An MCS nightmare. Chris Markham, the man on my Fragrance-Free Workplaces film who has horrendous coughing spasms, has a terrible fall.


Late last night I received from Chris the alarming email below. This morning he gave me his permission to post it on this blog.

If you haven’t seen Chris on my Fragrance-Free Workplaces film, I urge you to do so in order to better understand his current plight.


Hi Alison,

I am sorry I haven’t kept in touch. I’ve been having a difficult time with my MCS, and have a tough time on the phone, not always but often, from almost constantly clearing my throat and/or coughing. 

I have not forgotten how busy you usually are, but I figured you’d want to know about this:

On March 1st I fell headfirst down the basement stairs. I did a lot of damage. I fractured the right side of my forehead and right eye socket, broke my lower right wisdom tooth, seven ribs, one of which lightly lacerated my liver, and had some bleeding on the brain. 

I have no recollection of the fall. My last memory of that night was thinking about going to bed (it was late and I had been coughing so much that night, as is often the case).

My next memory is waking up and seeing my wife and son standing over me. I thought I was in the hospital near my home that is filled with the spice-scented air freshener that I told you about, but I had instead been taken to University Hospital, Newark, NJ,  because it is a trauma center. If you remember, the fragrance dispensers in the hospital near me were even in the hospital’s two ICU rooms. 

When I woke up and my son told me I had fallen and that I was in the hospital, I panicked and my first reaction was to hold my breath. I’ll never forget the fear of what was going to happen when I would take the next breath. As you know, being brought to an emergency room is one of the greatest fears of someone with MCS because of the fragrance they may encounter there.

I had no coughing attacks during my four-day stay in the ICU. I told one of the doctors that my time in the ICU was the first time in some four years that I did not cough or choke daily. (My son told the admitting staff about my MCS and that I was a “allergic to smells” was in my chart.) The doctor said he figured this happened because the ICU air is so filtered and the staff is asked to be fragrance free.

But late afternoon on my fourth day I was transferred to a floor called  Blue 2. It was a more general hospital area where fragrances were not controlled. I was uncomfortable that night but was on a lot of meds and slept a lot. But the next day the coughing was back. There was terrible pain in my ribs of course, no matter how many pillows were held against my ribs.

I desperately covered my mouth and nose with the sheet. This was tough. Using tissues as a mask was no good; tissues smell the same as the room. I talked to teams of doctors through the sheet, and I told them I could not stay there. Although they wanted me in hospital for a few days more, they agreed. My MCS was in control again and, as you know, you cannot stop the coughing. And the coughing was very bad for the fractured ribs.

I am still in the recovery phase and have months to go, it seems. 

Okay, then. I am going to end here because it is a bit to read. But I will email you again about this incident. There is much to tell you about people I spoke to concerning MCS, and there are some encouraging results.

Best Regards,



Closing message from Alison Johnson

During my twenty-two years as an activist in the field of multiple chemical sensitivity, I have met in person or communicated by phone with well over a thousand MCS people who are trying to figure out how to cope with this perplexing condition. There will always be a special place in my heart, however, for Chris Markham, a quiet, unassuming, and dear man who is facing such overwhelming problems with such tremendous courage.

Please visit the website of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation,, and make an online donation in honor of Chris so we can continue to send out to all members of state legislatures in as many states as possible a cover letter and ten cards for my Fragrance-Free Workplaces film. Such a letter should obviously go to New Jersey legislators.

My March 25, 2018, post contains the text of the cover letter that I sent to every member of the California Senate and Assembly.  Among other things, that letter urged them to ban air fresheners in nursing homes (which they license) and to pass a law stating that existing bans on secondhand smoke cover not only tobacco smoke but also pot smoke.