Elusive cause

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 02:50:09 AM

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THE IRRITABLE HEART: THE MEDICAL MYSTERY OF THE GULF WAR
Jeff Wheelwright . W W Norton & Company . New York . 2001 . 427 pages

Bill is 46 and a military veteran in the United States. In February 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, he was based north of King Khalid Military City (KKMC), near the Kuwait border. Later, he was assigned to guard Iraqi prisoners at a desolate camp southeast of KKMC for several months together.

Bill was witness to "ladybugs that bit and black rain from the huge oil fires in Kuwait, that smudged tents and equipment". He was also exposed to diesel oil, that the military spread on desert roads to control the dust. The slick roads led to many accidents and Bill was involved in one of them.

Later, after the war, when Bill came back home, he developed several medical symptoms including chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, when he felt his 'heart flip-flop and speed up', and multiple chemical sensitivity.

Bill is one of the five ailing war veterans profiled in this book that attempts to unravel the cause of these mysterious health symptoms common among veterans of the gulf war.

The author, a reporter in the Gulf in 1991, reviews the toxic substances in the environment, such as oil smoke and nerve gas that many believe to be the cause of these conditions. But Wheelwright tries to show that these Gulf War symptoms are contemporary illnesses unrelated to war and increasing in America while evading a biomedical explanation.

Interestingly, the book also traces these ills of the Gulf War to its precedents in military history, as far back as a Civil War malady known as 'irritable heart'.

It concludes that the Gulf War syndrome is a real illness, far beyond the medical aftermath of a desert war, involving both the body and the mind that needs to be considered as a single suffering system.

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