“The GI (gastrointestinal specialist) agrees with you,” my neighbor announced triumphantly when I opened the door.
“Then it must be right,” I drawled dryly.
Undaunted, she walked in and happily relayed the details. Several weeks ago, she had approached me with the seductive come on…”I know how much you like medical mysteries…..”
She then went on to explain a strange vomiting illness that she developed every time she went to visit her husband who worked and lived in another city. After 24 hours, she would be overcome with a flu-like illness and have to spend a day or two in bed. She and her husband traveled extensively but this situation only occurred and it occurred every time, she went to their apartment in New York. China, Rome and Chicago: No problem. New York: Two days in the bathroom.
She had already talked to several doctors and specialists when she approached me and they were all “baffled”, in her words. She had been given a clean bill of health and sent from one specialist to the next.
I started with the kind of questions that come to mind when the unusual occurs….
Did it ever happen, even once, somewhere else?
Are the symptoms always the same?
Yes. I am fine for the first 24 hours and then get the same vomiting illness.
Are there any other symptoms? Itching? Fever? Tingling of the hands?
Do you have any other medical problems or are you taking any medication that could sometimes cause these symptoms?
My internist says, “no”.
Does it happen if you stay other places in New York?
Not sure because I always stay at the apartment.
Is the apartment in an old building?
Yes, but we renovated it.
The insides are new?
I told her I was suspicious about the building and suspected a reaction to mold. I had run into several cases of building mold causing strange symptoms and too many were linked to pre-war buildings in New York City. Nonetheless, I asked her if I could present her case to a medical study group I belong to, to see if any of the doctors or therapists in it had any additional ideas. She agreed and until she rang my doorbell, I had not seen her for several weeks.
The study group had two alternate lines of consideration. One line was psychological and the other biochemical. Was she emotionally reacting to moving between two very different lives: one here and the other in the big city? Interestingly, the doctors in the group were curious about psychological causes. The other idea was solvents from sealing floors or other chemicals used to renovate.
I presented both these possibilities to her. She balked at the psychological suggestion claiming it was more relaxing in New York than being here where she was on frequent grandmother duty (which she loved but was exhausting). The floors were installed pre-finished, so there was no off-gasing, there. The paint had dried and aired out long ago.
So, we were back to GI guy agreeing it was something in the apartment and reconsidering mold. I gave her the number of a great company that sells mold test plates and she said she would run the tests. (FYI…the company is called Tennessee Mold Consultants and not only do they run a mean test, the results provide specific counts and mold type.)
Will let you know what happens.