What if you thought that the world around you was making you sick? If you feared that the house you live in, the car that you drive and everyday activities such as watching television and talking on a cell phone were making you ill?
Dr. William Rea says he has treated more than 30,000 people, from all over the world, who believe the world around them has made them sick. Very sick.
"Lots of times they know what's wrong with them, but they haven't been able to get any help," Rea said. "And they're looking for solutions to their problems."
A board certified surgeon, Rea has become one of the foremost practitioners of "environmental medicine." At his clinic, the Environmental Health Center-Dallas, no cell phones are allowed and the air is constantly filtered. The walls and floors are made of porcelain -- "because there are no fumes and particulates," Rea said -- and other non-reactive surfaces such as unvarnished wood. The clinic has been open since 1974.
"We had to de-grease all the exercise equipment," Rea said. "Because of the fumes that were coming out of it."
Lisa Nagy, a patient of Rea and a medical doctor with a degree from Cornell University, said she came to the clinic because "I knew I was dying. I knew I had, like, a month left."
You wouldn't know to look at her now but just a few years ago Nagy could hardly move.
"I knew I was sick, I thought I was depressed," she said. "I went to a psychiatrist every day for a year. I went to an acupuncturist."
Nothing worked, and Nagy became convinced that she was suffering from an "environmental illness": that chemicals and electromagnetic energy in the world around her were making her ill.
"I was unable to drive into Los Angeles to see the psychiatrist because of the diesel exhaust coming in the car," she said. "And I had no knowledge that I was chemically sensitive."
Nagy also says the mold in her former house was toxic.
"It's possible that I had other exposures before this house and other situations, which adds to my toxic load, so that this house tipped me over," she said. "We all see car exhaust, smell car exhaust on the way to work in the morning, and we all have dogs and cats at home, and we all have new carpeting at work. We all have air fresheners at the airport that we get exposed to. It's how you deal with those exposures. Do you get tired or do you get a headache? That makes you environmentally ill."
The first thing Rea did was test Nagy for "environmental allergies." He injected a small amount of antigen -- which is a diluted amount of the very thing she may be allergic to -- which triggers an immune system response. Rea tests for a whole slew of allergens such as perfumes, fabric softeners, diesel fuels, woods like oak and many others.
Then Nagy, as with most of Rea's patients, began what is called the detoxification program that he says cleanses the body of all pollutants. The patient gets saunas – to "sweat out" the toxins -- purified air, and certain kinds of food in a controlled environment.
Nagy became so ill during detox she was admitted to a nearby hospital and ended up in the psychiatric ward.
"It was excruciating," she recalled. "The only benefit was I did oxygen every night and they had hard surface floors without carpeting. I didn't know really the principals of environmental medicine yet. I just knew that I needed to rest and oxygen seemed to help."