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Health History

In sitting down and writing out a little of my own trials, I realize I have so much to be thankful for. Yes, without any question I've had more than my share of challenges, but am still, as my golfer friends say, "on the right side of the green".

I was an exceptionally bright, solid, powerful child with boundless energy then slowly got very ill. In 1953 my parents took me with them on an extended tour of the post WW II troubled world full of nasty health exposures. After that tour my health slowly worsened with my getting thinner and my growth slowing until about age ten when I was hospitalized touch and go with double pneumonia and severe ear infections. My doctors found even more problems with parasites plus bacterial and fungal infections. I recovered fully and survived childhood only losing the ability to hear high pitched noises and the difference between a soft E and I.

The Army drafted me out of college so I fled to an Air Force reserve group, got activated in 1970, and flew as a cargo master and tail gunner in the Vietnam War. Most who had that job died there. Six in the group that started there with me died there and three others died after due to drugs and alcohol leaving me as the only survivor of that group. I also handled and helped spray lots of toxic chemicals when in the Vietnam War. I returned a bit crazy and suffering from toxic chemical issues which were later worsened by getting poisoned on a military flight. I slipped off a high ramp while loading an airplane and ended up cracking a leg bone and badly spraining an ankle. That crack took forever to heal as weight on that leg caused the crack to open. The sprain did a lot of damage that later caused even more problems. Flying caused me such bad sinus problems I stopped flying and left the reserves after ten years' service. Surgery fixed the sinus problems, but I was just too busy to return to flying with the reserves. Still, I survived my military experiences coming away with a bad ankle, type II diabetes that I controlled with diet and exercise, more hearing issues and slowly worsening peripheral nerve damage that had already affected my ability to feel, type, and play my musical instruments.

That bad sprain from my military service had pulled a bone chip loose and the chip had migrated and was causing pain and more damage. In June 1987 I had a minor outpatient surgery to remove that bone chip and that surgery nearly cost me my foot and almost killed me. The surgery compromised my nerves leaving my whole leg with constant crazy bone like shocks that worsened with each step. This pain masked my foot developing gangrene under the bandages. I got really sick with everything hurting bad and nearly lost my foot. My foot was saved by cutting out much of the back outside leaving me in bandages with drainage tubes. I could not use that foot at all as it was left locked in a downward point. Any bump or movement caused intense electrical like pains. At the same time I had no feeling below the ankle. The whole back outside of my ankle was so chewed up and deformed it would never fit into shoes. I remained very ill and my doctors said that was from all the poisons from the gangrene. When traditional medicine could provide no relief, at the advice of an old Chinese doctor friend I went through an extended Chinese medicine treatment involving making and drinking teas made from some pretty crazy things plus electro-acupuncture treatments. The Chinese medicine helped reduce my leg pain but I was still hurting all over. When the drain tubes finally came out, I went to one of the best plastic-neuro surgeons available. He mostly works on bad accident victims who need lots of neural repair as well as plastic surgery. He rebuilt the back of my foot so well you have to look hard to see the scar, but he was unable to do much with all the severed and compromised nerves. Every time that foot was bumped it felt like touching a live electric wire. Just the normal daily activity so built that pain I was often unable to sleep. I then went into excruciating physical therapy that broke my frozen ankle free then forced enough range of motion I was able to relearn how to walk on a numb foot.

Two years after the initial surgery I had developed such bad arthritis that it hurt to move any joint, and then got blindsided. I had worked hard to get my walking down to most not being able to tell I had a problem unless I overdid or slipped. In mid-1989 my left shoulder joint froze immobile. My doctors discovered the arthritis diagnosis was wrong. My ankle surgery also gave me a hospital bred staph (MRSA) infection that was eating away my cartilage in my joints and many were already badly damaged. My infection was particularly nasty as all my doctors could do was slow it down with large amounts of strong antibiotics. After too many antibiotics my eye lenses fogged, then my kidneys went into intermittent shut down. My doctors were out of options as my body would not tolerate more antibiotics. They told me I would soon die and gave me a choice of going home or into hospice in late 1989 at age 40.

For years I had worked closely with the UC Davis Medical School and Sutter Hospital in Sacramento where I invented hospital patient care monitors, repaired hospital equipment, provided medical computers, plus ran medical studies. I called in every favor I could. A wholistic doctor friend suggested I check into an amazing clinic run by a group of volunteer doctors where he worked one day a week. They only accepted people who were terminal with no other options. They combined traditional treatment with a range of alternative medicine and had some amazing success to help their terminal patients. Everyone there except me had either advanced AIDS or terminal cancer. They immediately put me on a juice fast that got my kidneys restarted and cleaned out the antibiotics. An infectious disease specialist physician then put me back on an experimental mix of strong antibiotics. Those antibiotics put my MRSA infection into remission. One of the alternative healing people they brought in was a faith healer who prayed and asked for inspiration coming up with a combination of teas and spices. Her work left me for the first time since my surgery not hurting with every step triggering nerve pain like a bad hit to a crazy bone. A pair of Tibetan trained energy healers so improved me with their Reiki and energy work that I had first learned as a child in Japan, that I studied under them for years to become a teaching master myself. I continued to work hard at rehab and most cannot tell I had problems unless I overdo.

This ordeal was expensive, not just financially. This infection destroyed so much of my cartilage I lost nearly two inches in height and was left with degenerative arthritis, constant pain and had to walk on a numb foot. My eyes were near blind and could only see shades of yellow and grey. My GI system was trashed with diverticulitis. I had to have twenty-nine repair surgeries and am still looking at having to replace many joints. My poor health forced me to step down from my senior management position, get rid of most of the other things I was doing such as running the family construction firm, my computer firms, and cut my teaching back to a minimum. With my income more than halved, my family rapidly burned through our considerable savings, investments and home equity.

For the next ten years I remained on limited duty, had to mostly work from home, and had to go through one surgery repair after another to address the damage done by that infection. I had to give up my rental properties, consulting business, home flipping business, and cut my teaching back to a bare minimum. This let spend more time with my family and enjoying my woodworking hobby. I had to have my eye lenses replaced, seven knee surgeries, three ankle surgeries, five shoulder surgeries, and an abdominal surgery. In 1995 I developed near fatal pneumonia and was forced then to step even further down in my career to enable me to work from home. In 1999 after Christmas I felt poorly with what appeared to be a flu. I kept getting worse and right after New Year’s was rushed to the hospital with intense chest pain. My doctors found a bad allergic reaction had shut down my airflow so my heart was not getting enough oxygen. I was admitted with severe double pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital a long time. Every time my doctors reduced my medications, my symptoms resumed. A pulmonary allergy specialist was called in and he determined my lungs were filled with wood dusts to which I had become very allergic. I was kept on allergy medications and finally was sent home for extended bed rest. I spent that recovery time figuring out what went wrong and how to fix my home woodworking dust collection system. My pulmonary specialist was also a fellow woodworker. He convinced me to write an article with him where he shared the dangers of fine wood dust exposure and I shared my dust collection solutions. Our article generated over 10,000 responses leaving us both overwhelmed. He quit and I put up some web pages that answered the most frequently asked questions (FAQs).

I kept having one relapse after another with repeated bouts of pneumonia further reducing my respiration. By early 2004 I was supplemental oxygen dependent and no longer able to work even part time as I was down to less than one working lung capacity. My employer forced me to retire. The real estate market was in a bad slump and we owed far more than my home was worth, so I was trapped in our expensive high overhead family home without the income needed to support that high overhead. My doctor talked me into paying for air quality testing which showed my home and garage-based shop were both badly contaminated. To stay in this home, I needed to repaint the ceilings and walls, replace the carpet with wood or tile, and deep clean all of the drapes, upholstery and furnishings. My children had both just gone off to college and my wife could not handle the mess during that remodel. In spite of my being pretty much limited to a fifty-foot oxygen hose, my wife moved out and put all of our best things into storage. The plan was for me to use what little up time I had to tackle this remodel hiring help as my budget would permit. My wife divorced me and left me to support our two children in college. My mother passed and left me a small inheritance which went toward those college bills and hiring help to get the remodel done. Even with my construction background it took years to get the home cleaned up and so it was mostly dust free. Once the dust was controlled I slowly improved. After ten years I was able to go off full time supplemental oxygen to only needing supplemental oxygen at night. After fifteen years I was able to go off the supplemental oxygen completely. To say that life is a bed of roses would be a lie as the joints all over my body are shot and hurt most of the time, and all gets worse with just a little activity or even changes in the weather. I can only do some chores, so am very reliant on having to hire help for the yard, pool, housekeeping, etc.

As an incentive to get better and resume a normal life I spoiled myself with some used but very nice woodworking tools. My joints failed before I even got all setup and ready to use, so my woodworking hobby remains on hold. Two days before I was scheduled to have my worn-out right knee replaced, I fell down the stairs and cracked my right tibia also known as our shin bone. That crack left nothing solid to attach the artificial knee joint to, and with that leg not working they could not do my left knee as they did not want me in a wheelchair for recovery. That crack spread when I put weight on the knee so my doctors had to operate to put a bunch of crosswise cracks and glue all together. Finally, after more than two years it was ready for knee replacement surgery. Unfortunately, my age moved me from my good private insurance to Medicare. Medicare required a whole different set of standards before they would permit a knee replacement. I not only had to go through a series of injections, they also required surgery to try and clean up the joint with a long-mandated recovery period. Nothing worked. Meanwhile, my left knee failed and would no longer stay in joint. That was bad news as I had long been depending on my left as my right would not support me. I had my long awaited first knee replacement, but on my "good" left knee. I have since struggled with swelling in both knees and circulation problems in my left knee from trying to over use the new left as my right cannot fully support me. I’ve spent months post-surgery trapped either in bed or on my recliner. Instead of bouncing up my stairs I go slow and must lead with the same leg on each step as only my right can carry my weight. My right works poorly, so before reaching the stairs top, I am hurting, winded and have to force my way up the final few steps.

Anyhow, the following shares a few of the things that I believe helped me considerably to be able to get through all this along with an incredible team of doctors and specialists. I don't know enough about the faith healing or Chinese medicine to share more here. I hope all this "nonsense" helps you in your own quest.

Bill Pentz


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Created: January 1997

Updated! March 24, 2020