North Central Washington

Life in the Narrow Lane
by Jeanne Hardy

[from the Methow Valley News column, Methow Valley Life, Oct 10, 2001]

Aside: This story is NOT about another person of this same name who lives elsewhere in the United States besides the Methow Valley, Washington. This story is about a hero and personal friend, who made those she touched feel confident about who they were, and to help them feel willing to carry on in a world that needs more time to stop and admire the flowers.

Oct. 7 marked the one-year anniversary of my moving out of my house and into this Air-stream trailer. Forced to do so by severe chemical injuries, I adjusted to life in a 24-by-8-foot space.

Last January I lost the ability to leave my place; I couldn't handle road fumes and the odors in some stores. In short, I became a "shut in." Pesticides and herbicides make me very ill.

I can't help but wonder how many other Methow Valley people are confined to quarters for one reason and another, and how they have adjusted to it. It's ironic, being limited to a tiny corner of this gorgeous valley. Most of us are free to wander between conventionally sized homes and places of business where we can watch visitors to our valley on their way to and from recreational activities. Not the disabled. We see the world through glass or from a distance.

I've learned a few things about disabilities. For example, if you are walking behind a disabled person and want to speed up, it's okay to pass, but remember to signal. Just kidding. It is healthy to walk with someone who uses a walker: it enables you to stop and smell the roses, each and every one. Disabled people live in the slowest lane. The first rule of visiting someone in that condition is to never move anything. Even in homes with a chaotic look because the owner hasn't the strength to even think "Martha Stewart"-he or she knows where things are.

Common after-visit activities can include hours hunting for things and hours carrying them one at a time back to where they were. This can be particularly true of the most precious visitors under three feet tall.

Rule two is don't stop visiting regardless. Visitors are my connection to the outside world, and if it weren't for friends and people at various stores helping me with groceries and other needs, I'd be in a tight spot.

How do I spend my days? It's as though it's always winter, only more so. I need more sleep than most. Days begin somewhere between 8 and 9 and stop there too. Maintenance stuff-dressing, carrying out trash, breakfast if any-takes up a couple hours, and I'm exhausted by 4 or 5 o'clock. So writing time and other business takes place between 10 or 11 and 4 or 5. It's hard to fit everything in. Some days fibromyalgia pains, chronic fatigue and chemical iflness keep me down all day.

I don't have television, or want it-but I love good films. I have a DVD player and membership in. an Internet DVD rental club. I get a few select magazines and one newspaper: this one. A couple of times a week I turn on National Public Radio and listen for two to 30 minutes, looking for something wise, accurate, and uplifting. I read as much as poor eyesight allows. I often call--too often, probably--a friend in Idaho with MCS who is doing well. I stare at the mountains--but I did that before I got sick too.

Mine is an illness that does not allow for the taking of painkillers no matter what. Chemicals caused the problem: they only add to it. Homeopathic medicines seem to work for me for some symptoms.

It took three years to find my homeopathic health care guy in Vermont. His wife has MCS, and I didn't have to "defend my illness" to him or explain any thing. I spend a lot of time doing both, as this illness does not have the American Medical Association seal of approval for a variety of reasons: it's not taught in medical schools, it's too new, and there are some powerful vested interests with bottom line reasons to keep it quiet.

Bill Moyers not long ago did a good documentary called "Trade Secrets" on the chemical industry and I am willing to loan it out to anyone interested.

On this, the one-year anniversary of my being "homeless," I am happy to report my little safe cabin is going up next to the borrowed Airstream. On the other hand, today the county is spraying stuff on the roadsides that can kill me. Fortunately, they called to let me know, and they're nice people. I think if they understood how damaging their sprays are, they wouldn't do it.

So I sit tight and hope the wind doesn't blow.

I've focused here on one disability, the one I am most familiar with. But I wanted to tell everyone with these kinds of conditions that I think about you a lot and wish us all healthier lives full of hope. Heartfelt thanks to those who help, and who do understand.