Sunday, March 06, 2005

Dusty old new post

I keep starting posts and abandoning them in the draft stage. Very ambitious posts, full of Meaning. I think they're too much for me; I stagger under their weight and then give up. So this will be aimless, with no attempt to shape it into a cohesive whole.

I spent this afternoon dusting and vacuuming our tiny little (really tiny-- about 8' x 8' plus closet) bedroom. From top to bottom. Pulled off the mattress and bed slats to uncover a truly horrifying amount of dust, dust gathered in great gray clumps, dust that appeared to be only hours away from constituting itself into a living organism and going after the cat.

Lots of other stuff under there too: SnoreStrip tabs, New Yorker subscription cards, old New Yorkers themselves (look! there's Woody Allen! He's an old New Yorker! ...oh, never mind), ponytail holders... and the thermometer! We wondered where it went, and there it was all along. Kidnapped by the dustballs for their own nefarious purposes, no doubt.

I attacked the dust viciously with the vacuum and vanquished it. Then I put everything back until the bedroom looked almost exactly the way it had before, only slightly tidier. There was no sign that the whole endeavor had taken me three hours. Kind of dispiriting, that.

I threw lots of stuff away. Old clothes. Our wedding garlands, too; they'd been hanging on the ends of the closet curtain rods (the closet doesn't have a door, just curtains-- really it's just the end of the bedroom chopped off). They were very dusty and kept shedding blooms. They will be seven years old this August. Every time I look at them I'm reminded that RW's garland was better than mine. My garland was kind of skimpy. It was okay at the time, it looked fine on my head, but it didn't dry well. Now that reminder is gone, along I hope with all the dust that was aggravating Mermaid Girl's sniffles and eczema.

Turns out she's allergic to dust mites. And cats. We only found out last Tuesday, after what turned out to be the longest fifteen minutes of my life, as MG sobbed and writhed in agony in the allergist's office and I held onto her hands because the nurse had been very firm that she ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT TOUCH HER BACK for the length of the test, which was twenty or so little scratches on her back, and by the end of the test about half of them were horrible red welts, which she said really, really hurt, and I believed her. It was worse than her vaccinations back in September, worse because it took so long and because she was really trying, trying so hard not to touch her back. She grabbed my hands and we practiced together taking deep breaths and then blowing out very hard. She tried to blow hard enough to move my hair. We'd read a little, then she'd start crying again and we'd have to go back to breathing.

After about five minutes the nurse came back in, glanced at MG's back, said, Oh, she's definitely allergic to dust mites, and popped a video in with instructions to both of us to watch it while we were waiting for the test to be over. It had lots of helpful hints about putting special covers on bedclothes and ripping out carpets and throwing away stuffed animals. Also some truly scary close-ups of dust mites. After a couple of minutes I twigged that the video was just making everything worse, also what with all the hand-holding and crying I really wasn't absorbing the information very well, and that I did indeed have the power to turn it off. So I did and we returned to breathing and reading.

I didn't know ahead of time what the test would be like, which is just as well because I couldn't lie to her about it and telling the truth would've made it even worse, as she'd have been terrified beforehand and we all know what fear does to your pain sensors. But then it was over and the allergist came back in and gave us a little information about cats--in a nutshell: best to get rid of the cat, but no one ever does that unless it's very bad athsma which this isn't, so just try to keep it out of her room, and when it dies don't get another one-- and a lot, a whole lot, of information about dust mites and the alleviation measures that can keep them down.

So, when Shy Kitty dies (which could be in a year or in eight years, he's twelve but he's a scrappy old thing) we'll get a turtle. Or a snake, maybe. Or tropical fish. And we may end up putting hardwood flooring down, at least in the bedrooms. And RW spent the morning while we were at Hebrew school dusting and vacuuming the Girl's room, so now both of our ajoining bedrooms are relatively dust-free, or at least better than they were. And we have to go get a special mattress cover for her bed and wash everything more often than we've been doing, in hot water. And not leave her extra sheets in an open laundry basket on top of her wardrobe any more. And discourage her from bringing stuffed animals into bed. (Barbies are okay, though! Score another one for Mattel!)

I find myself wanting to sheathe everything in plastic; such a homey touch.

Dust allergies, anyone? Suggestions? Reassurances? Vaccum-cleaner recommendations? I've got the lovely pamphlets the allergist gave us, but it's more fun to get information the old-fashioned way, from the Internet.


Blogger Anna said...

Poor Mermaid Girl! I'm so sorry she had to go through such a nasty test.

I don't have allergies myself, but in my search for organic mattresses I came across this site: which seems to have a bunch of product info. I looked briefly at the vacuums and they all seem very high-end (read: pricey). We've got a (much less expensive) Kenmore HEPA filtration vacuum that I really like. We got it about a year and a half ago, so the model has probably changed, but this looks to be about the same:

If you want to go organic in mattress or bedding, I can give you some sites; I'm just not sure if it would solve your problem however. One thing about an organic mattress with wool in it is that the wool acts as an anti-bacterial layer and helps keep mustiness and molds to a minimum. Latex does the same, both natural and human-made, but is more expensive. If you're just looking for barrier cloths for mattresses or pillows you can still go organic: is one example. Natural or organic bedding is not cheap, but is well worth it in my opinion; important enough for us to decide to spend money on an organic crib mattress, wool puddle pad, and organic mattress pad for Gibson. I did a lot of research on manufacturers/retailers if you ever want this info (and I can still find it!)

One way to let her still have stuffed animals in the bed (if that's important to her) is to get ones that are machine-washable. Most of the ones you buy in a regular store are polyester and not washable, but organic toys often can go in the machine. Here are some examples:

Finally, getting rid of the carpet will help a LOT, if you go the hardwood route. We had wall-to-wall throughout the house, and over a couple-year period had it all removed and the hardwood underneath restored. I insisted this be done before the Little Man was born. It made a huge difference in the air quality around here.

Hope some or any of this is useful, and hope MG is feeling better. And kudos to you on the ultra-vacuuming...I need to do some of that around here!

11:24 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Forgot one thing; for the laundry, you might want to try something like Bi-O-Kleen Bac-Out ( This is recommended by numerous cloth-diapering sites and I can testify to its effectiveness: we use it in our cloth diaper loads and it definitely leaves the load much fresher. We miss it when we run out, that's for sure.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ack - well, better to know what you're dealing with at least and that you can actually manage the situation.

Funny that you mention vacuums. We're researching (quickly) getting a new one b/c ours has bitten the big one. If money is limitless, look at Dyson vacuums - They have different models - if you have hardwood floors, you'll need the attachment that does that. The "animal" version I'm not sure is necessary even in our house with 3 cats and a dog - it has an attachment that works well for getting fur out of furniture, but another attachment that comes automatically does a reasonable job at that. You can find factory refurbished models for $300 )the 07 model, you'll need a $50 attachment from Best Buy for hardwood floors), retail on sale models for $400 - $500 with attachments.

We're probably not going that route due to cost. Hoover 3500??? 3700? is a canister bagless vacuum with a lot of the same features as the Dyson but it's $200, and it's a canister model - which I think we like better than uprights. Google "canister bagless vacuums" and you should find it.

We throw stuffed animals in the washer as necessary.

Poor MG - glad the test is over. Sara

3:19 AM  
Blogger Jo said...

What a good mom you are! Sucks to have a kid freaking out and you kept your head. Yay.

Manny is allergic to cats, which is why we have three. I think Eliz is allergic to dust mites and cats. I feel your pain. It really helped not to let the cats into the kids' room.

9:58 AM  
Blogger PPB said...

Aw, man....I'm supposed to take the same tests soon, but have been chickening out. Sister's kids are allergic to dust and cats as well. So they have 2 cats, and a housekeeper. They ripped the girls' carpeting out and made a nice warm kitty bed outside the bedroom area. It has made a difference. So has the housekeeper, but they have lots o money.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Manduca said...

I'm sorry to hear about the allergies. I've had allergies to dust mites and dogs forever. I have a 95 lb year-round-shedding sweet rottweiler. I try not to nurture the dust mites, but my mite-ousting energy ebbs and flows. My best advice is this: watch MG. Some things (seasons, particular blooms) you may come to be able to predict, but I've found the ups and downs of my allergies hard to explain. When it's bad, I put a lot of energy into minimizing allergens. When it's not too bad, I slack.

Costco has a great vacuum that was recommended by Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports doesn't think the dyson is worth the hype. It might be worth blowing $4 on a month of access to the CR website. I'm a total junkie for the CR research. It's the only thing I really trust to be independent.

Recently, I've found that an air cleaner in my room really helps (again, selected with the help of CR, and purchased with the help of Froogle and the customer service ratings linked from Froogle). Keep in mind that I discovered this subsequent to moving to smoggy gross Los Angeles. When I lived in Seattle, I don't think I had a problem. So it may be mostly helping with the bad air quality (I've got asthma too), or it may help with the mites and dog fluff. I was able to borrow an air cleaner from a friend so I could see if it helped before I bought it.

I solved the noisy air cleaners problem by throwing money at it. I bought one that is designed to clean a room twice as big as the one it's in. This way I can keep it on low (e.g. quiet) and it still does a good job.

OK, I hope there was something useful in there. Best of luck; I'm sure you'll do great handling this.


10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My bro was diagnosed with the exact same stuff way back in about 1972, before there were important vacuums or even special vacuum bags for unimportant vacuums. My mom got a mattress cover for his bed (plastic, I think), threw out most of the rugs and--and she swears this was most important--I'm so sorry to say this--vacuumed our hard terazzo floors every day. She also threw out lots of stuff. Not just obvious dust-mite harbors, but stuff in general, I think, trying to keep the number of objects in the house under control. She'd be happy (very happy) to fill you in if you want coping tips.

Meanwhile, Rich now lives in a hideously untidy, dusty house with oodles of cats. I couldn't really get a fix on how many there were when I was there last, but at least three. Plus three dogs and sometimes two little goats, and three horses, two of whom are pregnant, though that has nothing to do with allergies. And he's fine now and doesn't even take antihistamines any more. So apparently either these things can be outgrown or my brother is a masochist who gets off on snot.


5:40 PM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

My son Matthew suffered from horrible allergies to dust mites (and cats)! We bought him a mattress from Tomorrow's World catalog ( a few years ago. We noticed a difference almost right away. His night time wheezing improved so much, we later bought the wool comforter and pillows too. I highly recommend the organic wool bedding. I never would have thought it could make such a difference, but it really did. Worth every penny when I see my son sleeping so soundly.

Of course, we got rid of the stuffed toys. I try to keep ahead of the dust - it's hard! I guess we all do what we feel we can do to help.

The good news is within the past year overall he has been getting a bit better. We now actually have a cat (he wanted one so badly). Anyway, doc says to just keep an eye out and that often the kids can outgrow the allergies.

Good luck to you!

8:46 PM  

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