Look Before You Leap (or Move): A Follow-Up to Marian’s Story


I speak from the vantage point of forty-four years of experience as a person with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). For the last forty-two years my chemical sensitivity has been very well under control. I was able to achieve such control almost entirely by a reasonable avoidance of exposures that triggered my symptoms. For my own health, which remains generally excellent, I received help during a couple of weeks one summer from Dr. Lawrence Dickey, a close friend and associate of Dr. Theoron Randolph. (Dr. Dickey edited a huge compendium of articles on chemical sensitivity in 1976.) I have not consulted any other physicians specializing in MCS on my own behalf.

On the other hand, I took my chemically sensitive daughters to consult with various well-known physicians and clinics in the field. In most cases those consultations led to results that were harmful, and we spent a lot of money. In one case, which involved daily shots which a daughter gave to herself, the treatment led to a vast improvement that enabled her to be an outstanding basketball player in high school and college and to receive a degree from Yale Law School. She is a leading lawyer in the field of criminal defense in her state and nationally. (Unfortunately, the clinic that was so helpful to her closed decades ago when Dr. James O’Shea died, and I am aware of no other clinic doing what he did in such an effective and careful way, without making many patients worse.)

My decades of experience interacting with physicians in the field and hundreds of chemically sensitive people have led me to believe that the field of chemical sensitivity has been and continues to be poorly understood. I’ve read virtually all the books written by those who consider themselves experts in the field and generally read all the new research articles. It’s not clear to me that research will ever come up with a way to reverse MCS in the sense that a person no longer has problems with a substantial exposure to one of their chemical triggers. For example, when the lawyer daughter I describe above bought a new house, she replaced the hot air heat from a gas furnace by baseboard hot water heat and of course she uses an electric stove.

Regardless of whether the longed-for “cure” or “silver bullet” ever materializes, surveys have consistently shown that the best way for chemically sensitive persons to improve their health is to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals and to avoid eating foods that produce symptoms in their case or to moderate or space out their intake of such foods. But reducing one’s exposure to toxic chemicals or avoiding them as much as possible is a suggestion that can be widely interpreted.

The following two paragraphs, which begin the August 30 post, “Moving to the Desert: Marian’s Quest,” are a powerful indication that some overzealous physicians, health practitioners, or activists may be doing real harm to some chemically sensitive people by suggesting an extreme course of action. There may be cases in which such an extreme course is warranted, but I think that is not generally the case. You may agree that it is debatable when you read Marian’s poignant words:

I was very ill. We took the recommendation to avoid toxic chemicals to heart. We sold our comfortable bed, the couch I had selected with so much care, the chairs that complemented it. . . . The recliners we had relaxed in for years were given away.  Sewing, knitting, crochet projects were thrown out half finished. Much of our clothing went with them. The carpets were torn up, the gas pipes disconnected. Books, housewares, personal belongings, little things of no value and little things of great value, important parts of our lives were discarded with abandon in our zeal to clean up our house and improve our health.

An attractive and comfortable house in a pleasant setting is very important to me. I cannot easily shut out my surroundings. I get nourishment and comfort from what is around me. My body is gradually recovering as the toxic level that surrounds it has decreased, but the emotional cost of making the changes was enormous. The psychological effect of seeing the house I had so carefully furnished and decorated and made into a comfortable house turned into a bare and ugly barn was devastating, especially at a time when I was physically very, very debilitated and much in need of a comfortable and supportive environment.

In following posts I will discuss the issue of relocation, particularly relocation to the desert.