The Healing Crisis
Occasionally, in cases of extreme toxicity, the body initiates its own dramatic confrontation with disease. Then even alternative remedies may be superfluous. This confrontation, when it does occur, may even seem life-threatening, but tends to produce a recovery so radical as to seem a miracle of nature. To those holistic veterinarians who recognize it as a valid process—and not all do—the phenomenon I refer to is known as the healing crisis.
Of all the dramas of natural healing I’ve witnessed, the healing crises are the most spectacular, and the most awe-inspiring. I’ve seen animals develop horrible rashes overnight, become paralyzed, or grow feverish enough perhaps to die, only to stage their own recoveries at the same breathtaking speed with which the crises began.
To anyone unaccustomed to it, a healing crisis appears to be the final stage of a terminal disease. It’s not. Generally, a pet in ill health—but not in a healing crisis—will exhibit a steady decline of energy, a continuing lack of appetite, emaciation, and persistent or gradually worsening symptoms. A healing crisis, ironically, usually follows a period of seemingly renewed health. A pet’s symptoms have eased, his energy has rebounded, and his owner has concluded that all will be well. Suddenly the disease seems to reappear. Various signs of increased elimination may occur: mucousy diarrhea and darker, more concentrated urine, mucus from the nose, excessive salivation, and all manner of inflammations and flakiness of the skin. The pet’s fever spikes up, perhaps as high as 106 degrees. Yet the pet, though likely in pain, seems oddly engaged by the process, as if he knows something his caretakers do not.
At that point, the animal can lose his appetite and curl up in a corner, off by himself. This is no more than an extreme case of what animals in the wild do when they isolate themselves to gather strength and get well. Indeed, it’s different only in degree from what we do when we refuse food when we’re sick, and let our bodies focus on elimination: through sweating, expectoration, and intestinal release. Unfortunately, a domesticated animal exhibiting such behavior is force-fed almost immediately, which is antithetical to the fasting that is one of nature’s prime methods of healing. He’s also put on drugs. If the symptoms persist, the therapy intensifies. If all treatment fails, the pet is typically declared a lost cause and is euthanized. In some of these cases, the veterinarian is missing out on an extraordinary force to help restore health. As are, of course, the pets he treats.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any certain way to tell, in the midst of a full-blown crisis, when to let nature take its course and when to intervene. A healing crisis is too profound, and too mysterious, to gauge as one does a fever with a thermometer. For owner and veterinarian alike, that makes the process an agonizing and alarming one, and the temptation to go for the quick fix—to administer the drugs that may not cure the disease but will at least relieve the symptoms—is always keen. That, to me, is the hardest part, even after presiding over as many crises as I have. A pet’s life, and an owner’s trust, are in my hands, and when I suggest holding off on drugs, letting a pet weather the crisis on his own, what I’ve advocated defies the entire canon of contemporary veterinary medicine.
That’s a lonely place to be.
As with so many of the alternative therapies I practice, I came upon the healing crisis in dealing with my own health. I’d been working hard—too hard, I suppose, because I hadn’t taken a vacation in three years. Finally, I was scheduled to go to St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Just before leaving, I went to my chiropractor, who made it part of his practice to test his patients’ urine for various values. I had the highest level of one value and the lowest of another he’d ever seen. “You’re passing so much nitrogen waste out of your body right now that you’re going to get sick,” he told me. By now, I was on a macrobiotic diet and felt healthier than I’d felt in years. I told him he was crazy.
I flew down with a friend to rent one of the tent cabins at Maho Bay, and at first I felt fine. My friend kept to a macrobiotic diet, too, so basically all we ate was brown rice and vegetables; all we drank was herbal tea. Yet four days into the trip I fell violently ill. My temperature skyrocketed, I had severe sweats and chills; I couldn’t even drag myself from my cot in the tent to the central bathroom facilities, two hundred yards away. At one point, I turned my head while lying in bed to see who was coming into my tent, and literally blacked out for several moments. Three days later, I felt better than I’d ever felt in my life. It was a true healing crisis, the first of three I’ve had in my life. I was thrilled to feel so well, but also quite shaken and, while it was happening, scared: they don’t call it a crisis for nothing. Had I not known intellectually what was going on, and had I not been forewarned by my chiropractor, I may well have checked myself into a St. John medical clinic—and who knows what would have happened.
My healing crisis, though it produced abrupt symptoms, was actually the outcome of my vigorous attempts over a period of at least two years to improve my health. It came not because I was sick or weak, but because my body was strong enough to stage an assault on the deeper level of the toxins within me, to eliminate them in one big push.
It’s important to distinguish between a true crisis and the more immediate, crisis-like process a body experiences with any radical change of physical habit. A heavy smoker who quits his habit abruptly will have pangs of withdrawal that signal the body’s first efforts to break the nicotine addiction and return to health; he’ll probably expectorate a lot of nicotine-and tar-laced phlegm. (You do not want to suppress this cough with a cough suppressant!) Though his body’s full recovery—and the end of his pangs—will take months if not years, he’ll probably experience sharply aggravated symptoms somewhere along the way as the process of detoxification reaches the next level. Someone who switches diets in a radical way, especially from one of dairy foods and meat to one of grains and vegetables, will experience a modest healing crisis, too, as the body manages at last to expel food-related toxins. Switching from conventional drugs to holistic preparations or supplements often triggers healing symptoms that worsen before they improve.
And then there’s the healing process that a heroin addict incurs when he quits cold turkey. For several days, he endures terrible recurring withdrawal symptoms, often growing so sick he appears to be dying, and if under medical care he may have to be confined by a strait-jacket in a padded room. If the addict chooses to go cold turkey on his own and gets a “fix” of heroin by someone who panics and thinks he is dying, the addict will rapidly feel “better.” But his addiction, of course, will not be reversed. (This, by the way, is not unlike what happens to a patient with skin disease who is on high levels of anti-inflammatory drugs. You try to wean him from them; his skin gets dramatically worse, and if you revert to the drugs, it appears to improve, but this is “improvement” of a most pernicious kind.) If, however, the addict gets through this private hell without reverting to heroin, he starts to get better for real. His body has purged its poisons and is on the way back to health. In time, a true healing crisis may occur if he continues the hard work needed to achieve it.
Heroin addiction, thankfully, is one problem I don’t see in my practice. But whenever I’m confronted by a chronically ill patient on drugs, especially cortisone, I know that getting him off drugs while at the same time keeping his symptoms stable is more than half the battle. You can’t truly heal a patient while he’s on drugs.
Whatever brings it on, a healing crisis in pets unfolds in clear stages recognized as Hering’s Law of Cures, after the American homeopathic doctor Constantine Hering. As the body initiates a major expulsion of toxins, pain appears in the neck, then moves down through the trunk and out the extremities—from the inside out, both in the sense of moving from the inside of the body to outside it, and from the neurological center of the body out the pathways of the arms and legs. At the same time, pain moves up and out, from the neck into the head, usually accompanied by a discharge of mucus from the nose. As a corollary, healing occurs in the reverse order in which symptoms have appeared. In order to get well, Hering says, a patient must go through a crisis. Expect it, look for it, and work toward it, he declares. In pets, Hering’s law is harder to discern, because pets can’t tell us what they’re feeling. But the course of the crisis is identical to what it is in human beings. In pets, as in people, vomiting may also occur, along with diarrhea, pustules or a rash, and excessive thirst and urination.
Unfortunately, as clear as its course is, the arrival of a healing crisis is as unpredictable as its results. No doctor, no patient, no food or medicine can bring it on. I’m forever being asked by anxious owners, “When’s the crisis going to come?” I have no idea. The body provokes its own crisis; it does so when it’s ready, and not before. In some instinctive way we don’t begin to understand, it tends to wait until it has enough strength to handle the force of the pain and eliminations associated with a crisis—thus the calm before the storm, that period of improved health after the body has been at its weakest—and to match the severity and pace of the crisis to what its own constitution can stand.
At the same time, the body is not a Swiss clock, and nature, which can shape one snowflake after another to have six points, can be as mysterious as it is precise. When owners whose pets are in the throes of a healing crisis call me for greater reassurance than that, I read them one of my favorite passages from Arnold Ehret:
“Nature wants to save you!” Ehret proclaimed nearly a century ago. “Disease is merely Nature’s effort to start performing the process of healing—the elimination of wastes and disease matters that clog up your tissue system. Listen to the instinctive advice of Nature unfailingly given to both man and animals! ‘Give me a chance to eliminate; to repair your bodily mechanism!’ Take time to be ‘sick’ for a few days or even weeks, and I will help you! ‘Remain still, quiet, rest, sleep and DON’T EAT!’”
And then I tell them the story of Ginger.
One April day, Ginger came in for a checkup and routine blood analysis. When the blood results came back from the lab, I was stunned. The normal white blood cell count in a healthy dog is between 6,000 and 16,000. Of those, about 70 percent should be bacterial infection fighters, called polys (a form of neutrophil), while 20 percent should be virus fighters, or lymphocytes. (The remaining 10 percent address various other conditions.) Ginger’s white blood cell count was 38,000! Worse, the ratio of infection fighters to virus fighters was reversed. Typically with viral infections, the white blood count drops and the patient gets ill. This blood picture was more in line with a form of cancer called lymphocytic leukemia.
I told Ginger’s owner not to panic. Perhaps the lab had made a mistake. A few days later, we repeated the test. Now Ginger’s white blood cell count was up to 61,000! And immature lymphocytes were appearing—the equivalent of underage soldiers being sent off to war because the draft had taken everyone else, and another good indication that what we were seeing was lymphocytic leukemia. A consulting veterinary pathologist agreed with the presumptive diagnosis but advised drilling into Ginger’s bone to extract marrow that would make the diagnosis definitive. I rejected the recommendation (as did Ginger’s owner). She was doing so well clinically—which is to say that despite the dire blood count, she was exhibiting no symptoms of discomfort or disease. And why drill to confirm a diagnosis of a disease that we were already responsibly treating with specific supplements to support her immune system? Within a month, the count was up to 75,000, with an even more unbalanced distribution pattern between polys and lymphocytes. Now we knew for sure—without an invasive procedure—that Ginger had leukemia.
Rather than subject Ginger to chemotherapy, however, I decided to monitor the situation. Still symptom-free, Ginger appeared to be leading in all outward respects a normal life. By September, the count remained about the same. That was great! Ginger still had lymphocytic leukemia, but if it grew no worse and she could lead a symptom-free life, why send in the heavy artillery?
The call came one day in November while I was in California: Ginger had become severely ill with a temperature of 105. She’d been brought in to a clinic near her hometown, where an X ray revealed full-blown pneumonia. I was asked almost timidly if I agreed that Ginger should be put on antibiotics. Absolutely, I said. There is a place for medicine in our society. In an emergency like this, where the first priority is to keep the patient alive, antibiotics are an essential tool—and a great blessing.
By the time I got home and was able to see Ginger, she’d been on amoxicillin for three days, but still looked terrible. The pneumonia was in full force, and if that along with the underlying leukemia wasn’t enough, she apparently now had lymph cancer, with palpably enlarged lymph nodes all over her body. At this point, I put her on Keflex, an even stronger antibiotic that fights nonresponsive pneumonia. Perhaps at least it would knock her fever down. Privately, I had very little hope.
Ginger’s owner called the next day to report that Ginger’s temperature was up to 106.5. What should we do? I wasn’t sure, but a little voice in the back of my mind had begun to wonder if something powerful and unusual might not be going on here. It takes strength to run a fever that high; more often when the body begins to fail as a consequence of a terminal illness, its temperature drops. Why was Ginger’s temperature rising?
I had Ginger’s owner bring her in for a blood sample. If her internal organs had been damaged, that would be another indication that her illness was terminal, and cause to consider euthanasia. In the office, Ginger’s temperature was over 107. I almost put her to sleep right there. Instead, I took a routine blood sample, stopped the antibiotics (since they seemed to be doing no good), and put her on a general homeopathic remedy for fevers. I told the owner I wasn’t sure she’d make it through the night, but we’d hope for the best. The owner’s preference, too, was natural passage rather than euthanasia.
The next morning, Ginger’s owner called to say that Ginger seemed marginally better. She asked about the blood results. I looked at the results I’d just received, and was astounded: Ginger’s white blood cell count was down to 9,400. That was normal! “What do you make of it?” the owner asked me. I told her it was obviously a mistake at the lab, and asked the lab to verify the results.
The results were verified. I remained incredulous. Surely the lab had mixed up Ginger’s blood sample with another pet’s. Meanwhile, Ginger’s temperature was dropping down to 102.5. The swelling of her lymph nodes was starting to go down. Another blood sample was taken five days later: Ginger’s white blood cell count was down to 7,100. One year later, the white blood count was still normal, with a normal distribution. And Ginger was normal, too.
This was a true healing crisis. Ginger had reversed three life-threatening illnesses. Moreover, the course of her recovery perfectly illustrated Hering’s Law of Cures. The cancer was Ginger’s core illness, the one that should have killed her but didn’t because she worked so hard, over two and a half years, to cure herself of it and build strength to expel the last of it during her healing crisis. Her leukemia, lymph cancer, pneumonia, and nasal discharge were afflictions, in that order, from within Ginger’s body to without; they were part of the recovery process from the cancer and, as a result of the healing crisis, were resolved in that same order. In all my years of practice, I’ve seen many minor-league healing crises, but only about a handful as wrenching and extreme as Ginger’s. To me, they’re nothing less than natural miracles.
At fourteen, still healthy, Ginger was in her owner’s car when the brakes were slammed on at a traffic light. Ginger slid off the seat, hit her back, and was paralyzed. She came in, I gave her two acupuncture treatments, and she was outside running around in a week! In the end, she died of old age—an amazing achievement.
So it was with the owner of Blake, the white terrier mentioned in the introduction to this book, whose skin inflammations had grown so severe and persistent that his previous veterinarian recommended putting him to sleep. The truth is that when I first saw Blake, I thought he was pretty hopeless, too. But homeopathic remedies and supplements would do no harm, and since every other measure of conventional medicine tried had failed, why not give them a try? After warning his owner that Blake’s chances were slim to none, so as not to raise false hopes, I curtailed Blake’s intense medical therapy and began to wean him off cortisone, putting him on alternatives as I did so. The owner, who was initially calling with progress reports every few days, stopped doing so, and when other cases rose up to engulf me, weeks passed into a couple of months.
One Saturday morning at the clinic, everything just seemed to flow. People were in great moods, we were running right on time—quite a rare occurrence at Smith Ridge—and every one of my cases that day was a pet who had suffered a serious illness but who was now doing incredibly well. Just before noon, I looked out into the waiting room to see a sight like none I’d ever beheld.
Blake’s owner I recognized: she was the one sitting on a chair by the door. But the creature at the end of the leash bore no resemblance to the dog I’d treated. He was this little black thing; he looked like a miniature rhinosaurus. He had no hair whatsoever, and his skin appeared to be charred. I couldn’t hide my horror, especially since he was sitting in full view of several other disconcerted clients, but to my even greater surprise, Blake’s owner smiled. “It’s all right,” she said. “For the first time in his life, he’s not itching. And look more closely.”
I did. What I saw were thousands of little white hairs sprouting amid the blackness. The owner had realized even before I could explain it to her that Blake had detoxified. Indeed, he had gone through a healing crisis as dramatic, in its way, as Ginger’s, with severely abraded areas of raw skin, hair loss, and so forth. In a sense, his crisis was worse, since Ginger’s illnesses had been internal, and invisible, while Blake’s was of the skin. The owner, who was one very cool lady, also intuited that Blake was young enough to endure the trauma he was experiencing. His constitution was strong enough to take it. An old dog might not have survived—but then, an old dog’s body probably would not have embarked on such a brutal healing crisis. Nature knows what it’s doing and, once headed in a positive direction, tends to make the “right decisions” in the best interests of the body in question.
In a sense, the correlation between crisis and constitution is an obvious one. If an eighty-four-year-old man consumes a pepperoni pizza and four beers, he could be set back for a while. Give that same meal to a twenty-one-year-old marathoner, and he’ll feel fine, especially the next day after he goes out to run his usual ten miles. The age and strength of a patient have everything to do with the level of toxins his body can absorb and expel. Which is also to say that they have everything to do with whether or not he can withstand a healing crisis, and the extent to which it can be brought about. In no case, however, is the crisis predictable. As Bernard Jensen has observed in his Doctor-Patient Handbook, “A crisis comes usually after you feel your best. It is the will of nature. No doctor, no patient, no food, can bring a crisis on. It comes when your body is ready; it does it in its own time. It goes through slow or fast, according to the patient’s constitution. You earn this crisis through hard work. A crisis can come harsh, small, violently, softly. Some crises come in the form of backaches, skin rashes, diarrhea and joint pains, or fever.”
Because a minor crisis is likely to be brought on in a person by some conscious action—quitting cigarettes, changing a diet—its potential effects, can, and should, be rationally gauged. The closer a crisis candidate is to being twenty-one rather than eighty-four, the better his health is in other respects, and the better he’ll cope with the temporary aggravation of symptoms associated with the crisis. So it is with animals for minor crises brought on by the switch from a poor diet to a nutritious one, or those weaned from antibiotics to homeopathics. Is the pet too old or infirm to withstand the aggravated symptoms associated with even a minor crisis? This is a decision no owner should make without the counsel of a seasoned holistic veterinarian.
A major healing crisis is initiated mostly by a pet—but not completely. A pet still has to be taken off drugs by his owner and veterinarian for the crisis to have a chance to occur. And a crisis in progress can still be reversed, or at least kept from resolution, by symptom-suppressive drugs. I sometimes decide, with older cats and dogs, that their health is simply too fragile for a crisis of any proportion. Our ultimate goal, after all, is to help provide a pet with as much pain-free time and energy on this earth as we possibly can. If an old cat with a degenerative condition is pain-free and may live that way for another two years, why try to induce a major trauma to his system which might buy an extra year or two, but force him to spend most of that time detoxifying and enduring painful symptoms? Generally, though, I think that a chronically ill pet who seems on the verge of a healing crisis deserves the opportunity to go through it. As Hering observes, a sick patient must always go through a healing crisis in order to fully recover his health. If in fact a pet is simply growing more diseased, and not going through a crisis, the use of synthetic medications at this stage may save his life but keep him chronically ill. I would rather risk having him pass out of his misery than deny him the chance to get well.
Occasionally, a pet I’m treating takes matters into his own paws no matter what we do.
Such was the case with Kismet, an Airedale I’d been working with for most of her life. Kismet had first come to me as a young dog with terrible skin inflammations and the typical verdict, from a conventional clinic, of incurable allergies. I’d reversed her skin problems the usual way—off antibiotics, onto homeopathic remedies—and thoroughly enjoyed seeing her bounce back in for annual checkups as a happy and healthy dog. Then, as she approached old age, Kismet developed a tumor in her left thigh. She was still vigorous enough for me to conclude that an X ray would do no harm, and might help us decide how to treat her, as it would make a tremendous difference if the tumor had invaded her bone.* The X ray showed a soft-tissue, intramuscular tumor the size of an orange, a finding I confirmed by drawing out a sample painlessly with a needle and sending it out for diagnosis.
At a conventional clinic, Kismet would have been operated on immediately. Either her tumor would have been removed, or her leg would have been amputated. Once the tumor had proved cancerous, she might have been subjected to an extensive regimen of chemotherapy. All this would have been painful for Kismet, traumatizing to her immune system, and terribly expensive for her owner. Given her age, Kismet probably would have died as a result; if she had lived, her remaining time would likely have been brief and unhappy. I chose instead to monitor the situation, hoping the tumor would grow slowly and cause Kismet no pain. Over the next several months, Kismet appeared pain-free but grew increasingly enfeebled, shuffling with the gait of a very old creature. Sadly, she also started growing another lump on the side of her body. When acupuncture treatments failed to produce more freedom of movement, I started talking to the owner about having Kismet put to sleep. We still had the choice of trying a program of intravenous fluids to flush out her system, but I thought the benefits would be at best temporary, and agreed with the owners that euthanasia was the sensible course at this point.
I went home that weekend feeling pretty depressed. The decision to put a pet to sleep is never an easy or unemotional one, and Kismet was one of my favorite dogs. Euthanasia has its place in veterinary care (see Chapter Ten), and when it’s the only humane option left, I can administer the life-ending injection with the knowledge that life as the pet knew it and enjoyed it is over already; all I’m ending is the misery that remains. But even then, it’s a trying experience, one magnified by the grief of the owners for whom this pet was a member of the family.
On Monday morning, I came in to work expecting to start my week by putting Kismet to sleep. In came Kismet’s owners—with a dog who bore almost no resemblance to the one I’d seen the week before. On Saturday, her owners reported, Kismet’s temperature had shot up. Then, on Sunday, the mass on her side, which by then had grown nearly to the size of a melon, had broken open. Out had oozed more than a quart of slimy, clear liquid, deflating the lump altogether. The older, chronic tumor, as I felt it, was half the size it had been on Friday. With no external draining, it had rapidly shrunk, and Kismet appeared far less frail than before. Delighted, I put her on an intravenous vitamin C drip: if Kismet had undergone a healing crisis, the vitamin C would further support her immune system to finish the job.
The next day, Kismet’s tumor was a marble-sized, hairless bubble. A second growth she’d developed on her spine was gone. And this dog who I’d assumed would never regain her youthful energy was romping around my office, barking to demand her dinner!
Here then was a healing crisis I hadn’t anticipated or in any way tried to provoke, a healing crisis that I might have tried to avert had I known it was coming, given Kismet’s seeming enfeeblement. Perhaps she’d understood from the sorrowful tone of my conversation with her owner that we were giving up on her, and that if she wanted more time on this planet, she would have to save herself. But whether she did or not, she’d healed herself.
More recently, I treated a Rottweiler named Whiskey whose referring veterinarian had predicted he had no more than a week to live. By then, Whiskey had been subjected to $3,800 worth of conventional therapy, and was only the worse for it. He was suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, an all-too-common condition among dogs and cats alike. Though in itself not necessarily fatal, it was compounded, in Whiskey’s case, by significant lymphangiectasia, an associated disease of the lymph tissue in the intestines. Among many veterinarians, that combination in its advanced stages is felt to be 100 percent fatal among Rottweilers. When their own veterinarian had declared the case hopeless, Whiskey’s owners had contacted nearly a dozen other sources, including two in Canada. They received the same grim verdict from all of them. Based on what I heard on the phone from the owners, and then their veterinarians, I had to say that Whiskey’s chances seemed slim. But why not try to confound the odds?
Whiskey arrived on a stretcher, too weak to walk. A healthy male Rottweiler, powerfully built with considerable muscle mass, weighs about 125 pounds; Whiskey weighed 57 pounds. With the owners’ permission, I cold-turkeyed him on all the drugs he’d been getting on a daily basis for so long (including cortisone, daily, for months). This was unusual, even in my practice: going “cold turkey” can do more harm than good. But in this case we had nothing to lose, since the drugs were obviously not working and Whiskey was about to die. At the same time, I hospitalized him and began a program of intravenous fluids, including high doses of vitamin C. Over the four days that Whiskey remained at Smith Ridge, his condition improved to the point where I felt comfortable sending him home on a full program of alternative therapy. I told the owners to administer the program meticulously, to stay in close touch—and to pray.
Within four weeks, Whiskey was much improved—walking, though still with considerable effort. Then one day after five weeks, one of the owners called in a panic. Whiskey’s head had swollen to nearly twice its normal size, and blood was coming from his nose. “What should I do?” the owner pleaded.
“Go to the movies,” I suggested.
When the owner was sure he’d heard me correctly, I added that this seeming turn for the worse, after weeks of slow but steady improvement from a dire state, struck me as a textbook case of a healing crisis in the offing (a textbook case, that is, if there were any textbooks on the healing crisis, which there aren’t). And what was our choice but to hope that it was? We knew what would happen if Whiskey was put back on cortisone and other drugs: we’d be right back where we started. The owners chose to forego the movies, but they set Whiskey up in a bedroom and tried to go to sleep. The next morning, after several anxious checkups on his condition, the owners noticed that Whiskey’s nasal discharge was now half blood, half mucus. In two days, the swelling of his head began to subside. In five days, the swelling was gone altogether. The healing crisis—and it had been that—was over. Since then, Whiskey has returned to full and robust health. He weighs in at a svelte 140 pounds. Not only that: he’s handsome enough, and game enough, to have appeared in a jeans commercial on television! From basket case to TV star: now that’s a healing crisis with happy results.
If that weren’t satisfaction enough, Whiskey’s recovery was so inspiring as to persuade a human observer to dedicate his life to alternative medicine. At the time, Gary Nestler was a floor manager for the computer business run by Whiskey’s owner. Gary happened to come from a family of five physicians; he was as allopathically oriented as a person can be. Yet he was so struck by Whiskey’s healing that he began delving into alternative practices. Now he’s the director of the department of alternative medicine (for humans), nationally board-certified in acupuncture and herbal medicine, at the University of South Carolina’s medical school.
What I say to those veterinarians at those times is what I say to the owners: Don’t be afraid! Fear is such a terribly destructive force in medical care. So often, it inhibits us from letting the patient help himself. But also: Recognize the whole picture. How was the patient in the days preceding this apparent decline? A pet on the eve of a healing crisis will have seemed energetic, even frisky. “This feeling of strength is probably the most distinguishing feature that characterizes a healing crisis from a disease crisis,” observes John Sherman, a doctor of naturopathy from Washington State who has studied the phenomenon. “The vital force is on the ‘ascendency’ in a healing crisis, whereas there is a lack of vitality in a disease crisis…. When the vital force intrinsic to the body has finally worked up to this acutely reactive event, taking any suppressive medication, even an aspirin, could damage the immunity and vitality of an individual.”
If holistic veterinarians hesitate, what of conventional ones? The fact is that most seem incapable of accepting, even as a remote possibility, the notion that drugs might not always be the best approach to severe ill health, let alone that without them, a healing crisis might occur—as the case of Bristol Hill makes clear.
By the time I saw Bristol Hill, he was a three-and-a-half-month-old kitten with bone infections who’d been subjected to so many intravenous injections that his veterinarian had run out of veins to hit with a needle. The veterinarian simply hadn’t known to consider any other course of treatment besides drugs. And now euthanasia was the logical and humane choice. When I saw Bristol, I felt we had a truly hopeless case, and the blood analysis seemed to confirm that opinion: his white blood cell count after two months of constant intravenous antibiotics was over 50,000, when it should have been between 6,000 and 16,000. Because the infections had spread to his joints, all four of Bristol’s legs were crippled. Moreover, the chronic drug therapy had overwhelmed his immune system, and Bristol had become quite anemic. Though I was tempted to go along with the recommendation of euthanasia, I decided there was nothing to lose in putting him on injectable vitamin C and giving him a couple of homeopathic remedies for chronic and acute infections. Five days later, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Bristol was sloughing off toxins from everywhere, but at the same time he appeared so much stronger. Alarming as the process appeared, I knew it was a healthy one. I also sensed that Bristol was feeling resolute. So I did nothing to try to stop it.
Over the next weeks, Bristol would improve; then another abscess would pop up and he would just slough it off. Here was a healing crisis in perfect stages, with Bristol marshaling strength for each approaching expulsion of toxins en route to glowing good health. Today, two years after I first saw him, Bristol’s infections are completely gone. So is his anemia. And his owner reports that despite some vestiges of joint stiffness, Bristol just zooms around the house.
Consider, finally, the story of Scramble, as told by her owner in a letter written to serve as a testimonial to her own healing crisis.
“My dog Scramble has been treated for liver cancer for the last six months,” Ken Davidson wrote of his fourteen-year-old mixed-breed shepherd in October 1995. “All that time, I’d had Scramble on the Immuno-Augmentative Therapy program (see Chapter Eight). For a while, she had appeared to improve. Then she’d gone into a steep decline that seemed the end. For two weeks Scramble could not stand up, let alone walk on her own,” Davidson explained. “Her legs had been oozing blood and fluid that Dr. Goldstein called ‘toxic cleansing.’ … I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to help my dog live a long and healthier life. But we seemed at the end of the road. I was afraid that Dr. Goldstein’s ‘healing crisis’ was his way of trying to keep me positive, but I could see that my dog was nearing death.”
At 2:30 a.m. one dark morning, Scramble began breathing heavily. Her eyes seemed vacant, as if she’d died already. Knowing that the emergency-room veterinarians would sternly advise euthanasia, Davidson decided, as he put it, “to let her die in her own environment. Eventually I went to sleep expecting to wake up to a dead longtime friend and companion.
“Upon waking the next morning, afraid of what I would find, I went to the kitchen where I had left her the night before. What I found will be with me the rest of my life. Scramble was standing up, wagging her tail, and licking her lips for breakfast.
“Three months later, Scramble is still as healthy and vital as she has ever been,” Davidson concluded. “She is still battling cancer, but she is playful and alive.”
Understand: Not every seriously ill pet is lucky enough to incur a healing crisis. Too often, a sharp decline in health is just what it appears to be—a decline—and should be treated with antibiotics or any other measure at hand to keep a pet alive. But when a healing crisis does occur—and they do occur—the results that come from letting well enough alone, from letting the body heal itself, are more complete, and more enduring, than those that can come from anything we have to offer. I’ve seen those results. I hope, if your pet is ever so sick, that you see them, too.