Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Lena Rothman’s Story

Photo on 2013-02-08 at 10.16

Today, there are about 80,000 chemicals that are used in our homes and cars, washing machines and dryers, and rubbed into our bodes and hair. Petrochemicals are not only found in gasoline, diesel fuel, heating old and jet fuel, but in every form of plastic (except bioplastic), synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, and acrylics), canned foods, pain medicines, make-up, dyes and paints……to name a few.

It is estimated that 74 million Americans have some form of chemical sensitivity. This could be as simple as an occasional headache from the odor of a perfume or new carpet.  But for 10 million people – 3.2% of the US population – it is a much more serious and chronic condition that it requires a major change of lifestyle because they can no longer live in a normal manner anymore.

Most of us go about our lives not worrying about what the person sitting next to us on the bus might have washed or dried her clothes with or what scented products she might have bathed with that morning. Instead of a short 5 minute bus ride, we might be walking instead. We don’t go to work  concerned about sitting in a room with men and women who might have splashed themselves with perfume or cologne  or washed their hair with scented products, and be worried  that we might get that “brain fog” again and not be able to concentrate or do our job to the best of our capabilities – or not at all. We don’t think that walking down the detergent aisle in our favorite grocery store might trigger a migraine or sinus infection. We don’t worry about the cleaning products our dream hotel uses because if they’re not free and clear of scents, we might have to sleep on the beach or head on home. And what happens when the house or apartment you live in becomes toxic and you start reacting to the formaldehyde in the building materials and have to move?  Where do you go that is safe?

And when we go to the doctor to talk about the sore throat, fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pains we’re getting and the doctor tells us she has no idea what’s wrong with you or maybe worse, tells you that it’s all in your head and says, ”Here’s a prescription for anti-depressants,” and while you’re at it, “Go see a shrink.” What do you do?

My guest this week on KOWS, 107.3FM’s, Wise Woman Storytime is Lena Rothman who lived a normal life until the mid 1970’s when she started developing a series of symptoms that seemed unrelated and confusing to her.  Her throat closed and she was rushed to the hospital after she got a shot of penicillin. She broke out in rashes after swimming in a chlorinated pool, She began to react to the pollen in the air and had to have someone record a class she was enrolled in because she couldn’t remain in the classroom with the new carpeting. When it  became increasingly difficult to treat her acupuncture patients who used scented soaps, hair products and body lotions, her career suffered and her income was dramatically reduced.

Finding it increasingly difficult to live in a scented world, Lena retreated to a very rural community where she lived an isolated life and lifestyle for 7 years. It was here she studied and researched her illness and explored avenues that would give her a path to a more normal, albeit cautious and hyper-vigilant life; a life where daily normal activities involve planning safety routes, escapes and alternatives in the event of an exposure.

Today she is living in the city of Tuscon.

Known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Environmental Illness or Chemical Injury this is not a patient friendly illness. Doctors are often uninformed and baffled by the complex and myriad of symptoms. Many doctors just don’t believe in MCS and believe the disease is in their patients heads. Very few allopathically trained doctors know how to test for the actual physical effects of human chemical reactions.

MCS is often described as the ultimate 20th/21st century disease.  We live in a world where one 42 gallon barrel of gasoline creates 19.4 gallons of gasoline while the rest – 22.6 gallons -goes into everything from detergents, body products, toothpastes rubbing alcohol, etc. etc. etc. Isn’t it time we rethink  “Living better through chemistry,” and listen to the messages of people – young and old, black, white, Latino, Asian – who are getting sick from the chemicals in the environment?  Aren’t they the present day canaries in the coal mine?  Hadn’t we better heed the lessons that maybe living better without chemicals might be healthier for all?

As always, click on the link below to listen to the show.

For more information, see the list of resources Lena has recommended.

By Roberta Teller



Resources:             Check out her video, How chemical Exposure May be Affecting Your Health       Chemical Injury Information Network      Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Referral and Resources     Imune          The Human Ecology Action League

Pamela Reed Gibson’s book, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Survival Guide

2 thoughts on “Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Lena Rothman’s Story

    • I totally agree…..And there’s one small part of this story that I eluded to, but really didn’t really delve into that is gnawing at me. If in fact, we really want to get off of our dependence on oil, and if more than a half of each barrel of oil goes into products and not gasoline, why aren’t we talking about this and reducing our petrochemical dependence on products? I guess awareness come first……

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