I was born in 1934, a pretty healthy 10 lb. kid. I remember sitting in my high chair in our kitchen when we lived in a house in Honolulu, Hawaii that was literally on the beach at Waikiki. I was absolutely convulsed with laughter because a huge wave had come in through the open kitchen door and dumped about six inches of water throughout the house. I'm sure my Mom wasn't too happy about that.
One day while sitting on the beach in front of our house, I was watching my mother swimming just a little ways out when she hollered, "I've lost my wedding ring!" She started diving down and coming up, taking another big breath and then diving again. Finally she came up and said, "I'm going to say a prayer to St. Anthony!" (Supposed to be the patron saint of finding lost articles.) She dove down and came up with the ring. I got the ring when she died and gave it to our youngest daughter when she first got married. She still has the ring. My mother told me many years later that there was no way I could remember these two incidents as I was not even two years old. However, I don't believe the vivid pictures I have in my mind about these incidents are false. I had them for many years before I ever discussed them with anyone.
My next recollection was riding a tricycle under the big banyan tree on Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki and falling over the handlebars and bashing my head on the cement. I still have the scar to prove it today. Then we moved to a small apartment the only memory of which is a bathtub where I had a lot of floating toys. My Dad then bought 5,000 square feet of land with a house on it that people said was a really stupid move because he paid $5,000.00 for it in 1936 or 1937 and, as he described it, there was nothing else there except marsh grass and geese. The price today is around $300,000.00 just for the land. The house was still standing in 1994, the last time I visited Hawaii. As of 2010, you could still Google it - 2107 Ala Wai Blvd., Honolulu, HI - a little house stuck in amongst a bunch of huge buildings with an empty lot next door. That lot used to have a nice house on it that belonged to Mrs. Mudge, the one who taught me to play Chinese checkers when I was about six years old. I wonder how long before another condo goes up there?
After that time, things apparently changed. My brother Harry was born in 1937 when I was three years old. He died of a respiratory infection when he was six months old. My sister Nani (a Hawaiian word that means "beautiful") was born in 1939 when I was five years old. She died of a respiratory infection when she was nine months old. By this time I was suffering with severe asthma. I think that it's pretty obvious that there is a genetic defect mixed in here someplace.
Of course, you have to consider the fact that my mother was a cigarette smoker. She started when she was 12 years old and switched to the first menthol cigarette, brand name "Spud", when they first came out around 1925. My mother was 17 then and was smoking about two packs of cigarettes a day. When "Kool" cigarettes hit the market she switched and smoked them until she was 72 when she quit.
With all of the information now coming out on almost a daily basis, it seems to me that the effects of cigarette smoking during pregnancy and the continuing presence of second hand smoke may have had a great deal to do with the deaths of my siblings and my severe childhood asthma. Of course, no one knew at that time what the real danger of smoking was all about.
Heck, all the doctors I went to up until the 1970's were smokers! I believe that my mother would have stopped smoking immediately when she found out she was pregnant simply because she was that strong willed a person.
Numerous people often asked her and me why she quit smoking at the age of 72 after 60 years at it - she always answered that it was so she might gain a little more time in her life. I think it worked because she lived another fourteen years dying less than one month before her 86th birthday. The reason I bring this up is you're never too old to quit smoking and gain some benefit from it. In another article I'll relate how I quit smoking when I was 50 years old and how I found the technique relatively simple with very few side effects.
So there I was in 1940 with asthma and a brother and sister who had died from respiratory infections. I guess my parents were traumatized about my brother and sister dying and wondering if I was going to go the same route. During that summer, I remember lying propped up in my single iron poster bed because I was having a severe asthma attack. I became fascinated with this grey curtain that seemed to be encroaching on my vision from both sides. I can remember wondering, "What the devil is that?" Suddenly our family doctor came into the room, sat down on the bed next to me, opened up his little black bag, took out a syringe with what appeared to be the biggest needle in the world and stuck it into my chest. I had no idea he was giving me adrenaline to keep me from dying.
Many years later during an Air Force summer camp at Eglin Air Force Base I rode in an F-86 jet fighter plane. It was part of the orientation for flight school. It was then that I found out about the grey curtain. When you pull about 8 g's in a dive, the grey curtain starts rolling in because all of the blood is being pulled from the brain by the force of gravity. This results in a lack of oxygen. That's what led to the invention of special pressurized gravity suits that keep pilots from blacking out in extreme dives. Apparently when I had that bad asthma attack when I was a child it was so severe that it was cutting off the supply of oxygen to my brain.
That was the beginning of a long series of treatments at the Marshall Clinic in Honolulu, Hawaii. Dr. Paul Withington was our family doctor and he believed that my asthma was caused by my being allergic to something. I went through a treatment at the clinic that consisted of 2 shots in each arm every week for two years. Those shots were on the inside of the arm and left little black and blue marks. They were designed to be given right under the skin and swelled up if whatever was in that shot caused an allergic reaction. I didn't realize it at the time but I started to look like a junky with all those black and blue needle marks. Turned out that I was allergic to a whole bunch of stuff among which were things like bacon, strawberries, orange juice, cat hair, dust (an allergy I retain to this day) and a list as long as your arm. When the two years were over it was off to Dr. Paul's office for one booster shot a week. I would walk into his office and he would say, "Which arm this week?" I would check to see which arm was sore and then tell him to inject the other one.
The results of the whole deal were very favorable. By the time I was nine I had stopped having asthma attacks and have been asthma free ever since. However, it is obvious to me that after that, my long bout with constant respiratory infections was a result of that genetic defect that killed my brother and my sister and almost did me in. For years I would have one cold after another, some of them not quite over when another one would start up. It probably has to do with the long-term effects of having asthma and genetic traits passed on to me by my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
I often wonder if the fact that my Dad had tuberculosis in his 20's had anything to do with my allergies. I can remember being particularly prone to colds at all times of the year. There didn't seem to be any explanation for it. One thing sticks out in my mind because I kept track of the incidents so I could discuss it with our family doctor. In 1965 I had at least one cold every month and lost 17 days of work because of it. That's the same year we went through Hurricane Betsy - another story entirely. Until I was thirty-eight years old I was the most cold conscious person in the world. I wouldn't wash my hair if it was windy out. I tried year after year to get onto something that might improve my immune system and stop this continuous round of respiratory infections.
Shortly after our oldest daughter was born in New Orleans in 1964 I went to see our family doctor, Dr. Sidney Bullard. He took care of all of us for 34 years and was an extremely fine doctor. I can remember preparing for the visit by writing down what I was going to say to him and rehearsing it for several days as I was really getting desperate for relief from the constant battle with colds. When I arrived for the visit, I told Dr, Bullard that I had a degree from college, I got a lot of exercise, I tried to keep my weight under control and took a multi vitamin every day. In spite of all these efforts I kept catching cold seven to eight times a year. He looked at my records and said, "you do seem to have been in here for a lot of colds. It sounds like your metabolism is low. You need to get a blood test."
If my memory serves me correctly, I was making $140.00 a week then and the blood test was $40.00, almost one-fourth of my weekly salary. I decided I had tried a lot of other stuff so I went ahead and got the test. When I went back in the next week Dr. Bullard gave me a prescription for a huge bottle of the most evil tasting brew I had ever put in my mouth. He said I should take two tablespoons of this tonic twice a day as it ought to help. I started taking the tonic, forcing it down and often holding my nose is was so bad. Half way through the bottle I caught another cold.
I went back to Dr. Bullard and he said there were some people who took four "cold" shots that helped them stay cold free for six months to a year. The shots were given every other day and cost $15.00 apiece. I decided to try that. I took the whole series for $60 and hoped for the best. I knew the stuff had worn off five months later when I caught another cold. I went back to the doctor for another $60 series and it lasted three months. At this point, Dr. Bullard told me there were people who came to him on a monthly basis for the shots to keep from catching cold.
I could see the handwriting on the wall. $60.00 a month to get a bunch of drugs pumped into my system that didn't seem to work very well to start with. I told him I was going to pass for now. I never did get any more of those cold shots.
Since I worked at night playing music and lived in what is still called the "Sportsman's Paradise", I had a great number of opportunities to hunt and fish without interfering with my home life. I've been a hunting and fishing fanatic since I was nine years old, the same age as when I started taking photos.
For many years I spent a great deal of time all over the state of Louisiana hunting squirrels, rabbits, ducks, snipe, woodcock, quail, geese and deer. I dreamed of finding a job working in the outdoors but I was a crazy, fanatical professional musician and just couldn't give it up. A mark of my enthusiasm for the outdoors is reflected in the fact that if there were 55 days of duck hunting and I made only 50 it was a bad year. I went every day. I would get off of work about 2:00 A.M., go home, change clothes, grab a thermos of coffee, the gun, the dog (when I had one) and hop in the truck to make the twenty-seven mile ride to the Chef Harbor where the boat stayed in the water year round. In a future article I'll be writing about how I discovered the natural "amphetamine" which allowed me to stay awake even after being up for long hours. I did the same during the summer shrimp-trawling season. Of course, if it rained while I was hunting I knew I was going to catch cold. It never failed. I tried to avoid it but never succeeded until 1970.
It was late November 1970 and I had just come off the first half of a really great duck season. It had also rained and gotten me wet the last day of the season and I had caught another cold. I can remember being grateful that it didn't happen after the end of the first half as I wanted to be sure to make the second half in about two weeks. I thought the cold would be pretty well finished up by then. My two girls were six and five and wanted to go to the library. As miserable as I was at the time, I bundled them into the car and we went to the library on St. Charles Ave. about five blocks from the house. I looked around for some new science fiction books while they hung out in the children's section.
When I went back to get them, they had picked out their books. There were a lot of people at the library that day so we had to stand in a long line to check out the books we had selected. I'm standing there really miserable with the cold and there's a large table next to the line. I can still remember the cover of a white, hard bound book that said something like "QUIT CATCHING COLD!' It was entitled "Vitamin C and the common cold" by Dr. Linus Pauling. I also remember thinking, "That's a huge load of that stuff that comes out of the south end of a big, heavy horse traveling north who's been just getting over being constipated for six days! If there were any real facts to that my family doctor would have told me by now!"
It was at this point in time that I didn't realize it but I was being educated about some pertinent facts concerning the medical profession. I was about to figure out on my own that there were two types of doctors. One is a doctor that is into curative medicine, that is, a doctor who works on getting you well when you are sick.
The other is a doctor who is into preventative medicine, that is, a doctor who works on preventing you from getting sick. Since the line was moving so slowly, I had a real opportunity to think about the situation. "Here I am, totally clogged up with another damn cold and some idiot is screaming at me from the cover of a book that I don't have to live like that. Well, what the heck, I've tried everything else, why not this?" So I picked up the book and checked it out.
It's not often that you can point to a book that has radically changed your life but this particular book by the great double Nobel Prize winner Dr. Pauling did just that. One came for his work in chemistry and the other for advancing the need for peace. This man really had his act together. I read the book through one time with the attitude that "No, it couldn't be that simple could it?" So I read it again and then a third time and decided that it sure wouldn't hurt to give it a shot. And that, folks, was the beginning of my developing the nickname, "The Neighborhood Vitamin Freak". Everything that Dr. Pauling wrote about in his book worked. I started with the Vitamin C and I quit catching cold except on rare occasions. I really regret that twenty-four years later in 1994, when I decided to write to him and thank him for what he did to improve my life, I found out in the middle of writing the letter that he had died.
It took me a couple of years to figure out why I was still catching cold occasionally but I don't recall having any sort of respiratory infection for over thirty years now. Occasionally, the allergies will get very aggravating and I'll get a sinus infection but that's about it. Dr. Pauling also reminded me to go easy on my family doctor since he could not possibly keep up with the more than 6,000 papers that were published every year on medical discoveries. If he tried to, he'd never get his stethoscope out of his pocket and would be unable to find time to treat patients. This eased my relationship considerably with Dr. Bullard. In the intervening forty years the number of papers being published has more than quadrupled. The last time I heard about this it was estimated that there are over 25,000 papers published every year around the world on new discoveries just in the field of medicine!
Stay tuned for the next article taken from the title of the book that made a big change for me: "Magnesium, the nutrient that could change your life"