Paul’s Close Call with Death

Paul’s Close Call with Death

I’ve been working with herbs for the past 17 years now, and a recent incident made me realise how much I take them for granted and speak of them quite casually.

Paul had been complaining about being sore and tired, and was really hot and sweaty during the night, but neither of these things were unusual as he was often sore and tired because of the lifting he had to do at work, and he was often hot and sweaty during the night. I’d been giving him some herbs on and off when he complained loudly enough and he would feel better for a little while. Last week he was really sore on the Wednesday night, and had come up in spots on his legs. I thought maybe he’d been bitten by fleas because I’d been flea combing the puppies earlier that evening.

On Sunday morning he had to go to work at 4:00am. I asked him how he was feeling and he shrugged and said “I’m OK”. So I figured he was OK and went back to sleep.

At 9:45 I got a call from him – he was driving back to Hamilton from Auckland and was feeling smashed! He came home and went straight to the doctor, who sent him to hospital by ambulance. His blood pressure was really low (84/50) and his pulse was high (93), so I knew something serious was going on. I figured it was an infection, and my guess was it was probably a virus.  Without any more information, I used a combination of best guess plus intuition to decide which herbs would be best for him to take to support him while the medical team were doing their investigations to find a diagnosis. The great thing about herbs is that if you choose the wrong one, its not going to do any harm!

Paul was still in the emergency department when I got to the hospital, and they hadn’t made a diagnosis yet. The nurses had been giving him IV fluids to help bring his blood pressure up, but apart from that they hadn’t given him any medication. I gave him a couple of big doses of herbs over the next couple of hours. I mean 10 ml doses, not just a few drops which some naturopaths or health shops would prescribe.

As a medical herbalist, trained at the Waikato Centre for Herbal Medicine, we learnt to use herbs at therapeutic doses. For each herb there is a dosage range in which it has physiological effects on cellular activity or metabolism. The dosage can be increased for a short period of time in acute conditions such as an acute infection. . The quality of the herbs we use is also very important, and the suppliers I source my herbs from test their raw material to identify it as the correct herb and test it for quality.

In my dispensary I have about 150 different herbal tinctures, so I can mix and match various herbs into one medicine to stimulate the right actions in the body. With Paul I chose herbs that stimulate and support the immune system, have antimicrobial and blood cleansing effects, and are tonics to the heart to stabilise his blood pressure and heart rate.

That night, Paul had another wave of fever, with his temperature rising to almost 41 degrees. The nurses gave more IV fluids and he had a team of doctors and nurses around him. In the morning everything had normalised – his blood pressure, heart rate and temperature were all fine, and he felt fine. In fact he seemed back to his normal healthy self.

At lunchtime on Monday the medical team had come up with a diagnosis, and immediately put him into isolation! He wasn’t allowed to leave his room and anyone coming in had to wear a mask and gloves and a plastic apron. Eventually the nurse told us that the offending organism was Neisseria meningitidis, the bacterial responsible for causing meningitis. In Paul’s case though he’d had meningococcal septicaemia, which according to Wikipedia carries approximately 50% mortality rate over a few hours from initial onset! According to the doctor at the hospital the mortality rate is closer to 80% in New Zealand! The reason the doctors had taken this long to diagnose him is that he didn’t have the classic symptoms of meningitis – stiff neck and severe headache, and the rash he had was atypical in that it didn’t stay coloured when it was pressed.

When we read this we both realised what a close call he had had, and that fighting it off unassisted by antibiotics was miraculous! I realised also that the choice of herbs I had made was perfect for this infection and maybe this helped Paul pull through. The herbs I had chosen were Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia (the potent one), cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), and myrrh (Commiphora myrrha). Echinacea and cat’s claw are both immune stimulants, but also help to clean up the endotoxins, which can cause red blood cell lysis and other complications in meningococcal disease, and myrrh is described by John Heinermann in his book the Science of Herbal Medicine
“From the days of Moses to the 20th century, Myrrh has proven over and again to be one of the finest antibacterial and antimicrobial agents on earth”.

I have friends and family members who don’t believe in the validity of herbal medicine as a real option for health care, and especially not for serious health conditions, and maybe its because I talk about the herbs so casually – not giving them as much credit as they deserve for their powerful health benefits. But I also allow people to make their own choices in life and don’t want to ram my beliefs down their throats!

I believe that Paul survived this ‘killer bacterial infection’ (as the doctor described it) because of a number of factors:

  1. He is generally strong and healthy, and has a very strong will
  2. The nurses were amazing at looking after him, pumping him full of IV fluids and checking him constantly
  3. The herbs he’d been taking prior to going into hospital, and the big doses I gave him before I left for the night
  4. The friends who were sending prayers and positive vibes.

I am extremely grateful that Paul is alive and well, and for all the help and support he had that helped him get well.

There’s a little more to this story, but as I described to Paul, it’s like the downward climb on the Tongariro crossing – a bit drawn out and boring so I won’t go into details.  Paul is now home and feeling better than he has in a long time. He’s happy, healthy and no longer has sore muscles. So thank you everyone who helped and provided support, we are both extremely grateful!


Helen is a registered medical herbalist and naturopath with 15 years clinical and teaching experience. She aims to help her clients to create vibrant health through improved nutrition and better lifestyle practices, and uses herbal medicines to support healing processes. Her philosophy on health is to keep it simple and find easy ways to fit 'being healthy' into your life.

Helen is passionate about health and wellbeing, and understands metabolism and weight management as a holistic practice - working with physical, mental and emotional aspects of health, weight and body image.

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