Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Old Apartment and The Headaches... A Mystery...

I thought about writing this blog post back in December before we moved, but after Paul and I talked about it I decided to wait. Actually he forbade me going into detail about the subject at the time, because it would scare people and there wasn’t anything that could be done to change the situation for a few weeks and so we waited and prayed and thankfully were finally able to move into our current home (which we love!).

However, the news stories about the reporter suffering from a “complex migraine” got me thinking about the past eight months and I thought I’d finally write a post about everything that happened (if you’re a regular longtime reader you may remember some of the details… now I can finally fill in the blanks).

Towards the very end of my pregnancy with Maggie I started having fairly intense migraines several times a week. At the time we thought that they were related to the pregnancy hormones and possibly my higher than normal blood pressure (which was around 130/70-something. It’s usually around 90/50-something). I figured I would live with the more frequent migraines (the only option my OB came up with was narcotics and while I took the prescription home I wasn’t really comfortable taking them while pregnant) and that they’d go away once the baby was born.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen. And then they changed. Less than a month after Maggie was born I started experiencing extreme dizziness with the migraines. Then the numbness started (and that was just frightening!). The entire right side of my face would go numb. I could tell a headache was coming on some days when I’d have a hard time pronouncing certain words (“womb” when we were praying Hail Mary’s was always a giveaway, because I’d start having a hard time with my w’s).

Other times I would suddenly realize that I felt completely and totally drunk. As in a “I can’t drive home right now because the room won’t hold still even though I am” feeling. The pain part of the headache would usually follow within an hour, although occasionally it would remain pain-free but disorienting vertigo. And Paul and I both have noticed that my personality and sense of humor would change slightly (again, not unlike being drunk. I am suddenly much more chattery before a migraine.).

Sometimes putting my feet in scalding hot water helped, but only if I caught the headache very early on. During very bad headaches I would take the painkillers that I didn’t need when I had my c-section (to put in perspective how bad these headaches are!), but even they wouldn’t always take the edge of the headaches.

I went to the local clinic, but they were limited in what they could do since I was (and am) still nursing. They tried a blood pressure lowering medication that is known to help with migraines, but that was it’s own mini-disaster and after one day I swore off that plan altogether (needless to say that if you have blood pressure that is 90/55, blood pressure lowering medication is probably not a great idea!).

This dragged on for months. I was averaging two or three migraines a week. The headaches kept getting more and more frightening as the numbness seemed to be getting worse and worse.

One morning we ran into one of our neighbors at the old place and she told us that she really wanted to move. A mutual neighbor was having horrible headaches and nausea, as was her own husband and they were worried about the root of the problem. According to the mutual neighbor, an elderly woman, her chiropractor had given her a test (a cotton ball dipped in some solution) that she put out in her apartment overnight and then returned to the chiropractor and that the test had shown asbestos in the air.

Now I have no idea if that is true, but I do know that the news that three of the five units in the building housed people who were having extreme headaches and nausea was troubling.

A month later we moved and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I’ve only had two headaches in the last month (we’ve lived here for a month and a half now). They’re still different and still include the dizziness/aura, but I can deal with them in limited quantities.

I do wonder if we should report the experience to someone… I do believe that there’s something dangerous in those apartments that’s making people sick (any time we reported anything wrong the people in charge would say they were really sorry but the owner doesn’t want to spend any money….).

And that is reasoning 574 that I am thrilled that we moved!


  1. How scary! I'm so thankful you were able to move! I would DEFINITELY report it to someone!

  2. I'm not a doctor, but from my understanding none of those symptoms are related to asbestos exposure.

    They can however be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning or toluene abuse, which is found in gasoline, paint thinners and removers/correction fluid.

    Carbon monoxide poisoning: It is called the silent killer as the gas is invisible, odorless and colorless. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, dizziness, nausea, light headedness and shortness of breath.

    Inhalent abuse: Toluene can be found in gasoline, paint thinners and removers and correction fluid. Exposure to high doses of toluene can result in headache, euphoria and delirium, giddy feelings, uncoordinated movements, confusion, nausea and vomiting.

    It definitely sounds like there is something in those apartments that shouldn't be, but it doesn't sound like asbestos (fibers) to me so much as a gas or fume of some sort.

  3. Also, my dad has worked in asbestos litigation (he is not a doctor, he is a lawyer) for over a decade now. He knows of no such possible test to test for asbestos. He also said that anything fibrous, like asbestos, would take a long time, as in years and years, to cause any symptoms and then those symptoms would not be headaches or dizziness but shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

    I wonder if there is any sort of carbon monoxide test your neighbors could use at home?

    My dad knows a couple of experts on the subject of air contaminants and the symptoms they cause but I don't think any of them are in California and all I can tell him about the situation is what I know from your blog. I don't know that they'd be able to be certain of much.

  4. Wow, that is so scary! I also suffer from frequent migraines and numbness in my face and sometimes my legs. We live in an old apartment complex, so maybe this is something we should look into!

  5. Wow. That's really scary. I guess the right thing to do would be to report it, even if nothing is done. And if you wanted to make a "big" deal out of it, you could certainly write to the editor of your local paper or call a local TV news station, because (not to make light of this) this kind of story garners a lot of attention. I just hope this doesn't have a lasting effect on your health or your families....I'm not familiar with this type of thing at all.

  6. Wow that is scary (and I can understand not wanting to mention it before). I am so glad you're away from that now! Hope the headaches go away completely.

  7. Katherine-

    That is good to know! We'd been kind of skeptical of the "asbestos test" at the time because we wouldn't find any more information on it and when I googled asbestos I found the same sort of information you stated about there being no immediate side effects.

    I do wonder about carbon monoxide. I know that our water heater was leaking and they "fixed it" and when we moved out they checked the water heater on the walk through (it was usually locked because it was in a closet in Sadie's room) and they found the cup that Paul had placed in their before they "fixed it" completely full of water. When my parents heard that one of their first comments was that a leaking water heater could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

    I wonder if a leak in a water heater would affect so many apartments though and also if it would have been as long term (you might be answer that one!). I think that's why we didn't think of it initially. I always thought of carbon monoxide as a short term thing, because whenever we hear about accidents it usually involves a power outage and a gas generator (that sadly happens in the north state on a yearly basis).

    Anyways, thanks for the information! Now to get the girls wrangled into outfits for Mass!

  8. I would think it could be carbon monoxide too.

    Do you have a detector for it? I can't speak more highly of them, and they don't cost much more than a smoke detector.

  9. We have one now, but we didn't in our old apartment. It was one of the first things my mom bought for the new place.

  10. If a leak was continuous, I don't see why the effects wouldn't continue over months.

    As far as how far 1 leaking water heater could cause symptoms, that I don't know. But, if, as you said, the owner never wants to put any money into anything, it is possible more than 1 water heater could be leaking carbon monoxide. If yours was ignored, others could be likewise neglected.

    I'd be curious if anyone's symptoms were better when not at home or when the windows were kept open.


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