A Change of Perspective

We were a motley crew gathered in the courtyard of that hotel. But one thing we shared in common brought us together: multiple chemical sensitivity.

My husband Michael has MCS, and exposure to chemicals found in common household items, cleaners, pesticides, paints, and fragrance products make people like him very sick. The hotel had one building devoted to accommodating people with this chronic health condition.

Most people booked a room because they were in town for treatment by a renowned MCS doctor. Michael and I booked it because we wanted to take a short vacation and it was the only local place we could think of that could accommodate his complicated allergies.

A few of us gathered outside and struck up a casual conversation that quickly turned to personal stories—how their health broke, how long they had been sick, all the therapies and medications they tried, and what brought them to the hotel.

Surprisingly, one woman was in town for a check-up after significant improvement in her condition. “I’m so exhausted today, but that’s mostly because I was out line dancing until 5 a.m. I used to be sick, but now I’m doing much better. You really can get better. It’s a journey.”

My eyebrows raised. “Line dancing until 5 a.m.?” Everyone else standing there was just trying to survive. While her words were intended to be an encouragement, it was a little irritating to hear them from someone who had enviably left the chronic illness life behind. Others probably felt agitation creeping in, too.

As we parted ways with the dancer and the rest of the patients to unload our luggage from the car, another guest arrived.

I hesitated to exhale for fear she’d flutter away like a dandelion seed. She was extremely thin and frail—just a wisp of her former self, I imagine.  Though the sun beat down with its August glare, clothing covered nearly every inch of her body, and she wore a large, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect her face. Tubes connected her to an oxygen machine, but someone had to pull the tank for her—she didn’t have the strength.

She looks like she’s allergic to the whole world, I thought.

I looked over at Michael pulling our heavy suitcases out of the trunk. He wiped the sweat off his brow, smiled weakly, and carried them to our hotel room. He’d been ill for four years, and his sickness required these specialized accommodations. Yet here we were kicking off a mini vacation before our new baby arrived. Even with chronic fatigue, the new hotel guest made him seem like a vibrant, healthy man in his prime.

Suddenly, he was an athlete.

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