The Green Dragon
Bugs on the March
In 1989, my husband, Steve, graduated from seminary and began pastoring his first church. We moved into the parsonage (a church owned residence) that had been recently repainted and recarpeted in preparation for our coming. The carpet that had been laid was not brand new, but had been used in one of the parishioner's homes, and then stored for some time in their garage. Little did they realize that the carpet had become infested with carpet beetle eggs. After we had moved in, the eggs began to hatch. I realized we had a problem when literally thousands of larva began crawling up the walls, into every drawer, into the shoes in the closet, and into every possible nook and cranny. The church contacted the local exterminator. They came out, diagnosed the problem as carpet beetles, and suggested we do something about it immediately as very soon the larva would mature to full grown beetles, which would lay eggs to continue the cycle. Although I was somewhat uncomfortable with spraying, I agreed to have the exterminators rid our residence of these pests.
The Bugs' Death Knoll
Our home was sprayed with an insecticide almost immediately. Since the entire house was carpeted, they sprayed every square inch of the floors. We left during the spraying and stayed away for the recommended eight hours. When our family reentered the house, the smell of pesticide was overwhelming. I called the exterminator who informed me that the smell was normal and that in time it would fade. He assured me that there was nothing to worry about.
The First Seizure
At this time, we had three children and I was pregnant with our fourth. The youngest, Ruth, was an active, crawling 18 months old. The next day none of us felt well. We had cold/flu like symptoms, but just attributed it to coincidence, not to the insecticide. However, by the third day, I had suspicions that this may be due to the insecticide. In a few hours my suspicions escalated dramatically. On that third day after the spraying, Ruth, who had a slight fever, diarrhea, runny nose and a cough, began to tremble in a funny way and almost immediately went into a grand mal seizure. Her head went back, her eyes were rolled back, her arms and legs were jerking, and she began foaming at the mouth. We rushed her immediately to the emergency room. There they gave her valium and she came out of the seizure. They did a spinal tap and chest x-rays. The chest x-rays showed that she had double pneumonia. She did not have meningitis. The diagnosis was a febrile seizure caused by the fever associated with the double pneumonia. Her temperature had not been very elevated, only 100°, not normally considered high enough to cause a seizure. I suspected the insecticide. I asked if this could not have been a result of insecticide poisoning. I was told that it would be impossible as Ruth would have had to drink the poison to cause this effect. She was hospitalized for three days, on an antibiotic IV drip and on a small dose of phenobarbital (an anti-convulsant drug). Upon release, there was no more fluid in her lungs and no more incidence of seizures. We returned home--to a house that still smelled strongly of insecticide.
The Active Ingredient
Upon our return, I called the exterminator that had done the work. I wanted to know the name of the insecticide and the manufacturer. He gave me the information and I called the manufacturer to find the specifics of what made up this particular insecticide. The active ingredient in the spray was chlorophyrifos, an organophosphate. The warning bells went off in my head. Organophosphates! Those are nerve agents. Those are the things that I had studied when I took my training to become the Chemical Defense officer for my battalion while I was serving in the Army. Before, I hung up the telephone, I asked the manufacturer, "Is cholorphyrifos a nerve agent?" The man replied with a short laugh, "Of course it's a nerve agent--that's how it kills the bugs."
Prior Army Training
My brain was racing. During my Army career, one of my responsibilities had been to equip the people in my unit with the skills and ability to recognize and defend themselves against any nuclear, biological or chemical attack that the enemy may employ to destroy our fighting ability. Chemical warfare--yes--I remembered everything that I had learned, and everything that I had taught my troops. The symptoms of nerve agent poisoning were slight fever, runny nose, cough, diarrhea, pinpoint pupils, and finally seizures. Death by suffocation followed as fluid filled the lungs, if the seizure did not get you first. And the anecdote was atropine. These were the symptoms that Ruth had had. But the physician had said that it was not possible that the insecticide had anything to do with this unless Ruth drank the poison. She had not drank it--it had only been broadcast sprayed on all the carpets.
The Second Seizure
That same day, I was holding Ruth. I had just changed her diaper, again--and was wondering, "Oh Lord God, what should I do?" She has diarrhea again. She felt warm, as if she had a low-grade fever, her nose was running and she was coughing. I had just decided that I was going to gather the children up and leave the house until we could get to the bottom of this when I glanced at Ruth's face. Her pupils looked so funny. Oh Lord, help us! They were pinpoints. It was not even two seconds and her head went back and her eyes rolled back, and her arms and legs began to jerk. We rushed immediately to the emergency room, again. We had only been home from the hospital for one and one-half days.
In the emergency room, they once again administered valium. No response. She was still in a grand mal seizure. They administered more valium. No response. Still the seizure went on. I begged the physician to give her atropine. He looked worried and tense. He told me that he would not administer atropine and even if he wanted to they did not have atropine on hand. After one hour and twenty minutes of constant grand mal seizing, the physician came to my husband and I and told us, "I cannot give her anymore valium because she will overdose on that. There is nothing else I can do. The seizure itself may likely take her life unless it stops soon."
My husband and I stood over our little 18 month old Ruth. She lay on the emergency room table so pathetic--seizing--every muscle in continuous rhythmic spasm. We both were crying. Steve was on one side of the table, I was on the other. We joined hands over Ruth and my husband prayed, "Dear God, you gave us this little girl, and if You want You may take her Home." We hung our heads, tears coursing down our cheeks. But then, something was happening. No something was not happening anymore. Ruth had stopped seizing! And she was still breathing! Oh, Lord God, that You would show Your great mercy to us and cause Ruth's seizing to stop!
We called to the physician to come. He was amazed that she had stopped seizing and that she was conscious. He immediately ordered chest x-rays done. They came back positive for double pneumonia. He concluded with the same diagnosis as before--febrile seizure (100° temperature) as a complication to double pneumonia. I questioned him on this diagnosis because only a day and a half ago her lungs were clear and she was currently on antibiotics. I insisted that he consider the possibility of organophosphate poisoning. I explained my training and the symptoms of organophosphate poisoning, but he dismissed it all and said it was not possible. I informed them that I wanted her immediately transferred to a large well-known children's hospital. I wanted a better equipped facility that specialized in children's medicine to investigate this further. They complied and Ruth left the emergency room and went by ambulance to the children's hospital. She was admitted to the neurological ward.
Why won't they listen?
There Ruth underwent many tests. However, one of the tests that I asked them to do, they refused to do. I knew from my training that in organophosphate poisoning the cholinesterase levels of the liver would be affected. They were checking for neurological disorders, especially of the epileptic sort. They would not listen to me about organophosphate poisoning. I set out to convince them that we needed to investigate this angle. I was careful to be succinct and articulate, to express myself without hysterics or great emotion so that I wouldn't be labeled as a hysterical mother. I explained thoroughly and carefully my hypothesis and the facts that this conclusion was based upon. It did not help. They still refused to run this simple blood test and pursue this angle. After two days of this, two of their physicians called me aside and said to me, "Mrs. Hurd, you are barking up the wrong tree. Drop this whole poisoning idea."
The Official "Diagnosis"
Ruth was released the next day with clear lungs. Diagnosis was febrile seizure caused by double pneumonia. No evidence of epilepsy was found. Except for the slight fever, the seizures were unexplained--therefore, the fever must have been the culprit. As a preventive, Ruth had been put on loading doses of phenobarbital while in the hospital and was sent home on hefty doses for an indefinite amount of time, because as the physicians said, "The next seizure may be the last." My poor little Ruth. She was not my same girl on that phenobarbital. She was in a zombie state or when she wasn't a zombie, she was a wild cat, clawing and biting and tearing at me and everyone around her.
We returned home--to a house that smelled strongly of insecticide. We had not been home even twelve hours and Ruth had diarrhea again. She had the runny nose, the cough and the slight fever. Her pupils were not at pin points YET. She was getting sleepy. I thought to myself, "If this goes on, she won't seize, because the levels of phenobarbital are so high, but her lungs will fill with fluid and she will suffocate in her crib as she sleeps." I gathered the children and immediately walked out of that house determined not to return until I could get to the bottom of this. We crossed the street to the church where my husband was working. We lived in one of the church classrooms for days. Then, the church put us up in a hotel, and eventually we moved in with my brother-in-law and his wife.
During these days, I did research, phone calling and digging. I called any and everybody in the United States of America, seeking answers. I kept running into road blocks. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream against the current. I could not seem to get help from anyone, anywhere. Everyone would just say the same, "It is not possible for this to have happened."
All of Us Were Sick
I need to tell you that during those days, my whole family was all sick. My other two children, ages 4 and 6, struggled with these symptoms that seemed flu-like. My husband developed asthma almost overnight, and I lost the baby that I had been carrying. This miscarriage and all of us feeling ill made it even more difficult for me to stick to my resolve to get to the bottom of this issue. I had so little physical strength left to pursue any answers. It took so much effort, especially when I did not have the support of anyone. There came a day that I lay in bed, I felt so sick and I was so discouraged. I thought, "The doctors are correct. I have been barking up the wrong tree. This is all craziness. Please Lord, help me to know what to do. I'm ready to give up."
As soon as I had prayed that prayer, the phone rang. It was one of the women from the church. "Karen, I know that you have been running into a lot of dead ends, and that everyone keeps looking at you like you're crazy, but I felt I needed to call you and tell you that I think you're on the right track. Don't lose heart." She hung up.
It did not take God hitting me over the head with a two-by-four to recognize that He had had that woman call at that exact moment. I knew that He was speaking to me through the words of this woman. I felt a peace and strength wash over my heart. I would persist. God would give me the answers. He saved Ruth from certain death in that emergency room, and He would show me what to do.
Help at Last
I started my telephoning again. This time when I spoke to the poison control center, there was someone else on duty who recommended that I try another poison control center in Dallas. The person on duty there just happened to know of a man, Dr. Sheldon Wagner, at the university in Corvallis, who was a child toxicologist and might be able to help me. I called him. He was in. He was willing to talk to me. No barriers of secretaries and receptionists and nurses, and aides--the real person, willing to talk to me! I explained the whole story. The first words out of his mouth were, "Of course, it is possible that she was poisoned. Give me the name of the doctor that is treating Ruth." He asked if I had had the carpet tested in a lab. I told him that was another of the road blocks that I had had. The lab in St. Louis wanted over $4000 up front to do the testing. Because everyone thought that I was making something out of nothing, we could not get the money together yet--nobody would lend us the money and we did not have that type of cash. "And quite frankly, Dr. Wagner, I had been doubting myself. Maybe I was crazy." His response was, "Send me the carpet, I will test it for you for free." He told me exactly the size pieces to cut out of the carpet and to ship it next day air.
Within thirty minutes of hanging up the phone, Ruth's doctor called. He said he had received a call from Dr. Wagner in Corvallis. Apparently, it was possible that Ruth had been poisoned. He would be doing the recommended reading that Dr. Wagner had told him about; and would I bring Ruth in for a cholinesterase test?
Three days later, the cholinesterase test came back positive and Dr. Wagner had called to inform us that the carpet tested at one hundred times the safe and acceptable level of organophosphates. Diagnosis: Ruth had been poisoned. Because of her small body weight and the fact that as a crawling baby she spent the majority of her time on the floor in contact with the carpet, the poison absorbed through her skin and caused the seizures. Ruth's physician called and apologized, "Mrs. Hurd, if it wasn't for your Sherlock Holmes work, your little girl would be dead." No, it wasn't my Sherlock Holmes work, it was God who spurred me and guided me and gave me the strength to persevere until the answers were uncovered.
The doctors agreed that we could immediately take Ruth off the phenobarbital as long as we did not return to the house. Now to follow-up medically on poisoning and to detoxify the house. What a long and tedious road yet ahead.
The Allergic Reactions
Even though Ruth was off of the phenobarbital and she no longer was a zombie or the opposite extreme of wildcat, she was not doing well. She had a constant urinary tract infection that never cleared up despite the sulfa antibiotics that she was taking. She would cry pitifully every time she urinated. She seemed to react allergically to almost everything. She would walk through the grass barefoot and her feet and up to her ankles would break out into great hives and itch horribly. I remember the day that we had been invited over to a friend's house for dinner. They had an enclosed back porch beautifully furnished with comfortable couches and chairs and decorated with live green plants. As we were talking to our host and hostess, Ruth wandered back to that porch. As all mothers do, I was watching Ruth out of the corner of my eye to make sure that she would not disturb anything. She reached out with her left hand and barely touched one of the houseplants. She continued to stay on the back porch to explore. I went to collect her when our hostess called us to the table and found that Ruth's skin was red and swollen at her left hand and the swelling was creeping up her arm. In a few moments her face began to become inflamed. I looked at her torso, it was beginning to spread there also. She was breathing all right as I was immediately concerned about analphaletic shock. I whisked her off of the back porch and into the kitchen. The spreading inflammation stopped, but we were not able to enjoy our dinner that night.
Ruth was constantly ill with something. Besides the ongoing urinary tract infection, she either had a cold or the flu, or both. She daily broke out into hives from either touching something or eating something. To try and eliminate the aggravants out of her life was almost impossible. It seemed like almost everything she came in contact with caused a problem. I began to think Ruth might end up like those people that I had heard about that had to live their lives in a bubble--a pure environment where nothing could enter in and they could never go out. These problems were not good, but Ruth herself did not feel the worst of it yet. All of this had been physical, but she had not yet felt the social rejection that was coming.
About three weeks after the official diagnosis of poisoning, Ruth's hands began to be covered with warts--some were large, but most were small. There must have been a hundred or more on each hand. It was a devastating day when little Ruthie went to Sunday School and the children were playing a game where you had to join hands. No one would take her hand, no one would let her join the circle by taking hold of her grotesque little hands. How she cried. But it was to be even worse. The warts continued to grow. They began to appear around her mouth and on her face, and then around her eyes. She was not a pretty sight. People avoided looking at her or they stared.
Can't Medical Society Help?
I asked the doctors over and over, what can we do? The answer was always the same. Nothing. "Her immune system is irreparably damaged. We can only try to keep her isolated enough to keep from coming into contact with a nasty virus or bacteria that could put her into serious danger."
"But isn't there a way to build an immune system?" I asked so many times. They replied, "Medical science has no way currently, no drug, no answer to that question." They did recommend a specialist in the St. Louis area who dealt in the area of recovery after poisoning. He conducted many tests to determine how extensively Ruth had been compromised. These days were very difficult as it meant poke after poke with the needles as they drew blood for testing and prick after prick as they tested for allergic reactions. Ruth hated these visits to the doctor. It always meant a blood drawing and she was in dread fear of them. It literally took three adults to hold her down while her blood was being drawn. I do not have to paint a picture for you to know how these sessions tore my very heart asunder.
The Grim Prognosis
The specialist's prognosis was grim. Her liver had sustained considerable damage. The kidneys were very much weakened and she was allergic to all things that had certain chemical properties. This meant that almost everything was off limits. His final analysis was that she had less than one year to live. She would either die of liver failure or an acute infection or of massive tumor growth as her immune system was compromised to the point of not being able to check cancer-growing cells. And because of the high level of exposure to the organophosphate, cancer was a likely occurrence.
More bad news
Suffice it to say, that I was not satisfied with this prognosis. I asked for referrals and for second opinions. We took Ruth to Chicago to have her examined and evaluated by a specialist there. His prognosis was exactly the same as the specialist's in St. Louis. We conferred with a specialist in Dallas. His conclusions were the same. While we were in Chicago, we had the specialist examine the rest of us: myself, my husband, and our other two children. Our immune systems had also been compromised. He told us that at best the rest of us would live only five years and cancer would be the likely cause of death because of our high level of exposure to the organophosphate. Three specialists, all three prophesying the same grim death sentence.
Who Could I Turn To?
Could nobody help me? Were there no answers? Did I just have to watch my little girl die slowly? I thought that I had already walked the road of no support when I fought to make the doctors see that maybe she had been poisoned. Now, I traveled a similar path. The doctors wanted to support me, but they had no answers, and did not know anyone who did. But there was One who had supported me through it all, the same One that had the answers. And He began to spur me on to find them, to walk the path of discovery though it would entail much hard work and boldness. The decision to seek alternatives
I was in the specialist's office in St. Louis. He was explaining to me why he wanted to perform a liver biopsy on Ruth. "But I don't understand what a liver biopsy will do to help heal Ruth," I queried. "It won't help heal her. It is only a tool to help us measure things," he replied. "Measure what?" I insisted, "it sounds like it is only a tool used to chronicle Ruth's death." The doctor did not reply. It was obvious that I had hit the nail on the head. "Okay, Karen," I said to myself, "it is time. It is time to go out on my own and seek out the answers. Ruth's liver is failing. The doctor has made that very clear. Her immune system is severely compromised to the point that she is constantly sick and physically disfigured. Three specialists have given me the same prognosis: less than a year to live for Ruth, less than five for the rest of us. They have no concrete answers on how we can prevent this from happening." All these things went through my head as I sat across from that specialist. I finally spoke aloud, "Sir, I will not be returning for the liver biopsy or for any other testing. Thank you for all the help that you have been and your sincere efforts in trying to help us." I walked out of his office never to return. I knew for sure now that there were no answers there--but were there any answers, anywhere?
I began by going to the medical library of a well known medical school near us. I had never seen such a large library before. The sheer volumes of medical information were incredible. I researched, read, and studied. I read thousands of entries, some of them maybe only two or three lines, some lengthy. All of them somehow pertained to the immune system and poisoning. Some where relevant, some were not. I cross referenced, I chased down rabbit trails, seeking any clue that would help me to know what to do. I read alternative literature that talked about everything from nutrition to snake oil remedies. I had not realized what a tremendous amount of alternative medicine there was out there. Some of it was downright scary because it carried the line of healing to some an odd extreme. Some of it had the sound of real legitimacy. I investigated further the ones that seemed to have some solid basis. I measured the alternative methods against the studies and literature that I found in the medical library. I prayed much, asking that the Master Healer, God Himself, would give me wisdom.
After much reading and digging, I determined that the alternative method of nutrition carried the most legitimacy and the most promise of an answer. I began to engineer a plan for Ruth. It would involve large amounts of vitamins, minerals, and proteins above and beyond the Recommended Daily Allowance. Now, a new problem arose. There were so many companies out there selling these things--so many brands. Which was the best? Was there a difference between them? Was there one that would actually make Ruth worse? Was there a difference between synthetic and natural, and was natural truly natural or was it just a label? "Another can of worms," I thought, "so much information to look at and just like worms in a can, all tangled up together needing to be sorted out." Steady, steady. We had come this far. Deep sigh. I would do more research. Okay, the allergy testing had shown that she was very sensitive to synthetic ingredients in foods. I would start by researching the synthetic ingredients in these supplements. Are they similar to the ones to which she is reactive?
A Nutritional Approach
And so the research continued. I finally determined that I could use only all natural ingredients. I located sources and put together the specific nutrients that I would use. Now, to administer them to Ruth.
Little Ruthie had been through so much already. She was ready to fight me as I tried to coax these vitamins and minerals down her. I crushed them and mixed them with a little bit of juice and told her to drink it because it would help her. Hah! That went over like a lead balloon. She refused to take this green colored elixir. I purchased a syringe (without needle) that is used to give babies and small children medicines. With my husband's help holding her head, I would draw the liquid up into the syringe and squeeze it out in the back of Ruth's throat, bypassing the majority of her taste buds. She put up much resistance at first, but after a few days, she came to accept the Green Dragons (our name for this elixir).
One week went by and then two. We were beginning to see some changes! The urinary tract infection had cleared. Three weeks and then four went by. Something was different about her face--yes, the warts looked different, somewhat smaller. Week five and six, the warts disappeared, even the ones all over her hands. She did not have a cold any more, she had no sinus drainage, she had not broken out in hives since week four. Could it be true? In six weeks that I had a new little girl? Her skin was such a beautiful healthy color now and her eyes were so clear and bright. I fell on my knees before God. He had not destined Ruth to die, but to live.
Ruth continued to recover to full health. She was not ready to begin Kindergarten at age five, but that may have been due more to the year that she lost (from the initial poisoning until her recovery) than from any neurological setback. She began Kindergarten at age six. Ruth is now in her twenties. She is thriving and has made straight A's all the way through her schooling. She is attending the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, majoring in both Voice and Theatre Arts.
About the Author
Karen and her husband, Steven, and five children live in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. After Ruth's recovery, Karen studied and received her certification as a nutritionist. She is now counseling others on their health problems through a private practice and over her website KarenHurd.com.