Warning: Cleanliness Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

This has been a wheezy week for me, replete with headaches and extra fatigue. (Which I need, by the way, about as much as an extra navel.) And the reason is a bit of overly enthusiastic housecleaning down at the church where I’m organist.

This is Holy Week for Christians, and within such traditional denominations as the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian Churches, it is a Very Big Deal indeed. As a corollary, this means Eastertide calls for a copious amount of musical preparation. Even though I started several weeks back, I’ve still been swamped.

Part of it, of course, is due to my need to transcribe everything from the hymnal. Even with my computer glasses, my eyes have gotten to the point where I simply can’t read the music on the rack. Fortunately, I have a terrific software program called NoteWorthy Composer (http://NoteworthySoftware.com) that makes writing music almost as easy as writing words. So I transcribe everything, often arranging it to fit my own feet and hands, and print it in a 24-point typeface that lets me read the music instead of playing half by ear. By this point, I’ve got a lot of the basic pieces transcribed.

But I just got the program last Easter, so most of the seasonal music hasn’t been copied. And there is a lot of it. Start with the obvious: Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, the end-points of Holy Week. In addition, we will have services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I sat down earlier and added things up. Four hymns for each of the Sundays, three for each of the additional services. Three separate anthems for the choir. Two preludes and two postludes. (Thursday and Friday services are somewhat shorter.) Then the three standard pieces used each time, the Sanctus and Doxology and Agnus Dei. Bottom line is that I had to be ready to play twenty-four separate pieces of music during this eight day period. Even granting that some of them are very short and very familiar, some of them are brand new. This amounts to a fairly heavy gig.

However, I was doing fine. Really I was. In fact, I was having fun, since I’ve been doing a bit more with the arranging, making the pedal part more than just a duplicate of the bass line. But then someone decided that the church’s carpet needed cleaning. Now, I will admit it was a bit grubby. The basic red (why are all church carpets red?) had gotten several shades darker. And yeah, Easter is the biggest single festival of the church year, and it falls during the spring-cleaning season, so it makes sense to do it then. I just wish they could have done it a month before Easter. Or a week after. Any other time, when I could just have taken a couple of weeks off.

You see, they tried using one of those rental units and found it wasn’t up to the job. So someone popped to have one of those professional companies come in, with the special hoses and special cleaners and what-not. Especially the special cleaners. Or maybe it was the special whatnot. Whatever it was, I could have easily done without it. I arrived for an extra practice, and the smell nearly knocked me over.

Some low comedy ensued, when I asked the young man what chemicals they used. He said, and I swear I am not making this up, “We don’t use chemicals. It’s a solution. That’s different.” Somewhere an English teacher should be hanging her head in shame. He did not seem to appreciate my saying that everything, including the two of us, is made up of chemicals. He finally admitted to a “mint-scented prewash.” If one molecule in a thousand of that “mint scent” ever came near a garden, I’m the Easter Bunny.

But there were other components as well. Of that I am certain.

Whatever they were, they clobbered me right in the fibro. I’m not excessively sensitive to most chemicals, but some of them make my lungs want to go elsewhere. The adhesive used on new carpets is one of them. And whateverthehell was in that cleaning compound is another. So I practiced with every fan on and the doors wide open, and went home, used my inhaler, then went to bed with a headache. By yesterday morning (Palm Sunday), it was a bit better and most people didn’t notice the smell. I still wanted the door open.

So I’ll be practicing this week with the doors open and fans on, and inhaler at the ready. And I will ask the committee that handles such things to please give me advance notice if they ever plan to do this again, so I can take a few weeks off!

On a final serious note: I strongly recommend that anyone reading this who has asthma, chemical sensitivities, or fibromyalgia, stay as far away as possible from commercial carpet cleaners!

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Warning: Cleanliness Can Be Hazardous to Your Health — 4 Comments

  1. Why are all church carpets red? I have never seen one of any other hue either. I bet there is a reason rooted in Scripture and theology, probably revolving around the Blood of the Lamb. Also, it is a good color for hiding dirt.

    My Apollyon at church is the pew cushions. Ours were made (at a guess) during the Civil War. The only way to professionally clean them would be to send all 150 of them out — such a stupendous expense that it has so far as I know never been done. Sit on them, and a cloud of dust mites rises up to gently envelop you. I always take a Claritin on Sunday morning.

  2. Every time I see a commercial or hear a friend extolling the virtue of something that is “all natural, with no chemicals!” I want to hit my head (or the other person’s, more likely) against the wall. My darling sister in law, who puts not her faith in western medicine but loves her homeopathy and organic foods, will explain with no sense of irony that her food and “remedies” have no chemicals in them.
    “No additional chemicals,” I say.
    “No chemicals. They’re all natural.”
    And again: me, head, wall. Ow.

  3. Close call, Kate — that could have flattened you for weeks. I’m toying with representing a safer way to clean with an online portal.

    Universe knows we can use them, and we need to know which ones WORK without losing us a week or a month of work/life/etc..

  4. Kathi, I actually HAVE heard of one carpet-cleaning method that manages without the side effects. It’s the one my doctor’s office uses when they get their carpets cleaned. The outfit they call is in Tucson, but there should be others around. If you want the name, drop me an email and I’ll ask Mike.

    I suspect they may be more expensive. But our doctor (who is also one of our best friends) is an expert on multiple chemical sensitivities and mold-related toxicity. Expert in the sense that he’s often called on to testify as an Expert Witness for the plaintiffs in mold and chemical sensitivity lawsuits. He has patients who come to him from all over the country, and signs all over the office asking patients to avoid perfumes, etc., when they come in. So when he says it’s safe, I trust that it’s SAFE!

    All I know for certain is that it involves carbon dioxide and an airing period. But I can guarantee that there won’t be formaldehyde or petrochemicals involved!