Sunday, October 25, 2009


It's official. After running the space heater in the bedroom at full blast for three straight days, the thing has died.

As Lenin famously said about cooking, sacrifices must be made. In my case it was the source of warmth for our bedroom. Fortunately, the second heater (which is so bright we can't use it when we're sleeping) still works, so I have a way to keep cooking my dresser.

I've kept at throughout the day (day #4) and am about to declare the thing done. The outside doesn't smell at all. With drawers shut I can be right next to it and breathe easily.

I only get a wiff of the fumes if I stick my nose right down into an open drawer and really breathe in. And I'm so tired of keeping my clothes in laundry baskets in the living room that I'm ready to put aside my paranoia aside about the chemical smell seeping into my t-shirts while they sit the drawers, and just put my clothes in the damn thing at this point.

If my underwear does end up smelling like the chemical coating on a flimsy IKEA dresser, I'll take them out, wash them, and start the process over. For now, I'm ready to be done.

On the upside, with the aid of the air purifier running on high, I've been able to sleep in my bed for the past two nights. After the previous nights on the sofa it feels truly luxurious to stretch out on a mattress, even there is a pile of transient sweaters next my pillow.

In the end this is all about getting all my clothes and possessions rearranged into a paragon of efficient space management, thus allowing me to have a functioning desk with a functioning desktop computer on it, that is to say, a space of my own to write. For Virginia Wolfe it was a room of one's own, but for me it is coming down to a desk of my own. I envision this as not just opening up a space in the apartment, but also a space in my brain, somewhere I can go physically that will allow thoughts to develop and stories to gestate.

Friday, October 23, 2009


This is how you cook a dresser: with heat lamps. It gets the chemical fumes to intensify, which means you are baking them off. (You must read the previous post for this to even begin to make sense.)
In the case of my MALM, the smell is worst inside the drawers, so I am pointing the heat lamp at them one by one. I've been getting a little anxious about a) whether this will work, and b) when will it be over?
The chemicals are saturating the air, so at some level it is working. (My head started to hurt a little even while I was taking this picture.) But will it be enough that eventually I wont mind being in the same room as the dresser? And what about putting my clothes in it? Will they start to smell like chemical fumes as well?
For the past two days I've been staying out of tbe bedroom as much as I can, and sleeping on the couch. I miss my bed! Tonight I will try closing all the drawers, turning down the heat and seeing if I can sleep with the air purifier running.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


As I have made only passing reference to in this blog, along with chronic Lyme comes chemical sensitivity. For those who don’t know, chemical sensitivity means you feel irritated, exhausted or choked for breath around chemicals, especially airborne ones. By chemicals I am referring to molecularly altered, toxic substances that for some reason we, as a human race, have decided are a good thing to incorporate into every dimension of our existence.

In the world outside my house people are wearing perfume and hair gel, spraying innocent apples with pesticides and antibiotics, and spewing exhaust fumes into the air as they idle their engines for the sole purpose of eating their lunches while sitting in their drivers’ seats, parked, on beautiful 70 degree days, often at public parks WHERE THERE HAPPEN TO BE PLENTY OF BENCHES! (They are no doubt enjoying their car air fresheners.)

I am member of NRDC and the Sierra Club who will someday rule the world and ban all such disgusting chemicals from our lives, but on an immediate level there is not a whole lot a person can do about these things. I once approached someone idling her engine in the parking lot of a city park and asked her, quite politely, if she would mind turning off her engine. I got the finger.

I have since taken up avoidance tactics. When I am out in the world and a wave of airborne chemicals comes toward me I hold my breath and get away as fast as I can.

The tiny apartment is my only real sanctuary. Here you will find no cleaning products besides Seventh Generation, nor is there new carpeting, nor mattresses laced with fire-retardant agents, nor sheets that were not fathered by pristinely organic cotton plants. The shampoo in the bathroom contains no phlalates or sodium benzates any other substance with names more than three syllables long.

And yet at times I must buy new furniture. In the past I have bought much of my furniture at the Soaring Heart Organic Futon and Mattress Store. This a store where an air filter is always running although no toxins could possibly be malingering, and whose primary means of advertisement is in the Seattle food co-op’s newsletter, in the form of a small-print 500-word diatribe about mindfulness, crowned by a cartoon of a heart with wings. Month after month, this thing, which they consider an ad, never changes. In other words, it’s the kind of store I love and wish I didn’t love so much, partly because it’s embarrassing to be associated with that mindfulness over-indulgence, and partly because their stuff is really quite expensive.

The other place I’ve come to rely on for furniture is IKEA. Because IKEA is a fairly enlightened company, it turns out. They have standards about child labor and sustainably harvested wood and recycling and so forth. This includes not putting too many chemicals in their furniture. For example their particle board is manufactured by European standards, meaning next to no formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals go into it. I have been told by an expert on chemical sensitivity never to hang around particle board that wasn’t made in Europe.

And so, on a budget yet desperate to organize an apartment slipping toward the appearance of a rodent’s lair, I turned to IKEA.

And when I say turned, I mean I spent hours pouring through the pages of the IKEA catalogue, and staring dazedly around the tiny apartment, relocating beds and book cases in my head. I bullied Ghusun into driving down to IKEA with me, twice, and we wore ourselves out in the maze, I with my tape measure and notepad and Ghusun, for reasons only she knows, determined to see everything there was to see and file it away meticulously in her head.

And now this: the furniture has been delivered, and all is assembled. The computer desk I put together myself, I’m proud to say in under four hours. On the bookcase and dresser I sprung for an assembly service. The cute college kid who puts these things together arrived today and did both in about five minutes. They look great, and the dresser, the MALM, has been giving off noxious fumes all afternoon.

I first noticed when I was taking my nap. “Oh it’s nothing, a little an initial smell since all the pieces just came out of the box,” I told myself. But when I woke up it bothered me more and more, so that while putting my clothes into the dresser I found myself fighting the urge to run out of the house. The thing was undeniably making me sick.

I went into the living room where I could relax and possibly brainstorm. I pawed through the IKEA catalogue once more, and reviewed the money I’d spent on this thing: MALM $140, delivery $100, assembly $66. I could never get that money back from a craigslist sale. I also checked out the pure, noble, virtuous maple dresser on the Soaring Heart website: $1,200 and change, and not as big as the MALM from the looks of it.

Then I put on my jacket and ran out of the house. Once I had some fresh air in my lungs I did what I always do when I am panicking: I called the Poet first, then my mom.

“Well, why don’t you try to cook the smell out?” my mom said. We had done this before in my first months in Seattle, when I had briefly rented an apartment that turned out to be full of toxic fumes. Paint and other minor fumes can be cooked out by cranking up the heat and later airing things out, we learned. More substantive outgassers, i.e. new carpets made from petroleum derivatives, will keep letting off fumes for months, no matter how high you get the heat or how many fans you run.

So I got back home and turned up the heat in the bedroom. The Poet called me back and before I could get into full panic said why didn’t I just meet him at the bar and then we’d go out to dinner. “We’ll work it out,” he kept cutting in before I had a chance to get the details across about the heater running simultaneously with the air filter, the clothes piled all over my bed, the old dresser fighting for floor space with my yet-to-be-stashed file boxes and the reason why I had to sleep on the living room sofa tonight.

Once we were home he deliberately remained oblivious, then toddled off to bed where I found him already quilted and drifting off amidst the chaos, murmuring to me “this is fine, baby, don’t worry, it’s all fine.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Everytime I see this I think "No, you flip off!" And then I think, I love you, Rocephin, what did I do to deserve those words from you? What could you possibly have against me? It must be one of those affectionate, ironic, 'f-you's' that only the closest of friends can share. Because, dear Rocephin, you're my bestie right now. Getting me better, one painful injection at a time.

So flip off, my darling Rocephin, flip off.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


My mom gave me a membership to the Seattle Art Museum for Christmas and so far this year I have not used it once. This afternoon I made it there for an hour. The Andrew Wyeth exhibit is about to close, which made it easier to push all the things on my to-do list aside and ged down there at last. I would have kicked myself for a long time if I'd missed those paintings.

The curator gave a 20 minute talk about this painting, Brown Swiss. She seemed to know everything about Wyeth, which was interesting enough, but the experience of standing in front of the one painting for 20 minutes made me look and look and look at it, until I was in a state of marvel. The bold shadows across the field, the way he creates the hills with just inferences, the symmetry between the pond and the shadows across the earth. I could go on and on, but here's my favorite thing: at first glance the house's reflection in the pond is the mirror image, but if you keep looking you see how the perspective in the pond is slightly shifted, because the angle of the water's reflection and the angle of the viewer's gaze toward the house is different, of course!

Friday, October 2, 2009


Just back from my appointment with Dr. Martin Ross. I told him how well I am doing on Rocephin and he was genuinely excited for me-- more than I am yet. It was nice to see him laugh and smile, even if I am not quite ready to give in to jubilation.

I did dare to ask him what the end of treatment would look like. I haven't asked this question of him or any other doctor because I haven't yet in all my years of illness come even close to having that be a relevant question, but perhaps now it might be... who knows when but I might very well get there.

Dr. Ross said he keeps treating until patients feel they are 100% better, then continues for two more months to be sure the bugs are beaten down enough that the immune system can take care of them on its own.

And if people never reach 100%? I asked.

He said yes, there are some people who have to accept they have some permanent damage from Lyme. In that case he will keep treating until the patients feel they have reached a plateau, then two months past that. He then switches to a low dose of antimicrobial to help the immune system.

So I will fall into one of two categories. I have decided I will do all that I can to be in the first.

The management of my recovery can really drive me crazy. Just yesterday I had quite a few moments when I felt overcome with despair at the drudgery of my life right now. And now today I was reminded that all the little tasks that try my patience are the most important thing in my life right now.

That means redoubling my patience, sticking to the routine, and especially keeping up the exercise that is building up my strength and my immune system every day.

That said, it's time for my nap.