Chronic health problems from last year's vegetable garden
This is the first time that I have seen your forum and I am hoping that someone here might be able to answer some questions for me or direct me to right locations. I apologize in advance for the length of my story but I'm hoping that some of it might ring a bell in someone's knowledge.
I rented and moved onto a small hobby farm a year ago in southwest Minnesota and was very excited to plant my first vegetable garden there. The garden plot had been on the property for decades and only seemed to need to be tilled for planting. The garden plot is 50' by 200' and I knew that the previous year it had been rented out to a local commercial farmer and planted in wheat. The property had been bought the year prior by a rental agency, who renovated the house. The previous owner was an elderly man in his 90's, who had been renting out his fields around my little section for several decades. It is all commercial farming in this area, with a typical rotation of corn, soybeans, and wheat.
I had variable results last year with my garden. My root vegetables in general did not grow well. As an example my onions never got more than an inch in diameter. While my peas themselves looked and tasted ok, the pods were often covered with some type of blight (it almost looked like a white mildew). Other vegetables seemed to grow wonderfully. I had an over abundance of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, cucumbers, and different types of lettuce and spinach. My big boy tomatoes seemed to develop some kind of rot from the bottom of the tomato and most of them ended up being thrown away. However, I had another variety of tomato (I don't remember the name)that seemed to over-produce, which was also true for my cherry tomato plants as well. I do not like using pesticides or herbicides in my gardens, and so was pleasantly surprised that I had very few weeds or insects to deal with. My 11 chickens learned early how to fly over their fence and they were often in the garden. I assumed they were eating the bugs and the young weeds.
By the end of July I was eating much of my food from my garden along with the chicken eggs. I was feeling great and losing weight. I'm 5 feet, 8 inches tall and in the middle of July I weighed 165 pounds, which had been my typical weight for more than 10 years. My garden continued to produce way into September. By the middle of September I was down to 145 pounds, but I was still feeling good. I attributed the welcome weight loss to better eating and working hard around the farm after work hours.
By the end of September I was down to 135 and starting to feel tired all the time and I realized that I had completely lost my appetite. When I looked back, I realized I hadn't actually felt hungry since the beginning of August. I often had to be reminded to eat by my family. By the beginning of October, I was nauseated a lot of the time, always felt cold, had trouble remembering things, and was sleeping way more than was typical for me. My doc thought it was a virus that I couldn't shake as blood checks came back normal for the most part. Nothing he had me try seemed to help the symptoms. (these were not all of my symptoms, just the ones that I can remember at this moment).
I continued to lose between 1 and 3 pounds a week and by the middle of October was forced to go on full medical leave from my job as a psychologist. At that point I was down to 124 pounds and my symptoms became compounded by severe malnutrition. I had become a walking ghost, unable to concentrate even to follow a simple TV show, comprehend anything I read, or drive safely. I was sleeping an average of 16-18 hours throughout the course of the day. I was tested and evaluated by numerous specialists for different types of cancers, brain disorders, thyroid problems, hormonal problems, emotional problems but all the tests kept coming back normal.
My weight loss stabilized at about 123-124 pounds, however I was still extremely ill. I was sent to the Mayo Clinic for a week in the middle of December and it was there that one of the docs had me tested for lead, mercury, and arsenic poisoning, as many of my original symptoms were consistent with some type of environmental contamination. In order to get accurate results from many of the blood tests they wanted to get, I had to be taken off many of my medications for 6 weeks, as they would have invalidated the results. The idea of seeing a toxicologist was brought up but it was determined by the docs to wait until I came back for the 6 week follow-up, which happened at the end of January. It was an unpleasant surprise to myself and my husband, as well as the docs at the Mayo Clinic, to find out at that appointment that the Mayo clinic does not have a toxicology department or a toxicologist on staff. The only suggestion they could give me was to have my family doctor look at the University of Minnesota for a toxicologist as they were pretty certain that my original symptoms had been caused by soil contamination due to the constellation of symptoms and the timeline of my illness, which meshed with my garden.
I have since found out that my garden plot had in fact been rented out for the past 20-30 years and had been heavily commercially planted, with a wide array of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers used. It's impossible to know exactly what was sprayed or tilled into the ground as different people rented out the garden area at different times. I know that I need to get the soil tested to see if by this point, anything still shows up. Right now the ground is completely frozen and covered in about 3 feet of snow. I am planning on having it tested in the spring, when it thaws.
I continue to struggle with the after effects of whatever made me sick to begin with. It's caused havoc with my peripheral nervous system, cardiovascular system, and GI tract. I've developed gallstones and short-term memory problems. Over the past several weeks however, I've noticed that I'm awake more often during the day and I'm feeling more like myself, which my doc attributes to the toxins slowly leaving my system. After 4 months of medical leave, I finally was able to return to work yesterday, but only at 24 hours a week. I'm on an appetite stimulant (probably not something that's going to be advertised on TV, alongside the Jenny Craig or Weight Loss commercials). Since I started taking it 2 months ago, I've only gained back 4 pounds, though I am eating more. I guess 128 pounds isn't so bad for someone my height..... :P
I apologize again for the rather lengthy synopsis but I'm hoping that someone will recognize a pattern within some of the symptoms and might be able to suggest some possibilities of what might have poisoned me. My doctors are very capable and competent but their attitude at this point seems to be "You're starting to get better, we know it was most likely from your garden, and whatever it was seems to be finally working its way out of your system, so lets be happy with that". There are a few toxicologists in Minnesota but they are all out-of-network for my medical insurance. Consequently, all those bills will have to be paid for out of pocket, which after having been on a 4 month, mostly unpaid medical leave, will be difficult financially. Given that, I'm hoping to have some concrete ideas before I have the appointment.
Question 2: Can anyone tell me what the typical or average time frame it takes for commercially applied chemicals to work their way out of the soil, if ever? Can commercially planted ground ever be safely turned back into home vegetable gardens and if so, how and over what time frame?
Question 3: Could the heavy use of chemicals (which I now know were used, I just don't know what types) explain the quirks I saw in the garden last year, such as the root vegetables not growing and the lack of bugs or weeds?
Any and all help, thoughts, and suggestions are very much appreciated at this point. It's been a very long road so far and I am still a long way from being healed so it would be nice to start to find some answers. (I also apologize for any typos or missing words. The later it gets in the evening, the more tired I get and the more cognitive issues creep in).
Thanks again for any and all help you can send my way. :)