Today is February 22, 2008, the anniversary of the devastating fire which destroyed our house and seriously damaged the infrastructure of our farm one year ago today. I’m lying in bed at around midnight, unable to sleep partly because of an incessant burning in my chest and head. One year ago tonight I was trying unsuccessfully to sleep in a neighbor’s bed and suffering from a burning sensation in the depths of my guts. Then it was the smoldering remnants of the emotional fires which had seared my inner being all of that fateful day. Tonight the burning is the remnants of an illness that hit me earlier this week, feeling like a cross between pneumonia and the flu, now morphing into a nasty sore throat and head cold.
By mid week I had a dry cough, my wind pipe felt like a sooty stove pipe, and I felt like pure crap. “What’s going on?” I thought. I’ve had this stuff before! We identified the culprit then as coming from moldy hay and diesel fumes. But we got our hay supply into storage this year cleaner than ever before and we are not feeding but half as much. This illness came on too fast and too intensely to be caused by the minuscule mold exposure I may have experienced from feeding a little hay. Then on Wednesday night I had one of those “Aha!” moments that often come to me when I am half asleep. I remembered reading something on the Internet several years ago about dust coming from bird droppings as a cause for some kinds of “farmers’ lung”. On Monday afternoon I had decided to clean up the greenhouse and get the benches set up for spring plant starting. I had kept about 20 spent hens in there for about a month and they had left a layer of fine brown dust all over everything. I had knocked around in there for about an hour, wiping the stuff off of the plant germination rack and grow lights, rubbing dried chicken poop off the bench supports, sweeping down dust sticking to the underside of the greenhouse plastic, and even digging up the soil in the center of the greenhouse floor in anticipation of setting in some lettuce plants later next month. That would have given me ample time to get my lungs full of something besides clean air capable of messing up my life for a few days.
I rolled out of bed, booted up the computer, and typed into the Google bar the word “pneumonitis”. Up came the Google page with a smorgasbord of links to websites describing various kinds of “hypersensitive pneumonitis” with scary sounding phrases like “extrinsic allergic alveolitis”. “Uh Huh!” I thought. And yes, exposure to dried chicken poop is a real source of trouble in addition to hay mold. Why don’t I have sense enough to put on a dust mask every time I get into dirty things, a common occurrence on any farm? I’ve been there before!