Often people who suffer from undiagnosed illnesses may be experiencing multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), unusual pollen or mold reactions, food allergies, fibromyalgia, or even combinations of one or more of these.
Last spring I gave a talk to a group of allergists from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties (California). I mentioned that I liked to see allergists hire college horticulture students to map the exact species of plants growing in a patient’s yard. Sometimes, as I explained, without knowledge of exactly what is growing closest to them, it is next to impossible to figure out the problem.
One of the allergists then told me this true story: They had a patient, a woman in her 60’s, from Santa Barbara, who was extremely sick and getting sicker by the day. She was having classic symptoms of both allergy and asthma, was not responding to any type of treatment, and they were afraid that she would die. And so they took the unusual step of sending someone from their office out to her house to look it all over.
The allergist’s assistant didn’t find any high allergy plants in her yards. He didn’t find any strange houseplants in her house, nor any unreported pets or anything of the sort. He saw no walls, windows, bathrooms or anything that appeared to pose a mold problem. The house was an older one, and he doubted that it was off-gassing chemicals. He was about to give up when he noticed a door he hadn’t seen before. “Where does that go?” he asked her.
“To my basement,” she told him.
Now, because basements are rare in California, he was surprised to discover this. When he opened the door, turned on the lights and walked down the steps he was even more surprised. There, growing all over the cement floor of her basement were thousands of unusual looking mushrooms. When he asked her why they were there, she told him, “Well, they just started to grow there and I let them grow since they were so pretty.”
I’m sure you can figure out the rest of the story. He took samples of the mushrooms back to the office and the woman was tested for spores from these same fungi and it turned out that her entire system was swamped with these allergenic, poisonous mushroom spores. The mushrooms were of some rare species native to the southeastern US and no one ever did figure out how their spores had arrived in that lady’s basement and started growing.
The mushrooms were removed, the basement was cleaned up and the patient regained her health.
Another interesting episode of trigger sleuthing: A woman from Lompoc, California asked me to look over the yard of her apartment to see if I could figure out what was making her so sick. She was in her late 30’s, married, had always enjoyed excellent health, but was getting sicker and sicker. She was starting to forget things, had headaches, sore throats, was always tired, often had stuffed up sinuses, and now and then would slur her words while she was talking. More and more she would forget what she was saying right in mid-sentence.
It was a nice enough apartment, neat and orderly, and she told me that their rent was very reasonable. Inside I discovered that one wall in her bedroom, next to her bed, looked moldy. I also found another wall, a wall in the living room that also looked moldy. Outside in the yard I discovered that the rainbird sprinklers for the lawn would hit the wall directly every time they went around. There had also been a leak in the roof, directly over the bedroom wall. I suggested she hire someone to do an inside and outside mold count for her. This she did and it was found that the mold spore count was high in the yard, and even higher inside the house. It was highest in her bedroom.
She then confessed that she had tried to clean up all this mold, several times, using soap and water. Afterwards she had felt even sicker.
I suggested that she explain all of this to the landlord, and immediately move out until it was fixed.
She did explain it all to the landlord, but she did not move out. The landlord hired someone who supposedly cleaned it all up but she just got sicker and sicker.
One day a few weeks later she called me up again. She was crying and told me that her doctor said that she had MS. The symptoms she was having certainly did seem like multiple sclerosis but I didn’t think that was her problem. As we talked she would lose it, stutter, slur her words, forget what she’d just said.
She said that she’d had to take a leave of absence from her job since she just couldn’t work any more. When I asked her what she was doing instead of working, she said she was mostly just lying in her bed. It was about all she could do. “That bedroom,” I told her, “is killing you.”
I called her back later and got her husband on the phone. He was now starting to feel kind of sick himself. “Look,” I said, a little angry now, “ get the hell out of there! Leave that apartment and do it tonight. Pack a few things, go to a motel and check yourselves in. Tomorrow you can tell your landlord what you had to do. If they won’t pay for the motel bill, I’ll help you find a lawyer and you can sue him.
They moved out of the apartment that night and into a nearby motel room. He took some time off work and the two of them just hung out at the motel, watching TV, eating in a restaurant around the corner, and they slept a good deal. The landlord (I think he was finally afraid of a lawsuit) did agree to cover their motel bill while this was being figured out.
On the phone I advised her husband that he ought to start looking for a new apartment. He told me that he was starting to feel more “like himself again,” and agreed to look for a different place to live.
They stayed at the motel for two weeks and by the time they moved into their new apartment she too was starting to feel a little better. I insisted that her husband move everything from their old apartment himself. That all their clothes, everything, had to be thoroughly cleaned before he brought it into their next place. I didn’t want her to even walk in that door again, and she didn’t.
As I write this now, it has been just over two years since they moved out of that mold spore-ridden apartment. Little by little she started getting better, the slurring of words stopped, the disorientation stopped, eventually all the symptoms disappeared. Two months after they moved she went back to work. Six months later she felt so good she started taking night classes at the local college. They are now both working full time, both are taking advanced computer classes in the evenings and they are doing great. There’s been no more talk about her having MS either.