Gillian McCarthy: Regional Representative for Somerset
A Necessary Preamble:
The biography material that you are about to read below - in gray text - was painfully dictated to me, Gordon D McHendry, by Gillian McCarthy, over several weeks, in numerous small chunks, and under very difficult circumstances for us both, over the telephone in the autumn of 2006. The reader should note that all blue text on this biography page was written by me, with Gillian's full permission, to try and fill in the gaps that were left by her inability to continue due to rapidly deteriorating health. At that time Gillian was confined by an extreme combination of severe allergies and chemical sensitivities to her cold, dark shack in an organic field near Wincanton, with no running water and no electricity. And this had been her very health-hostile and life threatening situation for quite some time prior to that.
In September 2006 my father was admitted to a hospice in England with terminal lung cancer. That event, his subsequent and merciful death a short time later, and some other heavy duty family problems had me flying from Aberdeen airport to London Gatwick several times within the period of a few months. These difficult events not only set the stage for my learning about Gillian extreme MCS situation for the first time but also made it possible for me to meet with Gillian at her shack and to be of some limited help to her at that time (article with photographs and video interview with Gillian pending).
It was just by chance really that during that rather difficult time, on many levels, for me personally, that I was suddenly made aware of Gillian's quite extraordinary plight. This took the form of a telephone call from an M.E friend and colleague, Audrey Adcock, of the South Devon M.E.Support Group who, despite getting on in years herself now, had been very kindly helping Gillian in various ways for quite some time.
At the time of writing this page (12.02.07) Gillian is STILL there in that very old and disintegrating field-shack just as she has been for the past 10 long and very difficult years. She is now very weak with hunger, dehydration, and hypothermia. On top of all that she is in very poor health generally over and above the very substantial health burden of her severe allergies and severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) illnesses. Her situation is absolutely intolerable - and utterly scandalous.
* UPDATE 14th FEBUARY 2008: - For latest news see Gillian's Archived News/Campaign Page
The Chemical Connection:
Born in Darby in 1954 two miles from the British Celanese Factory at Sandon which doctors later identified as a major predisposing factor in chemical sensitivities affecting me and my brother who was also born in Darby. All of my siblings have classical allergies but this brother and I share this additional burden of chemical sensitisation. My mother noted that the fumes from the factory turned washing on the line a brownish yellow.
I was a colicky baby - indicating food allergies - and nearly died the night after my 2nd Dyptheria booster inoculation. It was 30 years before the implications of all this were realised. There is certainly a family history of classical (immune mediated) allergies as predisposing factors and for those readers interested in homeopathy miasms for tuberculinium, syphilinium and carsinosin have been identified - as is the case with most MCS/ME/Multiple Allergy sufferers.
We moved from Derby when I was 4 to Kidderminster in Worcester where my father was a fire brigade station officer so we lived in the fire station yard right under their radio aerial. Experts now believe that this was a factor in making me electro-sensitive along with the presence of a fire brigade telephone in my father's car in the days when such equipment was not well shielded Because I was always very car sick, identified years later as a severe petrochemical sensitivity, I usually sat in the front of the car being nearer to the phone at a young age when my immune system was still developing. Interestingly, at night, I always woke before the fire bells rang which implied I was picking up the radio signal in some way.
I was regarded as a picky eater but was too young to express how peculiar many foods made me feel. Especially oranges, tomato's, eggs, milk etc. All foods which parents were being encouraged to feed young children in those early post-war years. I was also unhappy eating meat and later discovered that I was not producing anything like adequate levels of enzymes and hydrochloric acid to digest animal protean and was in fact classically allergic to all meat and fish families. The upshot of this was that school meals were a torment in those days of no choice when you must clean the plate or else!
There then followed succession of moves around the country. My father was rapidly promoted through the fire service having been the youngest station officer in the country at Kidderminster. We moved from Claines, Alderbridge, Staffordshire; Weeping Cross, Stafford; Kid demister, Worcester; Spatchley, Worcester; Lemmington Spa, Worwichshire.
Having started school at Claines I was regarded as a bright child with a well above average reading age, but increasingly struggled with memory and cognition in maths. In retrospect this was a form of numerical dyslexia commonly found in allergic/chemically sensitive individuals. Throughout infant and junior school I would try all sorts of strategies to avoid drinking the compulsory school milk. I was a hard working child and always produced note able amounts of project work and yet would often be told off for yawning in assembly which we now know is a typical allergy symptom.
I was having increasing difficulties with tonsillitis and sinusitis. Aged 9 I had my tonsils and adenoids removed and started a long series of sinus operations many using general anaesthetics which were increasing my chemical load; none of which made me feel any better. It was not until I was 35 that the cause was identified as severe milk, cereal and mould allergies, bourne out by the onset of child lumbago which dogged me from age 11 and is now considered by many authorities to be diagnostic of mild allergy (along with tonsillitis, glue ear and growing pains).
I also found at school that although I was a very polite and very well behaved child I would be very cheeky in the class after art as I was affected by the powered paints we use and although these made me feel odd as a child I just assumed that everybody felt that way. The "cheekiness" was disturbing as it felt out of control and | now know that I was reacting chemically to the paint. Although I was a good swimmer I was often too exhausted and enervated after swimming in the heavily chlorinated pool to dry and dress myself and some 2 decades later, after exposure to organo-cholrine pesticides was described as "near anaphylactic" to choline by one specialist doctor.
I went on to do mostly science A Levels as I knew by then that I wanted to study agriculture but struggled mightily with cognitive and memory problems in the laboritries surrounded by gas burners and the chemicals, and these problems continued throughout my college and university career when my teachers, tutors, and professors would be astonished by the quality of my essays and dissertations and other course work conducted outside the chemical environment of the lab having become accustomed to encountering a much "dossier" Gillian in the lab environment. Despite a great love of books and reveling in research I also increasingly encountered problems in libraries starting with immediate dihoreha on entering a library to rashes, prickly skin, abominable headaches, and so on. Years later I discovered that I was extremely sensitive to chlorine and other chemicals in paper, the chemicals in ink, formaldehyde, and other chemicals in glues and in book covers and perhaps worst of all many libraries were at that time routinely treating both their books and premises with organophosphate's against "bookworms"!
Throughout my childhood and teens I was a keen ballet dancer and horse rider, particularly dressage and eventing, and in the 6th form also took up fencing. However I was constantly beset with muscles and joint pain and weakness and I realised that it was related to the allergies and nutrient malabsorbsion. Throughout my teems I had repeated anaesthetics for sinus operations and then at 17 I had a riding accident that serious damaged my right knee leading to another anaesthetic. After I had been prepped with iodine the operation was delayed for a week yet my leg was repeatedly prepped with iodine leaving me seriously sensitised to all iodine containing materials. Increasingly I was reacting badly to the anaesthetics and it was notable that I was not receiving any relief from paracetamol pain killers (see below).
As I was not from a farming family it was a requirement of my university admission to read agricultural nutritional biochemistry at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne that I gained some farming experience so I spent a year working on farms and studying for practical (City & Guilds etc) agricultural qualifications which I did at Worwichshire Agricultural College at Moreton Morrell. Now the acute agrochemical exposures began in earnest.
It is now 1972 and still to a large extent the days of "innocence". The governments food from Britain policy was being developed and farmers and others involved in agriculture were being swept along with the enthusiasm to produce the highest yields possible to "feed the world". Were directives were issued to use specific chemicals the popular myth was in the back of all our minds that somewhere the "backroom boys" and many "white coats" had thoroughly tested these miracle chemicals for both safety and efficacy. Many years later I came to realise that I had been at university with the current crop of men (and indeed women) in white coats and no way were they testing the safety to humans of these chemicals to any extent either when used singularly on in combination.
Back in the days of innocence of the early 70's I went to work on a large farm near to Warwick prior to starting at the college at Moreton and when there the government had issued a directive that all these cattle should be treated with an organo-cholrine warble fly dressing. This was a well managed farm and I can still see us still standing round as the farm manager and then the foreman carefully read and re-read both the government directive and the package instructions on how to use the product. This was done with great care with the operatives wearing rubber gloves as their only protective clothing. Afterwards the bullocks could be seen to be weaving about repeatedly falling to their knees and that week there were more accidents on the farm than there had been in the previous 18 years.
We were all clumsy and seemed to suffer from a kind of dyslexia when operating machinery doing the opposite to what we intended, all our tractors and trailers were jack-knifed doing procedures that had been done safely hundreds of times in the past and the 7 or 8 operatives, including myself, that were involved in the warble dressing were often giggly and behaving almost as if intoxicated and the dour Scottish farm manager joked that he reckoned that we were "high" on the warble fly dressing. However none of us seriously believed this because we naively thought those mythical men in white coats had made sure that the chemicals were safe. Despite this I can still see the same group of people standing round a tractor mounted circular saw at the end of that week getting ready to cut up some railway sleepers for fence posts and in light of all the accidents that week we looked at each other and then all looked at the farm manager and said "I think we'd better leave this until we all get over our warble fly "wobblies" and we all turned thankfully away.
As a sidebar, one of the apparently minor accidents that week was that while I was sitting on the back of a trailer 2 other workers handed me a electric fence transformer which turned out still to be live resulting in me being unable to let the device go so that I was continually electrically shocked for about a few minutes while the others giggled hysterically in their warble-fly dressing intoxication, including the older and most sensible worker on the farm. Professor Cyril Smith later concluded that this was another factor in increasing my electrical sensitivity - particularly in close proximity to the likely damage to my myelin sheaves, i.e; the body's natural fatty nerve insulation by the organo-cholrine chemicals and their carriers. It has also been suggested that females may have a different level and mode of susceptibility in view of their differential fat metabolism and hormonal makeup.
As harvest was approaching no other chemicals were being used at this time. Nor grain fumigant as it was a brand new grain store. I then went on to commence my year at Moreton Morrell where amongst other things we were taught how to dip sheep. I have photographs of us during this instruction wearing a cotton college overall tucked into our wellington's which of course meant that we became drenched in sheep dip and were squelching around in whellies full of it. And of course sheep do not want to be dipped so it is impossible to dip them without getting soaked in the stuff! Everyone thought I was a sissy because I put a scarf over my hair. So much for protective clothing!
Over the next fortnight I and others were covered in large suppurating sores, some of which took months to clear up, tended to have balance problems and nausea and I certainly put on two and a half stone (convert also to kilo's) in two weeks which the GP subsequently subscribed to "hormonal problems". In a way he was probably right but clearly any hormone induced changes were a symptom of the chemical poisoning. Subsequently I had more and more problems finding something that I could eat although nobody at that stage suggested food allergy and intolerance. And the level of joint pain weakness and stiffness worsened progressively and I could no longer for example use the differential lock on the tractor - which was a major inconvenience. However I passed my exams with flying colours and in fact some years later was awarded the most outstanding old student award by the college much to the hilarity of friends and colleagues! In later years I became an exterior examiner for the college.
After more farm work I then went up to the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (1973-1976) to read agricultural nutritional biochemistry.....
(At this point Gillian finally became unable to continue dictating her mini-biography.)
Gillian was able to continue dictating the remainder of her story to me by telephone on the evening of the 13th of February 2007.
During my stay at university I had major problems with the chemicals in the labority and surrounding new buildings and, at the time, didn't understand why. I did my 2nd year exams suffering from glandular fever which, retrospectively, was relished by Dr Dorothy West of the Ivy Bridge Clinic, to have been facilitated by my exposure to organo-cholrines and organophosphate's. I then had 2 serious riding accidents, one whilst at university and the other 11 months later, which further complicated the eventual diagnosis of my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and added a further 8 anaesthetics and a plethora of pharmaceutical drugs to my Total Load (Body Burden) of chemicals.
After university I worked in the agricultural industry (including trial sites) during which I was extensively and repeatedly exposed to a complex cocktail of over 200 different chemicals (more information on this including medical reports will be made available via the archive link on this web page). I was also exposed to repeated and very long periods of anaesthesia and massive levels of prescribed pharmaceutical drugs all of which further compromised my detoxification pathways.
I was also exposed to Tin-Butyrate (TBTO) wood treatment and some 18 years later, after intensive detoxification, I was still found to have one of the the highest levels of organic bound tin ever measured in a live patient. I was then exposed to parathyroid woodworm treatment which went wrong and which was the last straw for my poor beleaguered detoxification pathways.
Gillian McCarthy BSc. MBIAC is/was a Nutritional Biochemist, Homeopath, and published writer. In addition to a range of conventional allergies she also suffers from severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Her MCS plight became very high profile 10 years ago when Noel Edmonds flew her in his personal helicopter to a tent in an organic field near Wincanton as a "temporary measure" pending the organisation and building, by the local council, of an MCS friendly house for her. In the end this never happened and the temporary tent was exchanged for an ex-holiday camp type shack which she named "The Stop Gap". Over 10 years have come and gone now since her highly televised helicopter trip with Noel Edmonds but, incredibly, nothing has changed for her. As a recent Westcoutry Live TV News piece by Adrian Lane put it "The Stop Gap" has become a "Dead End".
The Wider Context:
Gillian doesn't see how she can possibly continue to survive for very much longer. Having visited with her at The Stop Gap in the autumn (2006) and seen with my own eyes the atrocious conditions under which she was - and STILL is - living; circumstances which would, believe me, sorely strain the health of even the most fit of us, I can only sadly agree with her honest and very practical assessment of her situation.
Despite the impossible position she is in Gillian continues to fight bravely on to raise both the awareness of her own dire MCS nightmare and the level of MCS awareness in the public, medical, and political arena's as well. This she manages by phone when able. Already she has spread the word about our work here at MCS International among many of the contacts she has built up over the years and passed valuable contact information to us also so that we share and exchange information and/or resources with these individuals and organisations. It my personal opinion that it is only this campaigning telephone work that keeps Gillian's will to live going at all under such brutal and unrelenting circumstances.
One of Gillian's greatest fears was that all the long MCS history of her enforced 10 years in a tent and field-shack, and her endless fight for proper social, medical, and political recognition of her MCS illness (approximately 38 years in total), a great deal of which is extensively documented, would simply be "lost" after her death. She had intended to make all of that material available via a web site/organisation called "Safe as Houses" but exceedingly difficult circumstances and worsening health finally caused this endeavour to fail. She was therefore happy and relieved to accept MCS International's offer to archive such material for her and make as much of it accessible to the public via our web site in general, and her own personal biography web page here in particular, as was useful and possible. For our own part we are very happy to help Gillian in this way and to have her with us as one of our regional representatives.
If you feel you can be of any help to Gillian, or would simply like to offer her some words of comfort or support, you can contact her via her MCS International email account via the email button below.