Inexcess: In search of recovery

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Friday, January 23rd, 2009 Werewolf!!

Ken Walker a 45 year old doctor was rather pleased with himself and more particularly, his suntan. However, when his nails and skin started working loose and he began sprouting strange facial hair, he realised something was terribly wrong.

His wine drinking was having a complete and utter nightmarish!!!! effect on his body.

More significantly, he has subsequently realised that the problem began to emerge on the final day of his holiday whilst waiting for a taxi to take he and his wife to the airport.

More specifically, along the side of his forefinger he noticed five or six tense blisters, each one about a quarter of an inch across. I put it down to having touched some coral when snorkelling the day before. At least the rest of me looked healthy.

Dr Walker says that as someone with a Scottish heritage (not quite the red hair and freckles, but with a definite luminosity) I wasn’t used to looking like Dale Winton just after a re-spray - my suntan was unexpectedly spectacular. Even my wife was impressed.

About a week after getting home, I noticed something very weird happening with my big toenails. There seemed to be fluid underneath the nails and they were working loose. I figured my toenails could have been damaged by wearing flippers while snorkelling and diving on holiday.

If thats not bad enough a few weeks later the same thing started to happen to his fingernails and from that point of view was far less easy to explain.

After three month Dr Walker eventually went to see his GP, who was equally mystified as to the condition and was thus referred to a dermatologist. An emergency appointment was made, the diagnosis was made within a few minutes - I had one of a group of diseases called the porphyrias, affecting around 3,000 people in the UK.

There are at least 16 different varieties of the disease. Weirdly, given the fact that my skin was affected, my variety turned out to be caused by liver problems. The name comes from the Greek word for ‘purple’, and it’s a disease that is all about pigment. I had also noticed that my urine had been quite dark for some time.

In my particular variety of porphyria, called porphyria cutanea tarda, one of the enzymes needed to make haemoglobin - the pigment that gives blood its colour - was running low in my liver. Another pigment was trying to be haemoglobin, but hadn’t quite made it and was sloshing around in my system. That’s why my urine was a strange colour - and why I had such a weird Hollywood tan.

Eyes and teeth may also be stained as this particular pigment reacts with sunlight.

More notably, there was an understanding with regards to the blistering and nails dropping off, (I found out later that the term for this is photoonycholysis) and the fact that I could rub off skin from the back of my hands and fingers simply by drying them too vigorously with a towel.

Some types of porphyria, including mine, have one other weird, inexplicable symptom. You get extra hair growing on your face. Between my lower eyelids and my normal beardline, I was having to shave for the first time ever.

After some tests on my blood, urine and, embarrassingly, my stools, it was determined that the cause of my condition was quite simple - too much booze.

Even though I didn’t think I had been drinking that much, it was more than my liver could cope with. For a few years up to the sunny holiday that triggered my symptoms, I’d been downing increasing quantities of wine, despite my wife’s protests that I was drinking too much.

For twelve months Dr Walker did not touch a drop and during that year he had to wear a pair of cotton gloves to protect his skin in the house and from the effects of the sun.

He explains how grateful he was six months later and having scraped his knuckles he came away unscathed.

After two years Dr Walker appeared to have made a full recovery, having said that at his school reunion hardly anyone recognised him.

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