“But she is 92 and I didn’t want to embarrass her!”

After visiting the home of a 92 year old woman with hoarding disorder, Barbara-Anne Foley, Director of the Harwich Council on Aging, became very ill. She shares her story below.

In May 2014, I was asked to visit the home of woman with hoarding disorder to see if we could convince her to accept both medical and clean-up assistance. I knew the home was in “squalor” condition but I never considered wearing protective equipment because the occupant was 92 years old and I didn’t want to embarrass her. A few days after our meeting, I began to experience respiratory symptoms that didn’t go away. When I met with my primary care physician and told him about the condition of the home, he ordered a chest X-ray to be sure I wasn’t exposed to mold. The chest X-ray came back normal. Shortly after, I had significant swelling in my arms and legs, experienced pain when I walked, and my skin was itchy and shiny red. I then lost all range of motion in my arms and legs.

After three months of testing to determine the cause of my symptoms, finishing with an MRI and a deep tissue biopsy in my right arm and leg, I was given the diagnosis of eosinophilic fasciitis. Eosinophilic fasciitis is a very rare medical condition – only 300 people in the world are diagnosed with it – and, in my case, it was caused by a toxic environment.

As a result of this condition, my small airways now function at 77% of capacity and my large airways function at 85% of capacity. In addition, for a minimum of one year I have to wear compression sleeves on my arms and compression stockings on my legs every day, attend physical therapy 3 times a week to try and regain range of motion in my arms and legs, and take high doses of Prednisone. The side effects of the Prednisone alone are unfathomable, making every day a new challenge.

If I had worn, or was required by my employer to wear, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to this home, I would not be suffering from this condition. I urge you to learn from my experience and wear personal protective equipment because it could save your health! I also encourage you to ask your employer to develop a formal policy around wearing PPE in squalor conditions.

It may be uncomfortable to broach this topic with a homeowner, but referring to the PPE as precautionary and the “policy of your employer” might make it easier.