Marissa, a 14-year-old high school freshman, came to see me in January of this year. As a member of the swim team, she had been practicing every day last fall and attending meets on weekends. Because of this rigorous schedule along with her schoolwork, she had been getting only six or seven hours sleep a night.
Too tired to swim
That changed, however, when she got a series of illnesses and could no longer keep up this pace. She reported that she had come down with herpes zoster (commonly known as shingles) in November 2002, which spread across her lower back to her hips. Then in December, she was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Not long after that she contracted strep throat and bronchitisâ€”one after the other.
Since then Marissa had little energy. Although she had been used to swimming three to four miles a day six days a week, she couldn’t swim with the team anymore. “After swimming, I have to get out of the pool and sit down and catch my breath because my legs won’t move,” she said. “They feel rubberyâ€”as if they are going to give out. I have to limp, and eat and drink something to get oxygen in me.”
The same thing happened if she went shopping. She had to stop to sit down and rest. Her eyes watered when she was tired. And she was even too tired to go out with her friends.
Headachy and nauseated
She also complained that upon coming home from school, she’d get a headache in her temples and would feel irritable and even more tired. She would sleep for an hour after school, but would wake feeling cranky, headachy, and dizzy. The headache would be completely relieved after a drink of cold orange juice.
Marissa reported that she always felt nauseated, with an upset stomach and sour belches. She had no appetite. When she did eat, her abdomen would get distended with gas, especially after eating cheese. She liked all her drinks with ice, even milk.
There were sores inside her mouth all the timeâ€”on the back of her throat, inside her lips, and on the sides of her tongue. Her glands were swollen, and she would get strep throat frequently with a sensation of a lump in her throat.
Back pain and cycle changes
She had aches and pains in her lower back. Examination of her back revealed muscle tightness and an inability to take a full breath. Marissa mentioned that she never sweated.
Her menstrual cycle had changed since the summer. It was now every 40–42 days, with a scanty flow for approximately 3 days. “I used to be regular. I get cramps as if I’m going to get it at 22 days and then I don’t bleed. It’s like I skip it. If I get it, I bleed one day and then skip a day and then get it again,” she said.
Difficulty with reading and tests
Marissa reported that she lost her focus easily. Reading was difficult for her and had been since childhood. She had to have untimed testing so that she could perform without pressure. Anticipation anxiety was one of her symptoms: “If I do something wrong or if I don’t do my homework, I get a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat.”
When Marissa was upset, she wouldn’t talk about it and didn’t like consolation either. She would go to her room and take a cold shower. It was very hard for her to relax; she’d shower, do her hair or nails, or clean her room. Her mother confirmed that as a baby Marissa didn’t want to be rocked.
Marissa reported having a recurring dream about kidnappings ever since childhood: “My sister and I are together and someone picks us up on the corner of my street. We’re walking to school and this person asks us if we want candy and we say ‘Yes’ and he grabs us and puts us in the back seat of his car. I always wake up petrified.”
I repertorized Marissa’s symptoms as follows:
(Chart prepared with MacRepertory software.)
Because herpes zoster was the most pronounced factor in the onset of a plight of never-ending manifestations of chronic fatigue, I gave Marissa the remedy Iris versicolor. Vermuelen’s Prisma Materia Medica describes Iris versicolor’s irritability, headaches, “drowsiness during the day,” affinity for the limbs, and affinity for hypoglycemia. I had discussed hypoglycemia with Marissa and her Mom as her irritability and headache on the way home from school may have had a relationship to not eating.
A beautiful follow-up
Marissa came in for a follow-up visit in Augustâ€”nine months later! She not only had gotten well but more importantly, she got whole. It was her own description of how she experienced her journey to wellness that makes her story so delightful.
“At first I didn’t notice anything, but by the second week I was back to myself again. All my teachers and friends and my swim coach noticed. Even my mom noticed. I can’t believe how those two little pills could make such a change so quickly! This is very different from taking an antibiotic for the strep throat. I remember my sore throat going away, but I never felt better. Not like this.
“I’m not feeling stressed. I can relax and watch a movie without worrying and being uptight like I have to be somewhere or do something. I was very stressed when I was sick. I don’t know why. I was nervous and tense. My muscles aren’t tight anymore.
“I changed my friends and now they are all nice. I can talk to my Mom more easily. I don’t hold things in and go to my room and take a shower.
“I took all my finals and I did very well. I have no back pain. No anticipation anxiety. I never get a knot in my stomach. Even if I get a little nervous, I just feel nervous. I know the difference now. Before, even if a little something went wrong, I would get a huge knot and I couldn’t eat. My Mom thought I had an ulcer.
“I don’t get any nausea after eating. I can even eat bagels now. My sleep is very different. I was waking up a lot with a headache. Now, I sleep deeply and I wake feeling well rested. When I was sick, I would wake up a lot at night and then be tired in the morning. I haven’t had any nightmares since taking the remedy.
“After the remedy I started getting my period every 28 days. I told my Mom that I was getting it a lot and she told me that was a normal cycle. I just wasn’t used to it!
“I am running and swimming and going out with my friends again. When I was sick and my friends would ask me to go out with them, I would tell them that I couldn’t because I had to rest. Now, I go out with them.
“Since the remedy, I can walk right away after a swim. My legs are tired in a different wayâ€”normally tired from the swim.
“I haven’t had any headaches since taking the remedy and I don’t feel tired and irritable after school. I haven’t had any sores in my mouth either.”
Aphorism 9 comes alive
In The Organon, Aphorism 9, Samuel Hahnemann describes what it means to be healthy: “In the healthy human state, the spirit-like life force that enlivens the material organism as dynamis, governs without restriction and keeps all parts of the organism in admirable, harmonious, vital operation, as regards both feelings and functions, so that our indwelling, rational spirit can freely avail itself of this living, healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence.”
Marissa experienced a unique awareness of what this healthy human state feels like, as evidenced by her own words. Her use of the phrases “when I was sick” and “before the remedy” gave me key indications that she had a genuine understanding of sickness and health. The natural exuberance of being a teenager embodies a zest for life. Our “indwelling, rational spirit” naturally pursues the path to fulfilling our potential.
Marissa’s mother also expressed this concept of health beautifully when she remarked, “The light came back in Marissa’s eyes!”
Susceptibility and opportunity
We discussed Marissa’s susceptibilitiy to the stresses of school and Marissa instantly identified the areas that she would watch for. “I’m always worse in the winter,” she said. “It started around Thanksgiving last year and then I was sick all winter. It’s about getting things done: midterms, swimming, finals, and the holidays. I’m going to be more aware of that. I’m going to change my swimming schedule to only three days per week at that time of year.”
As part of regaining her health, Marissa has been given the opportunity to take an active role in her own health care. With opportunity comes responsibilityâ€”a hallmark of being a teenager. As she separates from her parents and treads the path of becoming her own person, she must discern when and where the path deviates. In this situation it means identifying which triggers put her out balance.
Marissa is aware that as the school year progresses she has a tendency to get sick. She identified the markers. Of course, as the mother of a teenager myself, I know that sometimes they forget. I made a follow-up appointment for Marissa in October. Just in case.