Learning in September 2013 that the basement I lived in from November 2010 to September 2011 was teeming with hidden mold opened up a whole new avenue of treatments and health implications.
I’m not unfamiliar with mold. I grew up in a moldy trailer, went to a moldy school, lived in a flood damaged house, lived in a moldy dorm, and moved in 2010 to get out of a moldy apartment. I’d also been diagnosed with Sick Building Syndrome several times, an illness which now falls under the biotoxin umbrella of Mold/Biotoxin Illness. My entire life was spent in or around mold and biotoxins. It’s a credit to my admittedly faulty genes that I managed to partially recover from each major exposure until I was disabled in 2010 at age 36.
From infancy to age 10 I had allergies, asthma, food sensitivities, sleep issues, and fatigue. I had a lot of respiratory illnesses. My health improved after we moved into a new house and I started getting allergy shots. There’s a gap in my medical records for two years as I was healthy enough that I wasn’t seeing the doctor constantly. I even joined the volleyball team in middle school despite morning practices.
Then in October 1986 the first floor of our house flooded with five feet of water. My migraines started shortly after. It took nearly two years to get them under control with the help of a chiropractor who diagnosed me with inverted curvature of my neck. It’s a common whiplash injury but I’d never had whiplash. Spinal molding techniques and many chiropractic appointments eased my migraines and currently I average 2-3 a year. A visit to a chiropractor to pop my neck back into place eases them almost immediately.
In high school, I was diagnosed with chronic sinus issues that cleared up when I wasn’t in school. The school’s swimming pool exhaust fan was right next to the school’s fresh air intake vent. The chemicals from the pool circulated throughout the school. Poorly designed HVAC systems are a major source of biotoxins. On top of that, the school had a flat roof that was prone to leaking. It wasn’t unusual to see garbage cans in the first floor and second floor hallways during the winter, catching water that leaked through the roof and through the floor above. The presence of that much water means mold was growing unseen within the floors and walls. My doctors had no idea what to do about my inflamed sinuses so I was put on antibiotics for approximately 20 days a month, 9 months a year, for 4 years. Now many doctors recognize allergic sinusitis but in the late ’80’s- early ’90’s I was diagnosed with sinus infections, again often accompanied by respiratory issues, and given antibiotics.
I left the cool, dampness of the Alaskan coast for the desert of eastern Washington for college. We hoped the dry heat would be better for my health. It wasn’t. My dormitory was an older building that had the bathrooms/showers renovated over the summer. Soon after moving in my knees started hurting, swelling, and were hot to touch. Weather changes made it worse and I became a reliable barometer. The pain continued to get worse but an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon didn’t show any damage. By the end of the school year, I was on Tylenol 3 with codeine to control the pain and spent many days lying in bed in haze of pain and drugs. My health improved when I went home for the summer.
I moved into a different dormitory the next year and, while the knee pain wasn’t as severe that semester, I started getting sinus problems again. Appointments with ENT’s, multiple sinus x-rays, multiple courses of antibiotics, and even Prednisone barely helped. I went home for Winter Break and my health improved again. As soon as I returned to school, the sinus issues returned. It was another case of Sick Building Syndrome like I experienced in high school. I never learned what I was reacting to in that building but it was probably another poorly designed HVAC system. I moved back into the building I lived in my freshman year. That was a mistake.
Almost immediately the pain that started in my knees started spreading to other joints. At my worst, I couldn’t type because my hands/fingers hurt so much and I couldn’t chew solid food because of the pain in my jaws. I could barely walk and was living on strong NSAIDs and Percocet. A visit to a rheumatologist halfway across the state got me close to a diagnosis but her own health issues meant I never saw her again. I finished out my sophomore year with the understanding that if we couldn’t get my health under control, I wouldn’t be returning in the fall for my junior year.
Soon after my 21st birthday, I saw an Internal Medicine MD in Anchorage who took a look at my medical records, poked me in a few places, and proclaimed he knew what was wrong with me. I had Fibromyalgia. He explained that it was chronic pain condition caused by a sleep disorder. For some reason my body wasn’t getting stage 4 sleep on its own but with proper medication, lifestyle changes, and regular exercise I could control my symptoms. It took several months of trying medications before I found one that helped (cyclobenzaprine). The drug combined with a sleep schedule and walking almost daily pushed the pain and fatigue down to manageable levels. I finished out my college career in fairly good health and in off campus housing.