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Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
To the Editor:
Many thanks for publishing Sallie Bones' letter about her experiences with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and her efforts to increase the medical and societal awareness of this disabling illness. My own experience with MCS began some 20 years ago when I inhaled the fumes from burning plastic for about fifteen minutes. Other people, including my husband, inhaled the same fumes without any noticeable effects. But for me the result was devastating. That afternoon I got sick at the supermarket standing behind a man who was chewing gum. I thought I'd faint, the odor was so overwhelming. It was hard for me to breathe. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of peppermint.
From then on, for several months, every day or every week, I had to add more ordinary substances to the things that made me ill - food, clothing, household furnishings. My weight plummeted from its customary 135 to 105. Doctors who had known me as a reliable patient for many years often implied or said outright that it was all in my head.
Relief came from a M.D. in New York who was indeed familiar with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity; he himself had the illness and he was treating dozens of patients with his avoidance techniques: no grain or milk or sugar, and other dietary limitations; no dyed or synthetic clothing, bedding and the like; no petrochemical substances, and so on. Making such changes took a while, but gradually my weight increased and my household became less toxic.
I still have strong reactions to many things I can't control - motor vehicle exhaust, fumes from barbecue starter and gasoline coated coals, strong perfumes, dampness, mold, and more. Some of my neighbors have been immediately considerate - especially those who already are concerned about the environment. But some have been needlessly unkind. One neighbor, who has since moved away, offered a half apology to my husband (but not to me), on the grounds that he simply couldn't deal with my health problems. Another neighbor, who hasn't moved away, told me point blank that I had moved into the wrong neighborhood. What depressed me more was to see these attitudes being passed on to these neighbors' children.
Sallie Bones' letter mentions her neighbors' ostracism without giving any details, but I assume that the details have been as painful for her as they have been for me. I'm certain that we are not the only two. Let's hope some readers will send details about their inter-actions with neighbors and others, so these unnecessary burdons can be aired and alleviated as much as possible. Certainly there is room for improvement all around.
Cecile Starr Boyajian