How some old Illinois spring water cracked a case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
I've never been to Ottawa, Illinois but if I do, I'll give Allen Park there a visit. One of my patients has much to thank it for. And it taught me a valuable lesson.
Allen Park is host to the waters of the humble Sanicula Springs which were famous back in the 19th century for their healing properties for gastric troubles, bee stings and no doubt much more. It is said that the homeopathic remedy made from it was discovered almost by accident by one Dr. J. G. Gundlach back in 1890 and it's a cautionary tale. Newly arrived in town, Dr. Gundlach and family were keen to try the local healing waters bottled and sold as ‘A Taste of Ottawa’. At 98 cents for a five gallon container, why not?
Well, not if you take it every day, as did Dr Gundlach. You can have too much of a good thing, and a year on the entire Gundlach clan had all become distinctly unwell with a magnificent array of symptoms, including the development of a distinctive and very unpleasant fishy body odour. Sadly for them, the symptoms took five long years to wear off, but luckily for us, this substantial overdosing gave homeopaths a clue as to what it might actually treat symptoms wise. A sample of the water was taken, prepared and tested successfully as a homeopathic remedy, and named Sanicula Aqua in honour of its source. *
Now back to my patient, let's call her Patient B. She had been suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) for over three years but that is not why she first came to see me. What bothered her most was a slightly more, shall we say, delicate problem. For the last few months since she had moved to London from her native Scotland, she had been suffering from BV or Bacterial Vaginosis, a nasty and stubborn bacterial infection of a lady's most intimate parts that is not only sore, burning and itchy, but produces a distinctive offensive fishy odour that just won't go away, no matter how many baths you have in a day. She'd tried all the pessaries, antibiotics and at least a few home remedies that included natural yoghurt put in places it was never meant to go. But no relief.
Given that opportunistic bacterial infections have a well documented field day with the compromised immunity of CFS patients, I didn't at first think to place the BV at the centre of the case. My eyes were on the headline CFS symptoms - the daily headaches, exhaustion, trembling, aching joints and nausea, not to mention the brain fog, terrible sleep, and painful sensitivity to light and sound which had been troubling Patient B for so long. The BV was just a minor sideshow, surely?
I proceeded to try many if not all of the indicated remedies for her main CFS symptoms like Phos Ac, Pic-ac, Kali Phos and Gelsemium. Patient B's symptoms would improve slightly for a day, a week, a month, but always reappear. The BV itself never budged once. After more than six months of treatment, both of us were losing hope. In the end I gave up and took her to my supervising homeopath at the time, Andrew Ward, for the once over. He prescribed in minutes. You guessed it - Sanicula Aqua.
I had, of course, been trying to be too clever. As a homeopath straight out of training, I was aiming to find the remedy that covered all her symptoms, the 'simillimum', or magic bullet to cure everything in one go, rather than focus on the small but intense symptom of her BV, the one that was actually giving her the most grief. It taught me that with longstanding and complex complaints you need to zigzag your way through the layers of symptoms, directed at each point by what's bothering the patient most, or as one wise homeopath friend Mary Greensmith said recently about chronic cases: "You can't eat an elephant all at once".
One dose of Sanicula aqua 200c and Patient B was, of course, a different person. The BV literally disappeared overnight and within a week her CFS symptoms were so improved she'd gone on a last minute camping holiday with the family. Over the next two years her body threw out other little symptoms to guide me, and, humbled by my previous experience, I gave them their due when prescribing. Patient B is now well, and barring periods of extreme stress, is CFS free.
Lucky for her, but even luckier for all of us that homeopathic remedies have an exceedingly long shelf life, somehow able to preserve across time the healing qualities of the substance from which they are made. The remedy Patient B took was made from a preparation of Sanicula spring water that is over a hundred years old, stored at the UK's oldest homeopathic pharmacy Nelsons in Mayfair, London.
You couldn't buy your own 'Taste of Ottawa' now, even if you wanted to; the spring is horribly polluted thanks to the building of the Starved Rock Dam in the 1930s. In fact, you can't even actually find the spring these days as it has been sealed beneath a concrete seawall for Health & Safety reasons. I'll still visit Allen Park though, apparently it's got a toboggan run. I love toboggan runs.
* (For all those interested in how something that makes you ill in a crude dose can make you well in homeopathic doses, please read my other article Boris Johnson's grandma, mercury and the case for homeopathy.)