Monday, September 15, 2014



            When they moved into their condo, the young newlyweds were perfectly healthy. Lucky enough to have a tennis court mere yards away, Jamie and Mike, both athletes, took frequent advantage of the lighted courts and played singles after work and doubles with friends on weekends.

But then something began going wrong. Both Mike and Jamie started having allergy-like symptoms: stuffy noses, sneezing, itchy eyes and trouble sleeping. In spite of a regular bedtime routine—in bed at 10:30, up at 7:30--every day they woke up exhausted.

Mike’s symptoms got worse. His ears were dripping liquid, staining their new pillows. His eyes were so dry and itchy he began to suffer migraines. After one severe bout with migraine that included tingling in his face, he ended up in the emergency room. Yet the doctors could find nothing wrong.  

“This isn’t normal,” said Jamie’s mother, and she suggested the two get a new mattress, which they did. Nothing changed. Then the couple discovered mold in their bathroom, and at great expense had the shower removed and replaced. But still their symptoms persisted. If anything, both of them were worse.

One day a desperate Mike, with a degree in microbiology, stalked into their bathroom and said, “Maybe this sea fan has something to do with it.” The purple sea fan sat on a specially-designed stand right next to the shower. It was so beautiful Jamie had decorated the bathroom around it. Her towels were purple and the walls were painted a lighter hue. Everyone agreed--the bathroom was lovely.

With her own degree as a landscape architect, Jamie said immediately, “Mike, the sea fan is dead. That can’t possibly be a problem.” The issue was shaping up as a battle between college degrees. She added, “But if you’d like to do an experiment, that’s okay with me.” So Mike moved the plant to the garage.  

Four days later, for the first time, Jamie and Mike got a good night’s sleep; they woke up with cleared sinuses and new energy.

Jamie immediately googled the Gorgonia Sea Fan and the truth came out; the purple variety was prone to acquiring a fungus, Aspergillus. The high incidence of Aspergillus on sea fans was linked to a 17% increase of asthma in Caribbean children. For anyone with a compromised immune system, Aspergillus could be a deadly fungus.

Now, with their own ornament positioned so that warm shower vapors washed over it constantly, sending toxins into their adjoining bedroom, the pair were slowly being poisoned. Mike’s sister, a doctor, declared, “The reason you kids survived as well as you did is that you were both basically healthy. That sea fan could have killed someone in poor health.” 

When I suggested to Jamie that she ought to stuff it so deep in the trash that nobody could resurrect it, she said, “One of our quick-witted friends said, “Don’t throw it away. Don’t you have an enemy?” Then she laughed. “And to think I rescued that thing off a beach in the Caribbean. We’d gone to a deserted island in Virgin Gorda, and the fan had washed up on shore.” She threw me a look. “How was I to know?” 

She added, “After we learned the truth, Mike was so annoyed that for several days he was anything but loving. Finally he brought up our long-ago Caribbean trip. In a voice I hear only rarely, he said, ‘I told you not to take that damn Sea Fan.’”

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