Monbulk, Victoria. - A drive to the Dandenong Ranges is usually something to look forward to when in Melbourne, Australia. It's a big tourist attraction with rainforest, the old Puffing Billy steam railway and plenty of views and Devonshire teas.
But for 37 year old Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) sufferer Katherine McIntosh, the Dandenong Ranges are not about the joys of being alive, but rather life itself. For her, the journey is a necessity for survival. Her plight started with a bout of glandular fever some eight years ago. Today, she lives a constant guessing game of how to best manage toxicity levels on a daily basis to stay healthy.
More than just a bad case of the flu
Typically, CFS sufferers have to deal with symptoms that are like a nasty flu that goes on and on until it immobilises them. These symptoms include a sore throat, headaches, dizziness, tiredness and sleepiness and many other complications, aches and pains. In some, the symptoms become painfully accentuated with sensitivity to light, sounds and smells.
There are also many others whose plight with CFS is made worse from being extremely affected by tiny amounts of toxic chemicals in the environment. For example, a house being painted three suburbs away causes the CFS sufferer difficulties in breathing. The medical profession has dubbed the CFS sufferers’ inability to cope with toxicity, “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity” (MCS). McIntosh, a music teacher, belongs to this group. Hers is a daily plight that involves life-threatening effects from chemical sensitivities in addition to the already debilitating symptoms of CFS.
In order to teach, she has to have her music books decontaminated from toxic fumes due to the chemicals used in the ink and paper. She does this by wearing a mask to hang the books on a clothes line to “air” them for weeks before they can be used in her tutorials. Students must attend without wearing any perfume, make-up, deodorant or sunscreen. “All these common every day chemicals make me violently ill,” she said. “It’s very isolating,” she added.
In Search for Non-Toxic, Low-Cost Housing
Unfortunately, CFS sufferers with MCS are forced out of the comfort of an average suburban home. This is further complicated by having to survive on the Disability Pension. For example, half of McIntosh’s pension goes towards paying for medical expenses. As a result, sufferers resort to some sort of makeshift low-cost accommodation that can offer respite from toxic chemicals.
For McIntosh this has been a journey of moving into a tent then into a number of houses, into an old caravan and then back to an old tent. Every time she has tried to live in a “normal” house her health deteriorated. Presently, she lives in-between a tent and two caravans on loan at a friend’s property in the Dandenong Ranges with no running water or toilet. “If I had an adequate place to live I would have a chance of getting better or at least maintaining a level of health. Otherwise, I am looking at slowly becoming bed-bound,” she said.
Friends have tried many times to find her suitable accommodation but with no success. “A non-toxic house is all that is needed,” McIntosh said. To that end, her friends have pledged $45,000 towards land and the construction of a non-toxic house as part of the “Seeds of Hope” Appeal. The total cost is $350,000.
CFS is also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or “ME”.
ME, CFS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, chronic illness, health