In November of 2019, I was the “healthiest” person anyone that knew me knew– an active person, mindful of my nutrient intake, and staunchly avoidant of “toxins”. Little did I know, I was coming down with a respiratory infection. First, it seemed like it would just come and go, but it ultimately stuck around, affecting my lungs on my long, daily walks that I loved. It was concerning– I’d randomly get terrible dizzy spells and become wiped out afterwards upon too much physical activity. I had no understanding of what it was, or that various odd symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and the respiratory congestion could’ve come from the same place.
Then came November 2020. My dad came home with “a cold”. Still trying to fight the remnants of whatever plagued me before, and informed of the threat of COVID, I told my dad to get tested. He came back, and it was COVID. Soon, my dad was admitted to the hospital, and not long after, I got the same symptoms. He was released in a couple of days without any advice on what to watch out for for any signals to come back to the hospital. Days later, he became very short of breath with low oxygen. After fighting himself assuming they wouldn’t want him to come back but he probably should, he was re- hospitalized. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able make it out again.
The shock of my father being gone made everything seem unreal. Two more of my loved ones were affected within the coming three months—both my brother and cousin, who lived in different places—were in the ICU while I was still fighting the affects at home. Thankfully, they both made it out and neither were put on a ventilator, unlike my dad. Still, it was very close for both of them. Meanwhile, I was implementing all of my nutritional weapons. I refused to let anyone come over and help or comfort me out of fear I might possibly get them sick– despite the normal window of contagiousness being long passed.
It was impossible just to put away a single dish some days. Everything took so much effort. I had to sit down any time I showered, and even then, it took so much energy. My mom came over and took the garbage out since the one time I tried I got extremely winded and felt the after- effects for days. At one point in February, I went to the hospital due to a flare up of stabbing chest pain, along with sharp pain in other organs. My symptoms were concerning, and the hospital was fittingly concerned, trialling me to the front quickly. All of my vitals were normal, aside from my respiratory rate of 20 that was on the not- so- good side. When I walked in, they asked if I was running, when I simply walked from the car.
They weren’t able to find any issues despite hours of tests, an X- ray, and ECG. I was relieved, but frustrated. The ER doctor who I saw late into the night told me I must have some kind of reactive airway syndrome post- COVID. I explained to her how I could get winded just from sitting up and trying to find something in my purse. She admitted it was very new and they were still learning. They gave me an inhaler which when I tried brought my oxygen lower than ever (though not at an emergency level) and caused some chest pain. My oxygen level took days to get back to normal.
So very slowly, my strength built up. The time came that I had to move out of the house I had with my father, so I slowly packed as I had the strength. With immense help from my mother and grandpa, I was fully out. I found a perfect temporary situation where I could build rental history, then it was time to find a place where I could have a dog I’d wanted. This time moving, I felt more capable than I had in many months. I was able to do a lot of it in my own, but it was taxing. After a few weeks of being settled, I started noticing yelling, stomping, and slamming above me. While I tried to mind my own business and not be a busybody, I couldn’t ignore it after one day I heard an enormously loud “thud” followed by crying. I wasn’t sure if a large piece of furniture was thrown, or a body, but I told myself I couldn’t continue not to do anything. The rest of the day was completely calm.
The next time things flared up, with a similarly loud “thud” interspersed with crying and yelling, I had to call. I reported what I heard and nervously left my apartment because I didn’t want to seem like I was home—the one who called. To my dismay, the police were already outside, talking to the woman. She looked annoyed, explaining that nothing was going on, as is the case in many of these situations. Not making the effort to even address the offender as opposed to the one with possible Stockholm Syndrome, the cop went up to me acting like I must’ve hallucinated it. After months of continued yelling and seeming payback for trying to help the victim, there was stomping every morning at 430 am all the way until 10-11 pm. I was so sleep deprived that my lungs started to burn and I felt I was getting sicker, even without being sick—not to mention the toll on my mental health. I came to the decision that I had to break my lease, and started looking for somewhere else to stay.
I was amazed to find a place in the small town next to my increasingly populated city of origin, with one of the lowest crime rates in the country. It took a long time for anything to come up where I could bring the puppy I had gotten—hence why I moved into the prior apartment in the first place. The market in the town was very competitive and there were several instances of listings coming down within a matter of days. Everything seemed perfect, I went to look at it and the neighbour lady, friendly as can be, greeted me and acknowledged my dog in my carrier. I was delighted to see that she could be my neighbour and was so sweet. I called the property management company immediately to have them check my application, while being interrupted by the sweet lady talking to me through the glass door, smoking a cigarette, making the air hard to breathe and talk at the same time. Yes, it was annoying, but I wrote it off as simply being overly friendly—we’ve all known people like that, right?
After I moved in, the woman’s smoking habit, right outside the door of our building became an irritant for my already twice- assaulted lungs, still recovering from long COVID. After only a week or so, I began having chest pain and became exerted very easily. I could no longer go on the hikes that were one of my favourite features of the town—which partially caused me to hold out for so long in finding a place. I did think—because of my prior problems—to ask more questions about the lease upon moving in. I asked the rules about smoking and the distance from the building. He said the minimum was 50 feet, knew I had long COVID, and assured me that if it was an issue “it would be dealt with”. I reluctantly told my property manager the smoking was a problem. He remembered our conversation, very apologetic, and assured me the lady wouldn’t want to do any harm, and it would stop promptly. So, I try to be patient, and wait weeks, leaving my unit often because I couldn’t bear to be in there.
I came to the horrifying discovery realized that she had been smoking inside too. She kept her front door wide open, where the smell of fresh smoke would billow out of all day. With increasing chest pain and at times pain with breathing, I was honestly worried about dying. Naturally, I went to the doctor and mentioned the situation. Affectingly, he seemed to doubt I could even be affected by such a thing. He asked if I’d gotten new pets lately. Well, he’s “hypoallergenic”, and I never had the issue while having him until I moved in. Miraculously, I felt all better when not inside the house. He listened to my lungs and didn’t hear anything “off” (they didn’t hear anything when I was in the thick of COVID, either). I had to beg for an X- Ray, where they found nothing. It’s very common in those with long COVID to have this happen, where numerous, more standard tests find nothing. Persistent practitioners are able to either refer out or dig deeper and indeed prove doubters wrong. He wasn’t the only one I felt gas-lighted by.
The property manager who I contacted far less than I should’ve out of fear of being annoying (people pleaser, much?) informed me that the other tenant denied it “vehemently”. She claimed “I hated her”, cried, and told the manager I wouldn’t let her pet my dog? Hilarious, considering I’d endure her smoke in my face just to let him have the social interaction, and to be nice. And also, telling she thought she’d be entitled to pet my dog, as if that would be a legitimate way to take the attention off of her smoking inside and lying. Somehow, it worked. The property manager didn’t even bother to come see for himself despite me explaining repeatedly how obvious it was with the door wide open, and that it physically hurt my lungs, interfering with my ability to accomplish normal daily tasks. I had to set up a “safe zone” in my bedroom where my poor dog and I stayed any time possible. We had a backyard we couldn’t enjoy because the lady allowed her front and back door to be open at all times, airing out her hot-boxed out and releasing it for the neighbourhood. It was so bad that coming out the front door that my never- smoked- in- car began to smell. I hated it. I was so embarrassed at anyone coming in contact coming in contact with my car that I was sure they had to smell it– thinking I was a bad dog mom for smoking in my car with my poor, sweet and adorable guy. I remember during this time I began craving green tea, matcha lattes with lavender syrup. Being passionate about health– despite the discouraging challenges—I looked up why that could possibly be the case. Come to find out, green tea was found to mitigate the effects of cigarette smoke in the lungs of those exposed.
Of course, as I experienced, nothing really made up for the assault my health was facing at the time, but those little empowering things that felt like divine insight, and I could share on them with my followers to possibly help or encourage someone. It made me hopeful that just possibly, this lemon would somehow be manufactured into lemonade. All of my previous health and even life struggles always seemed to turn out that way looking back. Something I also noticed is I got bit by mosquitoes. See, I’d remedied that with thiamine, a nutrient (B1) which for most can repel mosquitoes when adequately dosed. Sadly, despite taking enormous quantities in my B complex, I was that depleted. Again, moved to look into it, I found that sure enough- Cigarette smoke depleted B1. But I also found when searching that studies found some nutrients helped kids stuck in living situations where their parents smoked inside—particularly, vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid. So I added that to the mix, along with a lung- supportive herbal blend I could no longer go without but was able to for many months since kicking COVID.
Finally, I got fed up with having to alter my life to the point I couldn’t enjoy the place I was paying for. In fact, I regularly went out of town or booked an Airbnb to give my lungs a rest. The property managers strung me along for months, dangling the carrot of something being done—so I felt robbed—of my money, health, and to a point, happiness. So I looked at other places. But the housing market was competitive here where I am and I wondered if I’d get to anything in time. Eventually I saw a yellow unit come up, called the landlord immediately. He answered, said he’d just put it up, surprised that he heard from me. I did what I could to see it as soon as possible. By the time he could show it, I had the flu and was very weak thanks to the living situation and long COVID combined. But since he said he had someone else wanting it, I agreed to wear my mask and look by myself.
It didn’t look great inside, but the yard was huge—a great selling point being that I had a dog. More than anything, it only shared a couple walls with the next unit and was on the end. I had so much free space not shared with anyone, and lots of room outside between it and the next house. Being in the Nutrition field and very informed on commonly unknown threats to health, I’d been a stickler for catching signs of water damage and mold: musty smell? Immediately no. Warped wood or tattered- looking walls? Next. I was admittedly desperate, but wanting a second opinion, terrified to make yet another mistake, I called my mom and she sped over from 30 minutes away. I grilled the landlord about his stance on cigarette smoking inside, asking what he would do in such a situation. He assured me he knew lots about the tenant, and that he didn’t smoke.
With a second opinion and some reluctance, I decided to commit. If nothing else, no other units were connected, so it had to be a step in the right direction. Only a couple days in, I sensed a hidden musty smell amidst the paint fumes. Not days after, I started noticing flushing when I came in the house, itchy red eyes, and emergent acne. All of this seemed weird to me, and brought up red flags, especially knowing all I do about mold. I think I bought into a lemon. Ugh. Not again. I didn’t even have the energy to be upset. I relished in the fact that I couldn’t smell cigarette smoke while cooking. It was days before Christmas. I got to cook the famous family lasagne that will forever exist as my answer when anyone asks me my favourite food. Despite knowing I must’ve made a poor decision, I told myself, something good has to be hiding in the fact that I got the few days before Christmas to not be miserable at the smell of cigarette smoke penetrating my belongings. I felt joy. It was an ice storm. I got to have fun with my dog, letting him explore in the abundance of grass that froze solid.
In time, I began getting fatigue, more intensely than I’d ever gotten it—and you know how meaningful that is from experience with COVID. I couldn’t put words together; I was nauseous and I coughed up way more than I even did in the cigarette smoke- laden house. I knew something was wrong. I considered getting a hotel just so I could preserve my brain power. My business is reliant on my ability to be creative and possess intellect. I felt desperate. I knew there could obviously be problems at a hotel.
Aside from money, new neighbours, possible mold and who knows what else? I began researching, ran the ozone generator and left for hours on end with my dog to try to help reduce the mold load in the home (I don’t recommend this for everybody, ozone can be dangerous and some don’t react well—but for me it seemed to help). I learned to put out cotton balls with essential oils that help reduce my cotoxins. The smell of the mold was deeply aggravating despite not noticing it upon viewing the property. I’d gotten in so quick, the fragrances and chemical smells from the previous tenant was enough to keep it under wraps. I learned the supplements I could try to take, but was largely hopeless.
The only thing that made me feel better was getting out. The most common advice in forums I was now studying 24/7 said to open the windows (which I’d done for months to help with cigarette smoke seepage inside constantly—making it constantly cold and my energy bill high). In this case, opening the windows peculiarly let more of a mold smell in. Eventually I realized a black buildup under the eves in a
gap between the gutters and overhang where water came through en masse whenever it rained. Slowly, I discovered sources of mold in my closet. There was water damaged around the water heater. I discovered grey and black- looking mold growing on the wall facing the opposite direction of someone looking in—hence why you’d miss it. It was a small amount, but any was scary, and they always say, what you see is only a tiny fraction. If you don’t see any, it can still be there, and I certainly smelled it.
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