Am I the Enemy

Teen publishes journal chronicling battle with illness
Special to the News Sentinel
Nineteen-year-old Nathan Wells kept a journal throughout his bout with mercury poisoning. After publishing it in October 2011, he used some of his earnings to buy supplies for Hurricane Sandy victims.

By Melissa Priode

Two years ago, 19-year-old Nathan Wells of Lenoir City said he experienced a headache the likes of which most would classify as torture. The headaches lasted 189 days until April 2010.

The pain became so severe that he couldn’t stand up or be around any noise at all.

In addition to the headaches, he began experiencing severe nausea and lacked an appetite. He began losing weight quickly. “I was losing weight so fast that my body went into stress mode. Every time I would take a shower, my hair would fall out. I had weakness in my legs and some temporary paralysis,” he said.

Wells, who published a book about the experience, was seen by more than 40 specialists including neurologists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, pediatricians and even an orthodontist.

“The day my headache started was the day my braces were removed. They thought my teeth were trying to shift, but after it didn’t go away, we knew it was something different,” he said.

Combined with lack of appetite, effects from medicines caused Wells to reach a low of 89 pounds on his five-foot, three-inch frame.

Wells said he then felt a sharp, loud pop in his head. His family also heard the pop and rushed him to the emergency room. An MRI determined the sensation to be a skeletal shift. His bones were trying to figure out a way to get out of pain, he said. “After that incident, a lot of people started wondering if they were losing me,” Wells said.

He visited the Cleveland Medical Clinic in Ohio with hopes of a diagnosis, but there was nothing conclusive.

“Nothing came out of the trip to Cleveland, and I thought, ‘This is it. I’m taking charge of my life,’” he said. “When the specialists would argue, I thought I would end up dying before they could agree which direction to look into.”

The Wells family explored alternative medicine, sending him to a physical therapist and an acupuncturist.

He said the acupuncture was the greatest peace he had during the duration of the illness, and that it helped ease his mind. He also kept a journal throughout the illness, as a way to cope and process what was happening to him.

“I journaled every day because I didn’t think I was going to live through it. I thought it was going to be my last communication because nobody could diagnose me,” Wells said.

The illness had caused him to fall behind his junior year at Lenoir City High School. A homebound teacher was not an option since he could not stand noise or movement, and it seemed the only solution was to restart the entire school year.

Mary Anne Tsakeres, a family nurse practitioner with advanced clinical training in nutrition, finally diagnosed his symptoms as mercury poisoning. Wells believes the mercury came from a flu vaccine he was given two weeks before the headaches began in October 2009. The vaccine was to prevent the developing strain of the flu virus known as “swine flu.”

“Chronic mercury toxicity can have symptoms that appear very vague and can be confused with numerous illnesses. Mercury is found in many different sources in our environment and can’t be pinned down to just one particular source as the causative factor. Everyone is an individual and reacts in different ways and with varying degrees,” Tsakeres said.

Wells and his family were relieved to have a diagnosis, and Nathan began a mercury detox program, which included an extensive nutrition and vitamin regimen. It took several months for him to recover.

Nathan felt that his story needed to be told, and he saw his journal as an outreach tool.

He began typing and editing the journal, a process he said helped him recover mentally. He added prefacing information about his pre-illness life and reflected on entries. He decided to leave any errors to show the state of mind he had been in while writing, and to give the reader a visual and mental image.

Wells called his journal “Am I the Enemy?” — a question he asked himself while being shuffled from doctor to doctor.

After the journal was published in October 2011, he found out that he had not been alone in his struggle.

“Hundreds came to me and had all experienced similar reactions. We went through the same stuff, but all of the people presented in a different way,” he said.

He was able to finish high school by being homeschooled, and he began online college courses through Tennessee Tech. He is currently double-majoring in pre-med and psychology and working at Parkwest Hospital.

“I do not preach against getting vaccines, with the exception of the flu, of course. Just research what you are doing. Alternative and western medicine are not the answer by themselves, but together there could be a lot of people in better health.”

Some healthcare providers do offer a mercury-free flu vaccine, .

Proceeds from the book benefit a different charity monthly. The book is available in print from, in eBook through Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Amazon and as an audio book from Audible. Wells is also on Twitter at