A home is infested with toxic mold. Some, if not all, of the family members are ill. What happens when a husband and wife disagree over the appropriate course of action? My husband, Chris, offers his perspective on this common scenario.
She's crazy. She's out of her mind with this mold thing. That's what I thought.
We've talked with many families going through a mold exposure. It's usually the husband who says this. Not always. Sometimes the husband sees it before the wife and rings the alarm. But we've found it's usually the man.
I thought my wife had gone off the deep end. Cyberchondria. She had found something on the Internet that fit with some symptoms and now she was suggesting radical treatment of the house and the children.
My first response was, "Wait, wait, hold on. Let's not jump off some cliff because there might be a problem. Let's move methodically. Slowly."
What I was really saying was, "Let's spend as little money as we can on this until you come to your senses."
My first inclination, the place I went when she brought up a problem with the house, was to PROVISION. I had worked hard for a lot of years to provide a nice home and a somewhat comfortable life. To spend money on mold, something we couldn't even see, made no sense.
But she saw.
She saw each of our nine children falling like little soldiers. One had an eye disorder, another an inner ear problem, another constant throat and lung irritation, another a seizure disorder. The list went on and the list of doctors grew longer. Our pets were exhibiting problems.
This is just life, I told her. They're going to outgrow this. Just hang in there with them. Things will get better.
But they didn't. The kids got worse.
In October 2008, my wife called while I was waiting for a flight home from Chicago. "I think we have to leave the house," she said.
"Listen," I said, trying to come up with some loving alternative to what was swirling in my gut. "We'll do whatever we need to do. Just wait till I get there."
That was the longest flight of my life, but it gave me a chance to think through the issues. If she is wrong about this, if she is deluded, crazy, or insane, I have much bigger problems than a house. But I'm committed to this woman no matter what. We'll get through this.
And then I allowed another thought to subtly slip through my mind.
What if she's right?
I hadn't even considered this because my mind had gone to the COST of the house. But if she was right, the cost would be my children and their long-term health.
Which do I care more about, my house and possessions or my children?
My children, of course! But then the other side of my brain kicked in—the provider. It makes no sense to flush everything we've done in the last eight years. And then I thought of all the furniture, new carpet, new appliances, yard work—my office! What about my office!? We put in a basketball court in the back yard. No, this can't be the way to go.
But what if . . . what if by some small, infinitesimal chance, we bought the one house that is infested with something we can't see that is slowly killing us? And what if the only way to free ourselves from further damage is to leave the house and everything in it?
The toxicologist and the doctor advising my wife, after hearing of the children's illnesses, told her to treat the house "like it was on fire." Run. Don't go back. Don't take anything with you.
But what about provision? Where do we go? What do we do? How do we pay for all of this, the testing, the possible remediation? Will the insurance company come through for us? What about a lawsuit?
This is all a bad dream. This is not happening to me. I've done everything I can to provide a safe place to live, a good life, and now it's being ripped away. She's crazy. That's it—she's just crazy and soon she'll come to her senses.
Or maybe I'll come to mine.
As long as I stayed in that "victim" mode, I was paralyzed. I cursed the home insurance company that told me our problem was not covered. I cursed the health insurance company that said the doctor who could finally help us was out of network and would not be covered. I cursed the company that first remediated the home and the hygienist who passed the inspection when the mold was larger after the remediation. I cursed the veterinarian who looked at our dog and said, "I've never seen this before."
Stop. Think about what's really going on here.
If this is all fiction and we leave, we can go back. The home will be exonerated and we can go back to our old life.
But . . . what if she's right?
If I could get out of victim mentality and stop making it about my wife, the doctors, the insurance companies, the remediators—if I can get past those issues to the heart of the matter, my deepest desire as a husband and father is to provide safety for my family.
If the house were on fire, I would run from room to room and carry my children outside. If they wanted to stay in the room or run back for their computers, I would continue to carry them to safety.
The most important thing in this equation is not the house, not our possessions, and not how much money we have in the bank. It's not what my wife feels or I feel. It's not what the insurance companies say or the lawyers say about the good chance we have for a lawsuit. None of that is paramount.
The most important thing is LIFE. Our lives. My children. My wife. Me. It's why I've worked so hard to provide—to give them life. And if the place where we're living is taking that life from us, it only makes sense to leave.
So on October 4, when I drove from the Denver airport, I put my suitcase with my new suit in the garage, changed clothes, and we walked out and closed the door behind us.
I was telling my wife with this act that I believed in her more than I believed in my own fear of the future. I believed in her more than I believed this was the wrong way to go. I was choosing life over the feeling of staying in the house another night.
For us, the story did not turn out to be fiction. The house was killing us. And it's been a long road to health since then. But here's what I tell any husband who calls me to complain about his crazy wife:
Your wife's heart is toward the children, toward life. Believe in her. You don't have to believe the mold is killing you. You can prove her wrong. But believe in her when she tells you it's time to vacate. And do it.
If she's wrong, you can both laugh at the inconvenience and the extra money spent. If she's right, it will be hard to forgive yourself for staying and putting your family at risk. Choose life. Choose people over things.
It's a choice you'll never regret.