When my phone rang one evening in mid-December, I couldn’t have imagined the request I received. I had assumed my son was calling from Minneapolis to announce that due to the latest COVID surge he and his family would not be coming over the holidays. But instead, it was a cry for immediate help, a rare occurrence since he left home at sixteen to attend Perpich Center Arts High. He quickly adapted to “big city life” and at an early age became surprisingly independent.
He described his current dilemma. He had discovered mold in his basement that had to be eliminated “as soon as possible”. After sharing more information about his situation and the daunting process ahead of him, I knew he needed my help.
I began to put things in order so that I could leave indefinitely, feeling lucky that I had few obligations and that my spouse, John, would be willing and able to hold the fort. A big concern was how my rescue pup, Duffy, would react. We had never left each other since his arrival a year ago. But John largely reassured during our last farewells.
I’m fine with the drive until I’m pushed into this place I call “the heart of the beast”, where I-35 splits in two leading me to I-94, where I’m shown really how high my speed driving skills have become. That’s when I start to feel like the main character in that now old movie, “My Kettle in the City.” I’m totally “Ma” as she races down the highway with people flying from both sides of her at a furious pace! I can feel the frustration and anger of other drivers, palpable through the thin panes of glass and the blast of air that barely separate our vehicles from the disaster. When I see a middle finger rise, my apologies and whispered prayers have become my meager means of self-defense.
Soon, with a sigh of relief, I pull into Corey’s driveway and cut the key, all ready for his long-awaited embrace. No thanks to the COVID, it’s been a long time since we’ve shared one.
Corey is quick to fill me in on our project. Over time, his beloved wife Hayley developed a series of inexplicable and severe physical symptoms. Medical tests ruled out many possible explanations for his illness, leaving them to search for other causes, including those labeled “environmental.” A professional inspection and analysis eventually identified colonies of “black mold” in their home, most likely the culprit. Complete decontamination was the only real solution. That would be our mission!
Anyone’s home can become infected with mold growth, usually after incidents of basement flooding or seepage, roof leaks, excessive window condensation, or anywhere chronic dampness occurs. product. Many of us live with mold without our knowledge or concern, but sometimes our immune system becomes over-reactive, causing mild or even severe illness. In Hayley’s case, it was serious. Once black mold is detected, elimination becomes the goal.
Black mold is a fungus with a very important function. It breaks down organic matter into nutrients that help sustain other plant and animal life. Decomposition is a necessary part of the natural life cycle and tends to cause little or no problem for most humans when encountered outdoors. But once the mold moves into indoor spaces, fungal reproduction produces spores that grow on damp, decaying wood and other organic materials, releasing toxic fumes into the environment, similar to volatile organic compounds. (VOC). Microscopic spores and mycotoxins can harm our health. Corey’s basement didn’t smell of mold or mildew, nor was there any flooding other than the occasional tub overflow or minor floor drain back-up which, when it was discovered, was promptly dealt with. But those dusty boxes tucked away in the corners hadn’t moved for years….
Mold mitigation involves many steps. All exposed surfaces should be vacuumed thoroughly, scrubbed with a concentrated solution of high strength detergent, rinsed, and scrubbed again with a solution of hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or other antimicrobial agent. All other vulnerable exposed surfaces should be wiped down with peroxide and then coated with mildew resistant paint. Anything that could not be handled by this process had to be discarded. As we completed the tour of the house, the scope of our mission became very clear. That evening we mapped out our strategy and gathered supplies.
For the first four days, we targeted the furnace and the vents. Ouch! After a quick look, we suspected that much of the system had been untouched since it was installed in 1957. Over the next three weeks, we cleaned and treated all available surfaces, including the cogs of the washer and dryer, and the contents of each cabinet.
In my spare time I have read pamphlets scattered about this “behaviour” of mold, its production of spores and mycotoxic fumes which, when released, can enter the lungs and travel through our bloodstream, affecting other vital organs. I began to recall my previous encounters with indoor mold growing on surfaces that I had given nothing more than an occasional wipe down, with little concern other than its unsightly – places like windows from the room furthest from the woodstove, where hot air hits the cold glass and condenses, creating a super humid environment perfect for mold to grow. I will never look at these places the same way again. At the first signs, I’ll come out with the scrub brush and the peroxide to nip them in the bud!
Finally came the day when our mission was completed. The basement had been transformed from a dreaded unsanitary space into a large open room, with light in every corner, freshly cleaned, decontaminated and painted with tender loving care. Really livable!
Now we thought it was time to head upstairs for phase two. Since no ‘hot spots’ were found there, my son was confident he could handle the downstairs on his own. This meant that I was relieved of my duties. As I packed my bags, we recapped our success and congratulated ourselves on a job well done. And with our last goodbye, I reminded him that I would remain on standby for further assistance.
As I headed north, I reviewed our thirty day stay “down there”. There was our “mission”, but it was also a moment of reunion after twenty years of distant life… the memories that we revived, the unpublished personal epics, a few unknown chapters of our family history, and a lot of beautiful music! Not once was there a crossword. We were a challenging team, solving complex problems, overcoming setbacks and offering mutual encouragement and support. We were proud of what we had accomplished together, and all in the spirit of love.
A few hours later, I pulled into my driveway and turned the key with a sigh of relief. There was my little house intact, surrounded by trees that offered shelter from a biting wind. After my month away, the cabin was engulfed in snow. I walked through the snowdrifts and stepped inside, met by shadows and the faint smell of wood smoke. Oh, John had lit a fire for me. Bless his heart. That warm welcome was all I needed to feel loved and happy to walk through that door.
Suddenly I realized how everything fit together. This trip had shown me that Dorothy was right, but only when our home is safe and free from any threat to our health or well-being. So, there really is no place like home!