HOW TO CURE A DISEASE BY INFECTING YOURSELF

Few medical mysteries find resolution with a script as exciting as the one created by Australian doctor, Barry Marshall. Forget the story of an unassuming doctor toiling away for years in a dank laboratory while trying to support a hypothesis with pencils and Petri dishes. Marshall had found a cure and he needed a way to spread the news now. Infecting himself by drinking a Petri dish of bacteria, Marshall would become a guinea pig for his own cause and risk his personal health in an attempt to cure a condition that many patients were dying from.

The issue at hand was curing stomach ulcers. Before the 1980s, doctors often treated peptic ulcers by completely removing the stomach. Many people died from ulcers, bleeding out so profusely that they could not be helped. A whopping 10% of the population was affected by this condition. At the time, ulcers were attributed to high levels of stress, spicy foods and alcohol.

In 1981, Marshall was working as an intern under pathologist Robin Warren, who shared his recent findings with Marshall regarding a gut bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori. This bacterium has a distinct “corkscrew” look and it seemed to survive, and even thrive, in the acidic surroundings of the stomach. Helicobacter pylori is still prevalent today, with an estimated two-thirds of the world’s population carrying it, though many people will never show any symptoms.

As Marshall routinely performed biopsies on ulcer patients, he noticed the prevalence of Helicobacter pylori and he soon became convinced that the pathogen was entirely responsible for stomach ulcers as well as most forms of stomach cancer. The cure, he insisted, was simply to treat the infection with already available antibiotics.

While it seems likely that such news would create a buzz in the medical community, Marshall was most often met with skepticism and disbelief. He presented his ideas at the annual meeting of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) in Perth, Australia. The collective group of gastroenterologists found his explanation implausible.

Marshall and Warren decided to send their findings to the peer-reviewed general medical journal known as The Lancet. They included a detailed paper on how Helicobacter pylori had developed over the last century. The paper was so controversial that extra effort and time were required before it was finally published. Unfortunately, it received little attention.

Marshall realized that his findings were being rejected by most medical professionals – regarded as anecdotal. He decided that more proof was necessary and petitioned the drug companies for research funding. He met more resistance. Antacid pills were creating billions of dollars in profit for the medical industry and the reality was that most people weren’t dying from ulcers. They could be made to feel better by swallowing a small pill and reducing their stomach acid. Nearly 4 percent of all Americans were carrying Tagamet in their pockets and paying a monthly prescription for refills.

One drug company proved to be an exception. The makers of Denel replied to Marshall with some interesting findings. Their product seemed to do something that Tagamet could not – it cured the ulcers in roughly 30% of the people using Denel. There was no longer a need for ongoing treatment and the company was quite candid in stating they had no explanation for why this was happening. Marshall was quick to treat Helicobacter pylori with Denel and it destroyed the bacteria. Denel contained bismuth and this small amount of antibiotic ingredient was enough to garner results for many patients. The company teamed up with Marshall and they presented their findings to a microbiology conference in Brussels.

The microbiologists were delighted with what they saw, encouraging a now confident Marshall to keep moving forward. Marshall created a new paper and again presented his findings to another team of gastroenterologists. All was rejected. Marshall was becoming fully aware that Big Pharma had no interest in his cure. The billion dollar antacid industry was bigger than he had anticipated – and they had no intention of discontinuing a product that was creating a profit of more than $3 billion a year.

EXTREME TIMES CALL FOR EXTREME MEASURES

 

For a short period, Marshall tried to infect animals with ulcers but results proved futile. He needed “human proof” to move forward. The irony of the situation is that Marshall would occasionally see patients bleeding out from severe ulcers – but they weren’t his patients to treat. He could only stand by idly as patients were prescribed antacids and often times, these patients would go on to have their entire stomachs removed.

HOW TO STOP BEING THE STRONGEST GUY

The year was 1997 and I was in the prime of my weight-lifting career – stronger than any other guy in the gym and weighing in at 240 pounds. I had just benched 405 for the first time in my life and that was second only to the 300-pounder that looked like he just stepped off the boat from Samoa. That guy was ridiculous in appearance and strength.

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I’d move those weights like few other guys could, set them down – and walk away like a barnyard rooster that had just tagged every hen in the yard. I didn’t hear any applause but in my heart, I could feel their envy as my slow-motion trot to the water fountain must have resembled one of those guys in a movie who just blew up some large building behind him while walking uninterested toward the camera.

It was later in this same year that I set my personal squat record of 595 pounds. For the last decade , I had set a goal of squatting over 600 pounds and on this day, I realized I was going to make it on my next leg day – except that day never came. I blew out my ACL on the following day of having lifted 595 while playing a game of pick-up basketball. I was pissed at myself – for playing a silly game of basketball and for not just throwing an extra ten pounds on the squat rack the day before (I was already up 20 pounds more than ever before). After a few days of self-pity, I made the decision that this was simply going to be a short-term road block to my goals. I was going to embrace rehab and make my triumphant return to the gym and be better than ever – except that didn’t happen.

I was 30 years old when my knee decided it was done. I had no idea that the road back would take so long. I would read NFL stories of guys coming back from a torn ACL in six months and I was just sure I would do the same but my recovery wasn’t even close. It was two years later and I was still having stability problems. I had finally returned to squatting and a mere 225-pound lift would cause me to wince. I’d set that weight down and I felt the over-whelming urge to let everyone within an eye-shot of me know “I had knee surgery. I’m only this weak because I’m coming back from surgery.” I remember feeling embarrassed at the amount of weight I was struggling with.

Time marched on and life happened. I got married and nine months later, I was a first-time father. A funny thing happened that the younger version of me swore would never happen – I lost my desire to be the biggest, strongest guy in the gym. I’d have two or three week periods where I’d push it as hard as possible and then I’d just feel like relaxing for a full week – eating a big plate of chicken wings with some beer and taking my kids to the park instead of hitting the gym. I just couldn’t consistently get that old mindset back. I couldn’t even blame my knee anymore. Many years had passed and I was finally feeling no pain from that old injury. I just didn’t care. What happened?

When I took an honest look at the situation, I realized that being a husband and father simply meant far more to me than any personal accolades in the gym. My family was how I derived my joy now and the returns were far greater. My futile gym attempts to return to a younger version of myself were failing because I was slowly realizing the insignificance of what I was trying to accomplish. What did I possibly have to gain or prove in trying to get overly big and strong again?