Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How I Got This Way - Phase 1

I get this question a lot. So I thought I'd tell the story here, so it doesn't get lost...

It was a delightful, early summer day. The wind, a zephyr, playing about the cerulean blue expanse of sky. I was young and full of life and health. I was 36, with everything ahead of me, and all the hard part behind... It was joyful, just to be alive. The sun was casting caressive fingers of early morning warmth across the rolling Eastern Oregon farm-scape, wide open, brilliant greens and smokey taupes.

I was working for my husband as his Survey Technician, running the Total Station. We were surveying a large farm, mapping the existing circles, so Ron could advise the client on the best locations, for future circles. It was a beautiful day. We had started early, to beat the desert heat,  as we had 50 circles to locate and miles to cover. Everything has to be tied together with control points and state plane coordinates. This was back before surveying was done with GPS, so your survey has to be physically closed, and you can't quit until it's completed, or you have to start over.

We'd worked most of the morning, and had only one "hop" left. We'd shot forward and set the next control point on the edge of one of the circles, on the crest of a knoll. I broke down the instrument, as Ron drove up in our gold 4x4 Toyota wagon. We called it our "little goat." It could go anywhere. We loaded up the gear and moved forward to the new control point. Ron dropped me and the equipment and headed back to the control point I'd just left. I set up, and shot back, to the control. Ron was driving from pivot center, to end gun, of each circle. My job was to shoot the coordinates of each point, record notes, make sure the data was accurately recorded.

I remember standing there, on that beautiful day, the wind lightly teasing my fly away hair out of it's clips, and noticing a little yellow plane come flying across the hills. I thought to myself, "what a beautiful day for a flight." I continued radio contact with Ron, as we shot the various circle points we could see from this control. 

The plane flew closer. He flew right by me, very close, I could clearly see the pilot as he buzzed by. I continued working, looking steadily through the gun, (the opticals on a total station,) and keeping track of Ron. It's important to work efficiently, and Ron no sooner got the glass (mirrors) into the air and steady, and I had the shot. I glanced up as the plane flew back by, the other way. He waggled his wings, at me. I wondered what he wanted. I frowned, perplexed, and radio'd Ron. He didn't know, keep working.

It was just about that time that the plane reached the opposite side of the circle, swung about, dove groundward and laid down a billowing trail of pesticide, across the center of the circle, 20 yrds from me. I was stunned!  I radio'd Ron, he said, "it couldn't be very bad, or he wouldn't spray with you there.". He'd seen the plane begin to spray. We were both surprised because, there was no external spray apparatus. We'd had no clue, that it was a spray plane. The owner of the farm was supposed to halt all spraying and harvesting in this section, so that we were unimpeded. The plane looped around and made another pass. He continued dumping pesticide right over the top of me. At about that time a farm worker raced up in a small pick up, slammed to a stop next to me, cracked his window open just enough to scream, "get out of here! That's Monitor! Its very bad!" then closed his window and sped off to the center of the pivot to turn it off. It had been running, and you're not supposed to spray when the irrigation is running. Then he hopped back into his pickup and sped away, leaving me standing on the hillside, with nowhere to go for shelter. The fog of pesticide swirled in around me. The crop duster sprayed on. I hunkered down and pulled all of my exposed parts and tucked my head to my chest,  inside my heavy shirt. I radio'd Ron again. He was coming as fast as he could. 

When Ron got there, we threw all the equipment into the car and drove away.
I told Ron what the farm worker had said and I asked Ron to take me to a hose so I could rinse off. He said the farm worker was probably mistaken. The crop duster wouldn't have sprayed me if it was that bad. He wouldn't pull over. It was hours before I got home to strip and shower.

That's what gets people hurt - The inability to believe that other people can be that callous and evil. The farm office manager, locally known as "Queenie" stonewalled us. She refused to give me the name of the pilot. In fact I found out that there was a farm manager with Ron when they were spraying me and Ron was told, that we were endangering the life of the pilot, because he couldn't land with a belly full of pesticide. None of that was true, but we were young and nieve.  Years later, I found out that it is a federal violation for a spray pilot to endanger any humans or livestock, but it's not enforced. I tried to get a lawyer, but none would take my case, because pesticide is involved, and this is an agricultural area...

I didn't get sick right away. I had protected my airway, by breathing inside my shirt. The symptoms that showed up were delayed. I didn't know at the time about toxins being absorbed through the skin, or ingested. The two other pathologies of toxic injuries, besides inhalation... My symptoms were classic organophosphate (OP) poisoning, but maybe only one of the 8 or so doctors that I mentioned it to, even wrote down my pesticide poisoning. None of them gave it a second thought. I ended up with diagnosis of Asthma, and eventually Fibromyalgia. It took 4 years to get that last diagnosis. By this time, as none of the pesticide poisoning had ever been addressed, I was so severely crippled by foot and leg pain, I couldn't walk without a cane. I had all the classic fibro symptoms, but that's not surprising, as they are the same as Cholingeric Toxidrome, Intermediate Syndrome, and OPIDN, all stages of organophosphate poisoning. Confused? Wondering why so many women get fibro, or OP poisoning? Who unloads half a can of pesticide on a single spider or a trail of ants in a closed house? Women. House and garden insecticides are organophosphate poisons. All those women who garden, grow veggies and roses, with pesticide dust and systemic insecticides, are using OPs and carbamates (Carbaryl - Sevin).

There was a point, during that four years that I suffered chemical pneumonitis. I was horribly sick, coughing up pieces of lung and four cups of sputum/day. I was hallucinating, and barely able to move. The neighbor to the south of us had been treating his field with Gramoxone, which contains Paraquat. A pesticide that was supposed to be banned... One of it's poisoning symptoms, pneumonitis.  I didn't know sooo much, that I was unable to protect myself. Just like so many of you, the readers.

It was also during this time that I began to experience all the side effects that were listed on the drug warning pamphlets. It started out small, but they escalated rapidly to even the most bizarre symptoms. I couldn't take my asthma Meds as they gave me brain seizures. A doctor gave me transdermal pain Meds for the over whelming muscle pain (pre fibro diagnosis) and it gave me boils and "rocks" under my skin. He'd assured me it was perfectly safe and I wouldn't get any side effects. I stopped all Meds after that, until a particularly horrible encounter, that left me with systemic, life threatening e. Choli.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Next time, Phase 2


  1. Incredibly beautifully written. Incredibly horrible story...gripping. You go girl!