This story is one that I hope it won’t be hard to tell. I’m looking at it as a positive thing right now. Or detached. Or minute to minute. I’m trying not to think about the overall impact, the meta-version of this story. Because that would be too much.
It starts about a year and a half ago…
The Day of the Rain
It was a warm, rainy May morning. The kids and I were hanging out at home. My youngest was still a newborn, so I spent much of time sitting on the couch, nursing.
The older kids got hungry and headed for the basement to get a jar of applesauce to eat. When they came back with it, they were excited over something: “Mom, there’s water in the basement! You have to come see!”
I put the baby in his swing and headed down to the basement. Indeed, there was water. It wasn’t deep and it didn’t cover the whole basement, but it was soaking a piece of carpet we’d put down there a few years earlier, plus some of the fabric I’d stored down there. It was enough to concern me.
I called my husband at work to let him know about this. He cut his day short and came home after lunch to assess the damage. Ultimately, we decided that there wasn’t enough water to be an issue, and did nothing about it. We figured that it would go into the drains in the basement floor and that the carpet would dry in a day or so. There was no pad under it, so it shouldn’t take long.
We learned later that one of our kids had unplugged the sump pump, and that’s why the basement had flooded that day. We plugged it back in and got it working again and figured there would be no more issues. (And there hasn’t been, with additional water coming in.)
My dad swore when he came to visit the next time that the basement smelled “mustier” than he remembered before. I quietly wondered if he was right, but dismissed it. Basements just smell that way…and there’s nothing wrong with it.
Only, there was.
Things seemed to be okay for the rest of the year. But early the next year (2014), we started to get sick. We’d all had a brief, minor stomach virus around Christmas, but that was the only time we’d been sick in six months. Until mid-February.
It started with a bad cold.
When that cleared up, norovirus hit the family and stayed for two weeks, hitting the littlest one twice. And then, I ended up with every respiratory infection known to man, back to back to back. My throat was sore for weeks at a time, my glands swollen, I had fevers, I was exhausted, congested, coughing. The kids thankfully didn’t have most of this, but I was miserable.
It was finally suggested to me (by our chiropractor) that maybe, just maybe, mold was causing all these illnesses. I was advised to open the windows and air out the house.
We had had our heat or our a/c on continuously for months. I shut it off that very weekend, to stop the stale air from circulating, and opened the windows with box fans in them. Within days, I began to feel more clear-headed and less stuffy, and respiratory infections became less frequent.
But it wasn’t that simple.
When we were out of town for almost a week in July, everyone improved. The kids’ energy levels rose, and they stopped complaining of daily headaches, stomachaches, and more. Even though they were eating more sugar than I’d like (they were staying with grandparents), they were better. Within a week after returning home, the complaints began to creep in again.
I had a jar of magnesium lotion that had been sitting, open, on my nightstand for months. I was using it every night but I wasn’t sleeping well at all. I tried using more, and I slept worse. This made no sense! I stopped using it for a few days and my sleep improved some. Then one night, in the middle of the night (after decent sleep for me, and poor sleep for a child) I touched the lotion in hopes that magnesium would help the child rest better. I only got a tiny bit on my hands and went back to bed.
Within minutes, I was congested, junk was draining down my throat, I began to cough, and I slept extremely fitfully and woke up exhausted. It was then I connected it: dust, containing mold spores, had contaminated my lotion — and I’d been rubbing that on my skin! I immediately threw the lotion out and made a new batch, which solved that problem.
The kids continued to show low appetites, low energy, irritability, and complain of headaches and stomachaches fairly often. (At least one child each week.) The younger two began to get fevers or have vomiting episodes about once a month. The youngest, especially (now 17 months) began to develop food allergies, especially to grains. Any grains cause immediate diarrhea and sometimes vomiting.
This was not normal. I knew it was not, but I could not convince anyone that it was serious. Yet.
Finding the Mold
My husband did not initially believe that mold was an issue, or that it would be that serious if it were an issue. But I was reading about mold online, and talking to personal friends who had dealt with mold. They were screaming, “This is so dangerous. Get out right now!”
We decided that we would clean the basement out, and remove the carpet, and then call professionals to assess the damage before deciding what we would do.
I headed down to the basement, wearing a mask dotted with Thieves essential oil and gloves. I began to clean up the area where I knew the mold would be.
I found a pile of fabric — perhaps 5 – 6 yards, folded, about 30 to 40 layers thick. It was filled with mold. Every last bit of that fabric was covered in black mold. The bottom piece of fabric was filthy, brown, and spotted black, its pattern almost obscured by the amount of mold on it. All of it went into a trash bag. Beneath that, there was a giant black spot (perhaps 20″ across) of black mold.
Now I knew there was a problem. A big one.
The plan was to throw everything in the basement away. I wanted to call a professional, but my husband chose to do it himself. He wore goggles, gloves, and a respirator mask for the job. So did my dad, who helped. We set up a diffuser with Thieves oil in it (which can help kill mold) and an air purifier with HEPA. I thought that this would be enough to make it okay.
They rented a truck, and they carried all of the papers, fabric, and other trash out of the basement. And then the carpet, too. Surely the mold was gone now?
After my own time cleaning the basement, I felt sick for a week. I was exhausted, brain foggy, and could not eat. Any time I tried to eat, I would feel nausea, bloated, and have to go to the bathroom immediately. I was weak. I spent most of the time lying down, drinking water and fresh fruit smoothies, which cleared up the symptoms after a few days.
The “big” basement cleaning came a week later, just as I was finally feeling better. With the air purifier down there, we assumed that within a day or two, things would be better.
But they were not.
Our laundry was down there, so we had to go sometimes. My husband got a headache immediately when he went down to do the laundry. All of the laundry that came out of the basement smelled musty, even though it had not sat out at all. It went straight from the dryer upstairs. The musty smell came up through the floor and into our living room so that half of the room smelled musty. Any blankets or clothing that sat on that carpet picked up the musty smell, too. One of my children cuddled with a musty-smelling blanket for a few hours one afternoon and threw up that night.
My congestion came back. Some of the kids complained of headaches and stomachaches. Everyone’s appetites dropped. I started begging my husband — we have to get out. Look what it’s doing to us.
He went to see his alternative doctor on Tuesday, who muscle tested him and found mold in his body — and that this was the primary “issue” that his body needed to deal with. At that point, he realized how serious this was. We all had mold in our bodies, and our brain fog, fatigue, lack of appetite, anxiety, depression, and various other symptoms would not go away until we were no longer being exposed.
A walk through of the house showed large, brown “water spots” in the ceiling in multiple places — that were larger than some minor water damage we’d had years earlier, or in places where damage hadn’t occurred. The shower had black mold and mildew (which we haven’t used in a year or more). The kitchen sink had leaked at one point, and there was mold under there. There was an area of the wall near the back door that had holes in it. The windows had leaked and water had run down the walls and into the carpet.
Even the dishwasher had leaked. And when it did, it had come from the pipes behind it, and had run along the sub-floor and pooled in the carpet in the playroom. We attempted to clean it up with a shop vac and a fan, but it took us two days to realize where the water was even coming from (we assumed the kids had spilled something initially). That large area of the carpet, perhaps two or three feet in diameter, despite our attempts to clean and dry it, is black and discolored.
Mold. Everywhere, mold.
It’s Time To Go
We realized that the mold was in enough places in the house and that the spores — mycotoxins — had permeated every area of the house. Even if we tried remediation, there would be no way to make the house truly safe to live in again.
We had to go. And we had to take almost nothing with us.
This is where we are now. Making plans for “what next.” Getting the mold assessed so we know if there’s a tiny chance of getting the house remediated, or if we’ll need to sell it to a development company who will completely rehab and remodel the house. We won’t know for a few more days what that situation is. From the people we’ve talked to who have gone through this, we know that this is one of the more serious situations. But we don’t know how serious.
We’ll be losing everything that is in the basement still. All the food that I canned last year. All of the blankets, clothes we saved, mementos we kept. All of it.
It is likely we will lose all our other clothing too. The heirloom, hand-sewn blankets and quilts that haven’t been in the basement, we will try washing in vinegar or having professionally cleaned so that we don’t lose those too. But we might. The glass jars and other non-porous items, we’ll spray with vinegar and Thieves, or boil in vinegar water to try to save.
All porous surfaces? Those are gone. All our beds. Our couches. Our books, likely. Everything.
We lose everything.
A New Adventure
I’m trying to see the positive in this situation.
We wanted to move anyway. Not quite like this, but we have wanted to for awhile. Finally, we’re making it a priority and we’re moving forward.
We held off on buying a lot of things we needed or wanted, like a new toaster or a new, bigger bed. Now we will get to buy those things, and not feel like we’ve wasted anything or lost too much. We kind of needed to buy those things anyway, and had kind of planned for them in the next several months.
We get to choose new items together. We didn’t pick this house (my husband bought it was he was 19, before we met). A lot of our other items were hand-me-downs that we took from anyone who would give them when we were poor newlyweds. We will now get to choose new items together, intentionally.
We wanted to pare down our possessions and keep only those which are truly necessary. We wanted to live with less clutter. Now, we are starting over and will have items we choose very intentionally. No more clutter. No more waste.
We get the gift of starting over. The gift of valuing family and health over “stuff.”
Our kids are excited. They want us to get a small, two-bedroom apartment with a pool and a playground. They want to share a bedroom all together and have a chance to swim and play nearly every day. That’s all they want. They think this is fun, and do not see it as a loss at all.
What remains is, what next? How will we heal from the mold exposure? And where will we go?
Stay tuned for part 2…
Have you faced toxic mold?
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