How did the realisation dawn on me that it is the inflammation processes in our bodies that cause every shade of sickness and health?
I can well remember painful periods of confusion and uncertainty during my medical studies in Vienna. Apart from a whole lot of so-called facts half-heartedly stuffed into my brain, which soon led to eating disorders, nothing meaningful has stayed with me.
Back then, I tried to fill the void with work experience and later with a great deal of empathy and time spent at the bedside of my patients. So my sphere of experience extends across all departments, including areas like psychiatry and intensive care, which at first glance might seem to have nothing in common with each other. But I was still unhappy. It took many years before there was any change in my state of mind.
During my student years at university I learnt almost nothing about the immune system, the stress system or the complex connections within the body. During my travel years, while I gained all kinds of different experience, I kept reaching my limits over and over again, which I later came to realise were actually the limits of Western medicine. Particularly when it comes to meaningful treatment of the many chronic illnesses of our time, the tools available to medical science are staggeringly few and far between.
In 1988 I left my career behind me and set off in search of a solution to my problems: my discontent and emotional instability, eating disorders, lack of motivation, sleeping problems and constant internal unrest.
That list includes clear symptoms of illness, which I naturally didn't recognise at the time. But more about that later.
To return briefly to my travel years, amongst other places, I worked in a refugee camp in Beirut during the period of civil war. This was a definitive time for me and showed me the extent of my own limits. From there I landed in the United Arab Emirates, where hospital work frustrated me so much that I abruptly resigned, without stopping to think I would be unemployed. That marked the start of a new direction for me and a different life.
Back in Austria, I went in search of work. Since I didn't want to return to clinic life, I took a job with a pharmaceutical company in Frankfurt/Main that dealt with blood plasma. It was there that I was forced to confront the subject of the immune system for the first time. I really had no idea.
The first book I tried to read on the subject was called "Basics in Immunology". I couldn't understand any of it and thought I must be too thick to comprehend it. That was all back in the 1980s.
Only now, after over 25 years of studying the immune system, the stress system, the nervous system and the endocrine or hormonal system – i.e. the body as a densely woven web of relationships and communication – do I have the courage to say that book is simply a bad one, and served only to feed my growing uncertainty.
Slowly, the vision which drives me until today appeared on the horizon. This vision fills my life with joy.
"You no doubt want to know who is talking to you here, so who am I?
Well, I survived a fall into the Viennese Danube Canal with my two female border terriers in the freezing month of February.
I also survived a trampling by a whole cowherd in Davos. Believe me when I say that I know what it means to have to summon all your strength and your will to live, or in scientific terms, to mobilise your stress system."
And so it was in the 1990s that an exciting journey began for me, at the centre of which inflammation now stands. The subject is a fascinating one that stretches throughout human history, or at least from antiquity, and is found in all cultures. Inflammation is what unites the body and makes it a harmonious whole.
Modern science has only just begun to research it and struggles to do so, for it takes time – often generations – to shrug off long-standing beliefs and ideas.
But the chronic illnesses that plague us, for which we have no effective treatment, require a rethink – a process that is moving far too slowly, particularly for many current sufferers. Understanding inflammation also means having a clearer view of the pathway to (re)solve it. For me, this realisation was one of enlightenment and a sense of release from the straitjacket of medical science.