The day was November 13, 2014. My daughter had just had surgery the day before and was resting fitfully on the couch. I was next to her, trying my best to ease her pain. Our cat made his way out from behind the couch and jumped up to snuggle.
And that simple act was the beginning of the end…
You see, my cat smelled like mold. Horribly. I can’t describe how moldy he smelled but it was terrible. Gag worthy. I got a pit in my stomach because I knew. I had suspicions for a long time but the moldy cat sent me into hyper-overdrive. I knew we had a problem and I knew it was a big one.
I immediately pulled the couch away from the wall and the smell was overpowering. I seriously almost tossed my cookies. It was so bad. I got down on my hands and knees and felt the carpet. It was damp. I sniffed the carpet. I almost passed out. Not kidding.
And then, I had a moment of panic. I knew that I needed to test for mold and fast. Luckily, I had become online friends with another blogger, Andrea, from It Takes Time. She went through a horrific toxic mold experience years ago and I had followed her journey. She had a list of “where to start” type resources on her website so I immediately looked up the company that could do a vacuum dust sampling (called an ERMI). I ordered the test kit after an hour long conversation with the microbiologist and owner of the company. 10 long days later, I was sampling my living room, which I knew had an issue, and my bedroom, which I was positive from totally free and clear.
I will never forget the day the mold test results came in.
Monday, December 8th. I opened the email with the report and glaring up at me were numbers in the tens of thousands and lots and lots of names of various molds. I knew the report was bad. I just didn’t know how bad.
I emailed Andrea the report. She has seen hundreds of reports. She knows what she is looking at. She advised me to not return home. Yes, the mold in our home was bad. Beyond bad. We were teaming with high levels of toxic mold. We had an ERMI score of 19.04. A score of 20 is the worst case scenario. Did you read that? We were a 19.04 out of 20.
I got off the phone with Andrea, took a deep breath, then freaked out. I knew what this meant. I had been doing mass amounts of research ever since discovering the issue in the living room. I knew what was coming. Or at least I thought I did. I thought I was prepared for the worse.
Since December 8th, my life has been one giant nightmare.
The blows seem to keep coming and coming. Bad news piles upon bad news.
Mold literally ruined my life and that of my family.
Since my husband and my father were convinced there must be a mistake, I hired a hygienist and also a toxicologist (who is also an immunologist) to come in and do further testing, inspections, and evaluations. I knew there was no mistake. The mold problem explained the years of health issues my daughter and I have been battling. They explained the recent health issues that were honestly debilitating me. More on that later.
The hygienist found water damage in our living room and bedroom. Yes, the bedroom. MAJOR water damage. And here I was convinced that this room was the one that was totally cool. The water damage wasn’t from a recent event either. This was something that had been happening for a long time.
The toxicologist (Dr. Jack Thrasher – one of the nation’s leading mold experts) did further ERMI testing which also looked at the breakdown of mycotoxins being produced by the molds present. While costly, and I mean COSTLY, this test helped us better understand our exposure and what this might mean for our long term health, both from a treatment perspective but also from a permanent damage perspective.
Basically, our home is overrun with the mycotoxin Trichothecene. It is what is used in biological warfare to give you some perspective. 0.2 is considered “toxic”. We had levels as high as 5.97. That is deadly. Plain and simple. Our home was killing us.
Dr. Thrasher also tested for moisture throughout our home. Every single wall in our home had high levels of moisture. Every. Single. Wall. And yet, there was not an iota of visible mold. That scared me. How did we not know that our house was literally a breeding ground from top to bottom?
The most eye-opening portion of Dr. Thrasher’s initial visit was the preliminary neurological testing he conducted on my husband and I. My husband pretty much passed which wasn’t a surprised to Dr. Thrasher. Since Rasta Daddy isn’t home 22 hours a day like my daughter and I are, he wasn’t breathing in as many mold spores.
So what about me? Well, I failed the test. It wasn’t the worst failure Dr. Thrasher had ever seen but he did give me a hug and tell me that he was very worried about my long-term health. He pulled no punches and warned me that I may have some permanent neurological damage. Folks, this means that there is MOLD IN MY BRAIN!
We did not test my daughter but the assumption is that she is at a high risk for severe issues as well. After all, she has been living, growing, and developing in a highly toxic environment since conception.
My heart sank. My job as a mother is to protect my daughter. And here she was living in a toxic pit. Here I was living in a toxic pit.
There was a lot that happened in a one week period once we met with Dr. Thrasher and we really got an understanding of the situation. It was a whirlwind of phone calls and meetings. Of decision making. Of tears. Of frustration. Of anger. Of worry. Of blame. Of regret. Of denial. Of confusion.
So here is a quick breakdown (with more details to come in future posts to help you all understand the severity of toxic mold) of what has happened to us and where we are headed in the future:
- My daughter and I vacated our house, leaving our pets and Rasta Daddy behind. Since our health issues were the worst, we needed to leave. We left with nothing. We even took off our clothes we were wearing and threw them away.
- We invaded my parents’ house as a temporary shelter.
- I quickly purchased a couple of days’ worth of clothes and some other essentials.
- We made an appointment to see one of the few doctors in this country who specializes in mold. Sadly, she can’t see us until early March.
- I opened a claim with our homeowner’s insurance. It was denied. Mold is not covered in California unless it is due to a natural disaster. Ours wasn’t. Structural issues with a home are not covered in California unless they are due to a sudden event like a fire or flood. Ours wasn’t. So we have no, ZERO, financial assistance by way of insurance.
- We looked into a lawsuit against the builder. We met with one of the best attorney’s in our area. They were very honest with us about the likely outcome as well as how much money we would need to invest on the front end to even get a lawsuit off the ground. Unfortunately, the guy who built our home was just some local small-time plumber looking to flip a house. The likelihood that he even had anything to go after was slim. Plus, we couldn’t invest $50,000 to do what it would take to have a real lawsuit. So there is no chance of financial recourse via a lawsuit against the builder.
- We began remediating our pets. We started with our new bunny. We literally only had her a few days when we vacated our home. So Dr. Thrasher felt that she only needed a special bath and grooming which we did. Our cats however are a much more complicated and expensive story. Getting them “mold free” requires that they are all completely shaved, nails trimmed as far down as possible, orifices scrubbed, skin cleaned with a funguscide, etc, etc. It is very expensive. We have one cat who is now remediated and living with us at my parents. We are not sure what we can do about the others. Money is an issue as is our living arrangement.
So what about our house? What about our possessions.
Well, technically we are homeless right now with next to nothing. We have a very short term place to stay and a few things such as clothes and toiletries and a few toys for my daughter but really, we have nothing.
Our house basically needs to be torn down and rebuilt. It has structural issues that are not an easy fix. The house cannot simply be remediated. We have to fix the structure itself. We are already upside down in our house due to the downturn in the economy. Therefore, we already owe more than it is worth. You do the math. We obvious have no choice when it comes to the house. It make no sense to sink several hundred thousand dollars into rebuilding.
All our earthly belongings? Gone. All of them. Important tax records have been sealed up and put into storage but beyond that, we had to leave it all. Mold is a nasty living creature that intrudes upon and in every crack and crevice. It can lie dormant for 50 years. Even if you do not have the right conditions for it to grow, mold spores can continue to cause all kinds of health issues. The mycotoxin levels in our home alone preclude us from taking anything. It would be disastrous for our health. Dr. Thrasher along with many other leading toxicologists and microbiologists have made it clear that we are to take nothing.
My heart is broken. Stuff is just stuff. I could care less about our couch, our desk, clothes. But it’s the sentimental stuff. The journals I wrote in every day since the day I found out I was pregnant. The photographs that aren’t digital. The baby clothes. My daughter’s baby blanket. My dog’s ashes. My daughter’s beloved stuffed kitty that she has slept with and carried around forever. Her artwork. The things we will never ever be able to replace. Loosing memories breaks my heart wide open. It would break your heart open too.
Walking away from a mold infested home is worse than a fire or natural disaster. There is insurance coverage in those circumstances. There are public assistance programs that can help you rebuild. We have nothing. No help. We have racked up a huge debt just doing all the testing on our home. We have medical bills in our future that are going to be mind-blowingly high. And somehow, we are expected to move on with our lives and rebuild with nothing to rebuild with.
Close your eyes and put yourself in my shoes for five seconds. Can you feel my pain? Can you feel how impossible this all is?
There is however one light at the end of the tunnel and that is our health. For the past six months I have been feeling increasingly lousy physically despite doing a ton of work to heal myself. If you will recall, I had an intense surgery in January 2014 and I committed myself to healing ALL of me once I was through the first six months of recovery.
For the past few months, I had been experiencing feelings that I can only equate to being drunk. I was having horrible headaches all the time. Headaches that never went away. I was moody. More than moody. I was an ass. The mold explains everything. In case you are skeptical, I haven’t had a single headache since leaving our home. I haven’t felt drunk. When you sleep closed up in a mold infested room it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you wake up with a severe headache from mold exposure. All my goofy heart issues this past year? Mold related. My daughter’s severe behavioral changes? Mold. Her sleep issues? Mold. Her allergies? Mold. I’m even guessing that my onset of ulcerative colitis in 2010 is attributed to mold. Sudden onset of autoimmune disease is a known side effect of toxic mold exposure. I have a two page list of oddball health issues that I have been plagued with for the past 6 years. I guarantee that most, if not all, are related to the mold. I'm not pulling any punches. Had we stayed, I am quite sure I would have died far earlier than I was supposed to. My daughter? Probably not a great outcome for her either.
We had some very specific lab work run that looks at the levels of mycotoxins in our bodies. My daughter and I have extremely high levels although mine are worse. Simply put, we are in very, very bad shape with a long road in front of us.
Getting out of a toxic environment that was basically killing us slowly is a blessing. But we have a lot of work to do before we are healthy again. My daughter and I are no strangers to hard work and dedication when it comes to our health. So I am up for the challenge no matter what it takes and how far we have to travel to get help.
Rasta Daddy might not need as much help as we will health wise. That remains to be seen. However, he is starting to have some insight into what he thought we “small” health nuisances. He realizes that he does indeed have mold related health issues.
Our biggest struggle right now is building a life from nothing. I homeschool. I need stuff to do that with. I have to cook 100% of what I eat from scratch. I have nothing for a kitchen. We have no beds to sleep in. No table to eat at. No blankets. No towels.
I lost my entire library. It was extensive with a lot of unique and rare books. All my resources for this blog are gone. All of my natural health resources were ripped away from me.
My humble little apothecary – gone. I have nothing to keep my family’s immunity up and this is when we need to most.
How do you decide what to spend money on? It’s hard. Obviously we need a place to live but we don’t even have the resources to make that happen yet. How can we get all the other things we need just to survive at a basic level?
I have an entirely new appreciation for a large percentage of our population. The population that is homeless, between homes, coach surfing, living on public assistance. The population that gets by on the bare minimum and sometimes not even that. The population for which real food isn’t an option. The population for which natural health alternatives are not within the realm of possibility. I feel deeply for this population. I am part of this population although to a lesser degree. At least I have enjoyed some of these benefits over the course of the past five years. I had these luxuries and yes, real food and natural health alternatives are 100% luxuries.
Things are probably going to change on my blog. Possibly permanently. I don’t know yet. I have a small stash of posts that are already written which ought to keep things going through February. But after that? I don’t know. I have a lot of work to do related to disposing of the contents of our home as well as dealing with our health. No one will do that for us. And then there is the major matter of getting my daughter back on track with school. We are going to be at least 6 weeks behind if not more. But right now, my priority is donning a biohazard suit and getting the house emptied out so I never have to step foot in it again.
Thanks for sticking it out through this rather long story. I plan on writing more about the mold testing we did in the event that you ever need those resources. I also plan on sharing more about health issues related to mold as well as why we couldn’t save any of our possessions. This is the area that most people just cannot wrap their brains around. But it is important NOT to take anything from a home with toxic mold. So it is worthy of its own post.
Please pray for us on this journey. While words can't ease our pain, prayers and positive energy can lift us up when we need it most.