I spent most of 2003 in Dallas, Texas as I have mentioned in an earlier post. I returned home three days before Christmas. Things were out of sorts for me. I didn’t feel like I fit in. My world was a single room in the house my husband was building for me and everything I had was in that room. In the beginning that world consisted of a metal cot with cotton blankets folded and layered to form a makeshift mattress, a clock radio with a CD player, a dorm size refrigerator, my cell phone and some books that I had ordered and had delivered in time for me to have something to read. During this time I consumed books and did a little embroidery. I had no television, no landline phone making it difficult to stay in contact with those in Texas that understood my struggles and loneliness, and for the first few days a bucket for a toilet.
Eventually my husband bought me a television and my daughters bought me a DVD player and my connection to the world, a computer. I began writing and one of the first things I wrote was how it felt returning home after being gone for so long and not being a part of what was going on at home. I felt disconnected from everyone and everything. I began to think what it must feel like for the soldier to return home after a long tour of duty.
RETURN FROM THE BATTLEFIELD
I recently returned from a year of testing and treatment at an environmental health center. As I have begun to realize the scope of my disabilities, I am reminded of how the soldier must feel after returning from combat. I can only speak for my feelings and imagine what it must be like for the soldier.
We return to find ourselves in the middle of a story. We have lived in a different world, lived a different life, carried on conversations with strangers who would later become our friends, our confidants.
Suddenly we are thrust back into our world only to find out that we don’t fit in anymore. Those whom we loved and befriended in our old life have moved on. Life didn’t stop while we were gone. Conversations went on without us. People speak of things and we don’t know how to react. What are they talking about? We are being given a test and expected to answer but we don’t know the questions.
We have seen and been through things that we can only begin to describe to those in our “old” life. How can a soldier tell of battles on foreign soil, death, fear? How can he expect those around him to truly understand if they have not been there themselves? How can I tell of testing things that are now poison to my body and the fear of dying in a reaction? How can I describe seeing a patient fall to the ground just from inhaling the wool of someone’s jacket that passed by her? How can I describe someone being happy and talkative one minute and at the injection of a minute amount of chemical become quiet, go into tremors and have trouble breathing?
Soldiers have seen their buddies die before their eyes. Seen limbs blown from bodies. They have walked along side each other day by day defending our country. They have shared the joys of defeat and the sadness of loss. Soldiers arrived as strong, healthy young men and women; ready to fight for their country. Some return home, bodies intact, but emotionally scarred. Others return home missing limbs or recovering from severe wounds to the body.
The patients I met came from all walks of life. They were pilots, doctors, beauticians, musicians and homemakers. There were men and women; however this battle affects more women than men. They were attacked by chemicals produced by mold (toxin), pesticides, chemicals introduced through remodeling. It happened in homes and at the workplace. These chemicals have destroyed our immune systems allowing our body to attack everything it comes into contact with thinking it is the enemy. I have sat beside patients day in and day out in the testing room, in the IV room, in the sauna room. I have heard their stories and told them mine. I have seen a different kind of death. I have seen a death of spirit, emotion and hope for becoming well. I have seen bodies that were once healthy become ravaged from malnutrition. I have seen those with once healthy appetites reduced to eating one or two foods per day because their bodies will no longer tolerate foods.
Our worlds are forever changed. The soldier may not be able to return to his job. He does not fit into society as he did. He may not be able to walk; he may be missing a limb. He may require constant care for his wounds.
My life is forever changed from my battle as well. My battle was with mold and mold mycotoxins. My wounds were many. I suffered six sinus surgeries, numerous bone infections of the sinus and a hysterectomy. I can no longer work. I cannot tolerate the chemicals used in today’s world. I cannot go into the store to shop for food or groceries. I cannot eat foods I once enjoyed. I live in a bubble of sorts; confined mostly to my room with my computer, television and a cot with blankets for a mattress. I take endless amounts of shots daily to survive my environment. I am isolated. I spend 45 minutes a day in a sauna sweating toxins out of my body. I get my vitamin supplements through an IV once a week. I can no longer visit friends in their homes, go to the movies, go shopping. To come into my bubble you must wear a suit and booties to protect me from “your world”. You cannot wear perfume or colognes, aftershave, hairspray, scented lotions or shampoos. I cannot tolerate dry cleaning solution on your clothes. The slightest bit of mold can send me into tremors.
The soldier and I are misfits. We have a hard time adapting our new ways to our “old” lives. We bare scars emotionally and physically. We have jumped into the middle of a movie and missed the crucial part. Talking with those who have endured the battle with us helps with the sanity when the world around us seems to be falling apart.
We as people need to be more aware of what we are putting into the environment. We need to be vigilant in remediating water damage immediately. Dampness brings mold growth. We are making our homes and offices too airtight. The chemicals from particle board, carpet, paint and glues build up in the buildings with nowhere to escape.
Many will be attacked by environmental illness in their homes and on the job. This attacker does not discriminate between wealthy or poor. It does not care if you are an accomplished doctor, pilot, teacher, homemaker or delivery driver. It does not care if you are young or old. I have seen patients much older than I and I have witnessed young children sitting next to me in the testing room. It may start out with respiratory problems, flu-like symptoms, or an infection that does not want to go away.
Many soldiers will continue to be wounded physically and emotionally on the battlefields fighting for our country. As long as there are people on this earth the reality is there will be war and battles. Men and women of our country, young and old, will lose their lives. As with environmental illness, war and its destructive path does not discriminate between young and old, men or women, high school educated or college educated.
I fight my battle daily in hopes of one day being less fragile. I will never return to the life I had before. I will always have to watch out for chemicals and mold. My dream is to have a little more freedom and flexibility in my life and that this illness does not call more unsuspecting souls into battle. The soldier dreams that one day there will be no more wars.