Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Killer House

My husband, Ted, was tossing and turning just as much as I was.  Neither one of us could sleep.  In fact, I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in years and I’m pretty sure Ted didn’t either.  I usually woke up feeling more anxious than rested. Oftentimes, I couldn’t fall asleep until the sun started to rise, only to have the alarm blast me back into consciousness. My headaches became worse and worse. The pain was so intense that I was certain my head would explode.  I was hospitalized several times a year for them. Only years later did I discover that it was actually our house that was causing my migraines and slowly killing me each time I laid my head down on my pillow.
On a windy spring morning, I watched the little hand on the clock roll around and around, from one to two, then three o’clock. Tree branches scraped the side of the house in a stormy weather dance.  In a few short hours, we were headed to Washington, D.C. and New York City for a whirlwind press tour of television and radio appearances on FOX & Friends, Greta Van Susteran, Howard Stern, Sean Hannity, Extra! Extra!, and Clear Channel radio to promote the release of our wild game cookbook “Kill It and Grill It.” The dastardly thought of dark circles and bags under my eyes for such an important event fleeted in and out of my mind many times. I tried flipping over to see if another position would calm my racing heart but nothing worked.  Ted stirred anxiously too.  I quietly wondered if I was just nervous for all of these public appearances, but something else was gravely disturbing about the way I felt. 
My heart was beating as if I was doing aerobics lying down. My head felt as though it were buzzing and spinning, like I had an IV of espresso flooding my veins.  It was bizarre.  We are just too busy, I thought.  Too busy to think that there could be anything wrong with our home environment or health. Too busy to get a second opinion from another doctor.  We discussed the possibility of slowing down, but when? There is no job security in the music business.  Ted was fortunate that after hitting his recording highs decades ago, he still had many lucrative opportunities to perform. You know the saying, “make hay while the sun still shines.” Well, we were making a lot of hay.
My migraines, however, were a problem. Since I was a teenager, I had been a health and fitness nut. I was in every sport imaginable and won over one hundred medals, ribbons and trophies for everything from motocross racing to my days as a state champion swimmer.  In college, I made my own granola and some scary Jane Fonda-type exercise videos where I donned a thong leotard, big hair and leg warmers, I digress.  I thought I’d know when there was something wrong with my body, my health.  Wouldn’t I?
Eventually, I became my own investigative sleuth and started researching the symptoms Ted, our son Rocco, and I had. It was like putting a puzzle together that had no starting piece. Oddly enough, when I traveled, I usually slept better and felt much more rested than I did in our beautiful home.  That was my first clue.  But what in the house could make us all feel so sick? 
Pulling the sheets over my head, I was actually scared to breathe the air. Were there tiny microscopic organisms slowing killing me? Ted rolled over again and I knew that the press tour we scheduled the next few days would be challenging because of how we felt.  It was.  
Later that year, in 2003, Ted, our son Rocco, and I all tested positive for toxic mold poisoning.  We had chronic fatigue, insomnia, short-term memory loss, trouble breathing, and flu-like symptoms.  Since I spent most of each day in our home office, paying bills and editing ourTed Nugent Spirit of the Wild TV show, I was the sickest.  Fortunately, Rocco was at school during the day and Ted traveled often, so they were less affected but still had health issues. Interestingly, through extensive research, I discovered that male testosterone provided an extra layer of protection against toxins like stachybotrys – the killer black mold. Both Ted and I had that and three other types of mold in our bloodstream.  Even my healthy living lifestyle couldn’t protect me from getting pre-emphysema.  Rocco’s symptoms were much less severe, thankfully, although he did acquire asthma.
Around that same time, Ted was scheduled to go on tour and, um, make hay.  My body was beginning to shut down.  I could feel it.  My mother flew to Texas to stay with Rocco and I checked myself into the Environmental Health Center in Dallas (EHCD) for a month. I didn’t want to take more prescriptions that would only mask the symptoms and EHCD had an incredible reputation for treating Gulf War Syndrome and volunteers who suffered from lung diseases during the September 11th tragedy.  I’ll never forget the day I shuffled into the office.  I honestly felt like I was dying.  A kind nurse saw me fading fast and put me into a private examination room.  I couldn’t wait to lay my head down. I wanted to rest – to sleep, but I couldn’t.  Thinking about all that we had been through the past year, slowly losing our health, I started to cry.  The nurse asked if I was in pain.  My whole body hurt.   “No”, I said.  “I just don’t want my son to see me like this.”  I took great pride in being a health and fitness advocate, but there I was, a crumpled up weakling, barely able to walk. 
At EHCD, I entered a naturopathic healing practice that basically detoxified my body. Mega doses of vitamins went into my bloodstream intravenously for two hours every day.  During that same time, an oxygen mask was strapped to my face.  In order to test for food allergies, I was put on a strict rotation diet where I could only eat one thing per meal, and then not eat that particular food for four days.  I drank a huge amount of water, exercised lightly and then went into an infrared sauna for ten-twenty minutes.  The reward for my efforts was a daily forty-five minute massage.  I wanted it to be an hour.  Within the first week, I started to regain my strength. Within two weeks, I ventured outside – with a mask.  At three-and-a-half weeks, I drove myself to my new home in Texas.
Because we were all so ill, I didn’t grasp the fact that we walked away from our 5,000 square foot MTV Cribs home in Michigan with only the clothes on our backs, and then got rid of those.  Now, I try not to dwell on the fact that we left behind Rocco’s precious baby pictures, Ted’s memorabilia, my childhood trophies, and of course all our furniture and clothes. Everything.  But we were too sick to take a chance on exposing ourselves to even one toxic mold spore, which can be approximately 1/100th of the size of human hair.  Its natural defense mechanism is to propagate, like a dead dandelion.  Despite some of the misinformation on the Internet, you can’t just wipe away mold spores and be one hundred percent confident that you got ‘em all.  Ever lose the back of an earring in shag carpet?  This is much worse.
Some people also mistakenly think that you have to live in a humid climate to have mold contamination. You don’t. Mold can grow anywhere, in any part of the world. If you have water infiltration, a porous substance, and lack of ventilation, you have mold.  We had real wood paneling on most of the walls so we never saw the black mold growing deep inside the structure of our beloved home.  I’m border-line OCD when it comes to cleaning.  Only once or twice in my life, I’ve left dishes in the sink overnight. I can’t stand clutter.  And, in addition to my constant scrubbing, dusting and sweeping, we had a regular housekeeper.  We never saw any indicators of decay or rot in our wood.  Many people jump to the conclusion that if you can’t see it, it’s not there.  Toxic mold is a silent, invisible killer.  The dog of Johnny Carson’s lifelong sidekick Ed McMahon died when water infiltration was left to contaminate his home.  Activist Erin Brokovich and her family were sickened by mold contamination in their home.  Nothing could take down Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno – except killer mold that left him with irreparable lung damage.  And now a few of our military heroes and their families have been suffering from mold exposure in government housing.  This is serious stuff.
If you just moved into a house or apartment and you have continual flu-like symptoms, headaches, nose bleeds,  and difficulty breathing,  find a reputable mold testing company in your area.  We had our house tested three times before we found answers. Proper testing can cost more than fifteen hundred dollars, but, I’m here to tell you, it’s worth every penny.  I don’t think I’d be alive today if we hadn’t taken aggressive action and moved out of that Killer House.
The good news is that the human body has an amazing ability to heal itself.  My migraines are not gone, but much, much better. My vitality and energy have been restored – and then some!  Nine years after we became ill, I’m now traveling around the world sharing my lifelong passion for healthy living teaching Zumba® Fitness classes.  My students can’t believe I can still jump like the college cheerleader I was thirty years ago! But I have a secret: Before every fitness class I teach I say a prayer thanking God for restoring my health and allowing me to dance and help guide people on a happier, healthier path of living.  After one class, a student asked if I was really delighted to teach fitness classes or if the constant smile on my face was fake.  “No, it’s not fake,” I said.  “I’m just happy to be here.” 

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