe I was going mad." When the doctor learned that her troubles began after a heavy dose of antibiotics, he told her about candida and gave her some materials to read about Environmental Illness. "I had never heard those words before," says Cindy. "Not one of the specialists I had seen had ever mentioned these ideas."
She was referred to Dr. Robert Marshall, a clinical ecologist with offices in Winnetka. Marshall immediately put her on the anticandida drug nystatin and a low-carbohydrate diet. She noted the first improvement in her health in years. However, under Marshall's care, she came to understand that a ravaged immune system does not heal quickly or easily. Treatment meant trying to eliminate her allergic reactions while at the same time protecting her from the environmental substances that produced them.
Testing her for allergic reactions to many substances proved a difficult task because Cindy is a delayed reactor: doses of chemicals or gases have no immediate effect on her but may hit like a ton of bricks hours after the test or even the next day. Over a period of months, it became apparent that she had developed allergylike responses to scores of pervasive substances: household dust and mold, paint, cologne, and just about any kind of food available in an ordinary supermarket. She was, in short, afflicted with Environmental Illness.
Dr. Marshall is an advocate of a procedure to reduce allergic reactions known as "provocation and neutralization": he first tests a patient to determine how much of a suspected allergen--like tobacco smoke or milk or meat--causes her to become ill; he then gives smaller but concentrated doses of the same substance until he finds the precise amount that turns off the symptoms. Exactly how and why this procedure works, he says, no one really knows. What provocation and neutralization does, he maintains, is gradually restore the ability of the immune system to operate normally. It is a long process and one whose value is questioned by many allergists.
Cindy Short, whose third child, a daughter, was born in 1984, believes Marshall is finally getting to the root of her problems. She is on a four-day rotation diet (never eating the same food twice within the cycle), buys all her edibles at an organic food store, and is learning how to exclude substances that still create havoc. Library books and all old volumes are out because they contain mold, a relative of yeast. New books and newspapers are also out because of the chemicals in the ink. So are most major magazines, including even Good Housekeeping (though she can tolerate Guideposts and a few others). Grocery bags and greeting cards are equally taboo. Every new thing that comes into the home has to be checked.
The Shorts' social life has been seriously curtailed. They are part of a monthly marriage encounter group (whose other members thoughtfully eschew shaving lotion or perfume on meeting nights). They are also active in the PTA at the school their children attend, and the other parents there also avoid offensive chemicals.
With members of their Evanston support group, Cindy and Chris find the kind of empathy and understanding that few outsiders can provide. "We do a lot of sharing and supporting," she says, "and I think that's necessary. But it's awfully hard for sick people to facilitate groups like this. There's so much to be done in terms of promoting medical research and environmental legislation and referrals to doctors and organizing seminars. Most of us just don't have the energy for all that."
She is also concerned about the dangers of laypersons sharing their theories, pet cures, and even their medications with one another too freely. "Some crazy people are attracted to groups like ours," she notes.
Cindy believes her religious faith has helped keep her sane thus far, even though she still doesn't know what she's supposed to do with her sickness. "Without prayer and Bible reading I don't think I could make it. I want to be healed, and I believe I am being healed. I really do."
Cindy Short's experience--the debilitating effects on her immune system following a dose of antibiotics, the struggle to keep going, the frustrating search for answers, the long, slow road back to recovery--parallels the experiences of other support group members who report food and chemical sensitivity.
Computer consultant James LeRoy had received antibiotics for an eye infection just before his flu symptoms became chronic. "For a long time I wouldn't admit I was sick," he says, "because I'd have these four- or six-week remission periods. But I was so exhausted every day I had to work 110 percent just to maintain my job. And I was getting spacier all the time. I was petrified the people in charge would find out how much my mental and physical faculties had deteriorated."
When his doctor advised him to see a psychiatrist, LeRoy was shocked and offended at how easily he had been categorized as a head case. "I knew it wasn't psychological," he says. "There wasn't anything going on in my life to explain this."
Eventually, the company he worked for went out of business, a development LeRoy regards as fortuitous for him. He had time to read up on environmental illness. He became an amateur expert on candida and eventually began treatments under Randolph and Marshall. He feels he has the enemy largely under control now--though he has to be careful about foods and chemicals. LeRoy keeps the terminal of his home computer enclosed in a glass case because he is especially sensitive to the pesticides and other chemicals routinely used in manufacturing the machines.
Teenage EI sufferer Sharon Wittenberg had three operations for a congenital hip dislocation before she was three years old. On one occasion a serious postoperative infection developed, and she was given heavy doses of antibiotics. Later, when she was hit with a sinus condition and a yeast infection in her throat, more antibiotics were administered.
All through grammar school she struggled with allergies. "If I felt even semi-OK, I'd force myself to go to class," she says. The high school environment seemed more hostile, however, and finally it just got to be too much. Traditional treatment for allergies did not help, and the family was badly discouraged until Sharon's mother Linda met Cindy Short at a PTA meeting and heard about EI and the candida theory; it was all news to her.
Sharon is now under Dr. Marshall's care and her mother is hopeful. "She's still young," says Linda Wittenberg. "Her immune system should bounce back."
These people's stories, however, do not prove that antibiotics represent the only or even the most common trigger for candida invasions. Moreover they raise certain questions: Why does the level of a person's reaction to antibiotics vary so much? And why do some people have this reaction and not others? Nor is it clear that candida itself is a factor in all EI cases. Unfortunately, even the most doctrinaire clinical ecologists admit, nothing is that simple.
For example, Lynn Lawson, a member of the Evanston support group, and her doctors can find no explanation for the food allergies and chemical sensitivity that have plagued her for most of her 62 years. And she was not treated with antibiotics or any of the other substances associated with EI before being hit with more severe symptoms. In 1985 her sick headaches and other reactions got so bad she was forced to quit her job as an editor at Northwestern University Press, and she could no longer go into a store or any public place without becoming ill. Standard treatments had little effect. Eventually she went to a clinical ecologist who put her on a rotation diet, and she has improved since.
"Back in 1981 I was 99 percent sure candida was the common denominator in all these disorders," says Marshall, a short, portly man who taught internal medicine at Wesley Hospital for 26 years. "Now I'd have to say other factors are present in many cases." For those with food allergies, he notes, anticandida treatment usually causes some improvement. For those hypersensitive to chemicals, anticandida medication may have little effect, while other treatments do produce results.
"What we're finding," says Marshall, "is that if we lean only on candida and don't treat other molds affecting the system, we fail. This is a complicated business." Marshall's interest in EI was sparked in 1958 when his wife developed a life-threatening chemical sensitivity. He probed the research of Truss and has since worked closely with Randolph in Chicago. "The area I'm working in is far more exciting than conventional medicine," he says, because of the sense of being on the cutting edge.
Marshall finds the shrill condemnations of allergists and other experts distressing. The suggestion that EI patients are for the most part victims of psychological illness is utter nonsense, he says, especially when he can turn their symptoms on or off in his own office by administering varying concentrated doses of the offending substances. "Yet 80 percent of the people who come to me have already been sent to a psychiatrist," he notes, "because the traditional medical community isn't looking for the right clues."
The candida phenomenon is "just the tip of the iceberg," according to one psychiatric social worker. "I think Environmental Illness has many facets, and we're just beginning to realize that as the immune system is compromised, all kinds of interrelated things start to happen."
Those working with EI are overwhelmingly convinced that the organs and systems of the human body are so subtly integrated, with each playing a special role, that to speak of disease in an individual organ is to give that organ an undeserved autonomy. If one part of the body malfunctions, they argue, repercussions will be felt all over. And in EI they are.
Says Dr. Crook in The Yeast Connection, "Although labeling disorders such as migraine, ulcerative colitis, asthma, multiple sclerosis or lupus . . . serves a useful purpose, scientific data suggest that many of these diseases are interrelated and result from environmental, nutritional, biochemical and other influences that affect the immune system. By recognizing these causes, and taking steps to alter them, physicians may be able to help many of their patients without resorting to hospitalization, surgery or drugs. . . .
"If you suffer from yeast-connected illness, you'll usually show symptoms involving your brain, your gastrointestinal tract and your reproductive organs. Yet you may also be bothered by symptoms in your bones and joints, your skin, your respiratory tract, urinary tract or other parts of your body. . . ."
It is precisely this depressing sense of being sick all over that leads EI sufferers to gravitate to clinical ecologists and to one another--that, and the bewildered expressions on the faces of many of the doctors by whom they have been treated. The ecologists offer an integrated explanation for their illness and a measure of cautious hope. Fellow sufferers offer support along with their own war stories. "When at any moment on any day you can be zapped by practically anything you come in contact with, you get desperate," says Lynn Lawson. "You simply have to get some answers."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tom Herzberg, photos/Bruce Powell.