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KILLING ME SLOWLY WITH YOUR PONG!; Gillian is at risk from 20th Century smells.

Attractive Gillian McCarthy lives in a tent. Not because she's addicted to camping - but because she's allergic to the 20th Century.

If she gets just one whiff of anything chemical it can trigger a reaction so severe it could kill her.

Family or friends who visit her pitch on a coastal hilltop mustn't wear aftershave, make-up or deodorants. Even their clothes must be free of fabric conditioner and cigarette fumes.

For Gillian, 42, suffers from a mysterious condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder - also known as 20th Century Syndrome.

Everyday materials - like plastic, rubber, cleaning products, paint, shampoo, hair conditioner, even tap water - all spell immediate danger for her.

One sniff could knock her out or bring on rashes, nausea, headaches and tremors.

"If I meet someone wearing perfume, it could make my legs swell up so violently that the skin splits and blood and yellow fluid runs out," said 42-year-old Gillian who, ironically, used to be a biochemist. Her extraordinary illness compelled her to seek the pure air of life in her tent 300 yards from the sea at West Bexington, near Dorchester, Dorset.

She has lived there since February - but now the freezing weather is forcing her to move out.

Gillian, who is in constant cramp-like pain, took to her bed last week and was breathing through an oxygen mask after getting a reaction to petrol fumes from some visitors' cars.

She cannot be treated by conventional medicines or in a hospital ward because both involve the use of materials her body so violently rejects.

Even life in the open air has its perils. "I have no sense of smell so if the postman comes into the tent with a letter I don't know if he is wearing aftershave until it's too late," said Gillian. "Then my sight goes, my legs swell and my hands shrivel."

Gillian, who lives off pounds 104 a week income support and invalidity benefit, injects herself up to four times a day with desensitising drugs - one for every substance she is allergic to. "They literally switch off my reactions like a light switch," she said.

Then she has to have intravenous drips - given twice a week by a nurse - to strengthen her immune system. Gillian's elderly parents drive from Bristol three times a week just to boil her bedding and clothes.

Somerset health authority have agreed to pay for the next six months of injections and drips.

But at least the misery of living in a tent in winter will end for Gillian when she moves today to a Pontin's chalet near Weymouth.

And she will be travelling in style as TV star Noel Edmonds is flying her to her special "House Party" in his helicopter.

"Noel has been great," said Gillian. "He has taken the seats out of his helicopter and washed it out with bicarbonate of soda."

Doctors think Gillian's condition was triggered by years of exposure to agricultural chemicals which she came into daily contact with in her work as an authority on horse care.

Dr Christopher Heard, an expert in environmental medicine who has treated other sufferers, says few are as bad as Gillian. "Most just struggle on," he said.

As Gillian leaves her tent and walks to Noel's helicopter today she will close the gate to the field. On it is a sign which reads "Wit's End".
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Collins, Sharon
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 17, 1996
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