in Geezer, Meddling, Rant, Travels

My experience with Gulf War Syndrome

USS Elliot (DD-967) in North Arabian Gulf, circa 1998

USS Elliot (DD-967) in North Arabian Gulf, circa 1998

On the Gulf War Veterans Facebook group, one of the members asked if anyone had mystery illnesses. It sparked a lively discussion – one that sometimes veered off into black helicopter land – but it did inspire me to share my mystery symptoms with the group. I’ve alluded to these previously but have not shared them in this detail on my blog before.

As I said in my Facebook post, my desire for answers outweighs my reluctance to post this info in a public forum. If you know me you know what a statement that is. I hope it draws out others to share their experiences, too.

About once every 4-6 months I will get severe joint pain, usually centered in knees and hips but sometimes in my back as if someone had punched me in the kidney. My last episode in December had me limping for three days, then cleared up as quickly and mysteriously as it set in. During these bouts I will also get a red, non-itching rash on my torso. My heart rate will spike and I will often get shuddering chills in the winter (in summer I will have difficulty keeping cool). For a few days I’ll be in a mental fog where I feel dangerous driving: like I’ve got tunnel vision and can only focus on what’s directly in front of me. The lymph nodes in my neck will also get sore. Sometimes my scalp will become painfully tender as if I had a sunburn, even in winter. I’ve also been diagnosed with IBS and have the ability to clear a room like nobody’s business.

I’ve given up on finding a doctor who can figure this out. I’m lucky, though, that these bouts take place only about every 6 months and clear up after 3-5 days. Otherwise I am pretty healthy. Other than a low platelet count my blood tests have not turned up anything unusual. I’ve got very good vital signs, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep but sometimes feel fatigued regardless.

I have often wondered if these bouts might be triggered by a drop in air pressure. It seems to me that they occur whenever exceptionally strong weather fronts move through and sometimes after air travel. I do not believe stress is a trigger.

Almost always after these symptoms have subsided I get my mental clarity back to a very fine degree. It’s then that I gain an appreciation of how mentally confused I had been the previous few days.

I’m a Navy vet who spent a few months, post-war, circling the Gulf on a ship. I never set foot in Kuwait, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia. Like many others, however, I did take all the required vaccines (some experimental), and those months spent in the Gulf were spent under the blackened smoke of the oil well fires.

I’d love to hear from others who have been having similar problems.