Beverly Carr, 53, writes down ingredients for a summertime fresh fruit smoothie. Her bony fingers click the mouse, and she opens a new recipe on Pinterest. She writes this down too, carefully copying every direction and organic ingredient.
“I have to eat healthier once I’m healed,” she says, signing her words in American Sign Language as she speaks.
Her words draw glances from around the usually quiet room.
She comes here to the public library twice a week to use the computer.
A woman wearing perfume walks in, and without turning around, Beverly scrunches up her nose.
She says her stomach hurts, and she has to leave.
At home, Beverly adds the recipes to a stack of quart-sized bags, each stuffed with recipes written on the small library notepad paper.
She has never cooked any of them.
In fact, Beverly has not eaten a meal in 10 years.
“She somehow has been able to exist all these years without eating,” said her sister, Tammie Smallwood. “I mean she makes some kind of raw egg concoction that she consumes, and it’s actually enough to keep her alive.”
Beverly weighs 60 pounds.
She drinks tea with coconut oil and a blended mixture of herbs, egg, and hot water. This, along with vitamin supplements, is her diet.
Beverly, who was born deaf, tells anyone who asks that she has Candida yeast overgrowth, a disease she diagnosed herself with in 2005.
From childhood, Beverly had a high rate of infections in her ears, sinuses, and urinary tract. She says these were always treated with antibiotics.
The overuse of antibiotics can reduce good gut flora and harm colonic bacteria, leaving the patient open to overgrowth of Candida yeast, according to a 2008 paper from the National Center for Toxicological Research, run by the FDA.
However, Candida yeast overgrowth does not cause inability to eat. There is a restricted diet recommended to those suffering from it, but Beverly said she slowly lost the ability to eat all the foods on the list.
One would make her constipated, another would cause severe headaches, another would make her insides feel like they were being scrunched up.
In addition to foods, smells began to trigger physical reactions.
In 1999, she found that eating too much sugar gave her migraines. Once, after having a milkshake in Nashville, she asked her husband to take her home because of her headache. Beverly said he didn’t believe her until they got to the parking lot, and she threw up in the car.
In 2000, when she worked wrapping gifts in a Ralph Lauren warehouse, she noticed that handling bottles of perfume hurt her head.
In 2001, the year Beverly’s mother died of cancer, the smell of Lysol in the bathrooms at work made her sick to her stomach.
In 2006, the year of Beverly’s divorce, it felt like her stomach was on fire. For months, she would lie awake for hours each night, tossing and turning in agony.
When she decided to stop eating sugar and bread, the fire in her stomach stopped.
Similar scenarios happened with all processed foods, meats, vegetables, even lemon juice. Each one caused her body to react adversely, the reactions getting more easily triggered over time.
The last solid food she ate was part of an avocado in 2016, and before that, broccoli in 2009.
She said it just didn’t feel comfortable.
“It doesn’t hurt, it just feels funny,” she said. “It’s like it’s not supposed to be there. It’s like my body said ‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’ So I stopped.”
A note taped up with a band aid in Beverly’s bathroom reads “No More Avocados! Until you’re healed or the Lord tells you to eat again.”
Beverly’s walls are covered with similar reminders, most with scribbled Bible verses. Every surface is plastered with a mixture of photos and scraps of paper with penciled notes. Beverly cherishes photos of her life before she was sick, especially those with her mother and her son, Jacob.
Beverly has difficulty reminiscing about her mother without a strong emotional response.
On one occasion, she began crying as she pulled out an old photograph that showed the two women hugging and laughing.
“I miss her so much,” she said, her voice breaking, “That’s me and my mom.”
In the photo, Beverly’s shiny hair bounces around her round cheeks. This woman is unrecognizable from the emaciated figure holding the image.
Beverly said although she had some sensitivities while her mom was alive, the last time she felt truly well was before her mom’s death.
“Mom made me feel alive, made me feel good,” she said.
Beverly’s son, Jacob Carr, 26, thinks her declining health after her mother’s death was no mere coincidence.
“It devastated my mother,” he said. “She was her whole world. She is the one who taught her how to talk. It made my mom spiral into a deep depression and caused her to lash out at others, and that caused the slow decline of both her health and her marriage.”
Jacob, who was a preteen at the time of his parents’ divorce, said that Beverly started to isolate herself soon after this.
Jacob chose to live with his father, and Beverly only saw him about once a week.
“She would only see her family on the holidays, and her friends she used to see all the time, she stopped seeing,” he said. “She stopped going to church because she thinks she’s allergic to perfume. She thinks she can’t go in certain public spaces because she thinks the smells in the air are somehow toxic to her.”
Jacob and his aunt Tammie both said they think Beverly has convinced herself of health problems that are not entirely realistic.
“I attribute it all to my mother’s death and her divorce. All that happened within the same period of time,” said Tammie. “That is actually what happened to make her go into this tunnel that she just can’t come out of.”
Dan Edmonson, who met Beverly through work 16 years ago, said he and many others have tried to convince Beverly to seek medical help to no avail.
“She’s not taking care of herself properly. I’ve talked to various people in the medical community about this place that could help her; I’ve even talked with police. But you can’t make her do something,” he said.
Beverly said that doctors cannot help her. She says that experts who could help her don’t work in Bowling Green.
“A lot of doctors say there’s nothing wrong,” she said. “I get so tired of hearing nothing’s wrong, because I know something’s wrong.”
Earlier this year, Dan convinced Beverly to go to the doctor for a consultation, but she said the antibacterial fumes made her too sick to go back for any testing.
Despite her son’s belief that she is not doing all she can to get better, Beverly insists that she would go back if she could.
Beverly’s reactions to her environment have altered her entire life, not just her ability to see doctors.
Car fumes cause glue-like secretions from her bladder, she says.
The smell of sugary foods sparks an infection that makes her feel like her bladder can’t be emptied.
Windex makes her feel like her insides are burning. But she says if she stays away from all her triggers, the symptoms stay in check.
Cases exhibiting symptoms similar to Beverly’s have been identified in increasing numbers in recent years, according to an investigation by Discover Magazine in 2013. The piece, “Allergic to Life,” describes a phenomenon that researcher Dr. Claudia Miller calls toxicant-induced loss of tolerance (TILT). After overexposure to a chemical toxicant, people can develop intolerances to even very small amounts of chemicals.
Miller and colleagues released a 2012 study of patients at family medicine clinics that found 1 in 5 of individuals with chronic physical and/or mental health issues suffer from chemical intolerance that has gone undiagnosed.
Individuals with TILT reported sensitivity to car exhaust, lotions and perfumes, detergents, even certain foods. Symptoms are alleviated when triggers are withdrawn.
However, some researchers argue that environmental intolerance, also called multiple chemical sensitivity, is a somatic disorder, meaning that psychological delusions lead to the appearance of physical symptoms irrespective of any actual chemical exposure.
A 2001 article in the Journal of Internal Medicine argued this, pointing to the fact that patients of chemical sensitivity suffer from psychiatric disorders in a higher percentage than a normal population.
Tammie thinks that Beverly’s symptoms are psychosomatic.
“She went through some traumatic experiences, and she’s so isolated that she’s created this in her own mind,” Tammie said.
Tammie said that Beverly’s isolation from growing up deaf made it easy for her to concoct a whole illness.
“Her world’s always been a different world. Imagine growing up never hearing the world around you,” she said. “If you’re not around somebody who’s in that world of deafness, you’re not going to really understand what I’m talking about.”
To Beverly, whose life is impacted every day by her illness, there is nothing fake about it.
“Tammie told me once that I’m brainwashed,” she said with a shrug. “I don’t care. God knows I am telling the truth, and he is all that matters.”
Beverly’s faith has grown exponentially since she got sick, she said. Being home gave her time to pay attention to God and read the Bible more.
Others have taken notice. Dan said Beverly can quote a Bible verse for everything, a skill she did not have before she quit working. However, Jacob worries that her faith might be keeping Beverly from getting medical help.
“She’s expecting a miracle, to one day just be healed, which is really sad for me,” he said, his voice cracking. “She’s one of the smartest and sweetest people anyone could ever meet. But, I feel hopeless sometimes. I want to help more than I do, but there’s nothing I can do at this point. I’ve tried to tell her.”
Unlike her son, Beverly has not lost hope. She said that she is waiting for the Lord to heal her.
“You have to believe,” she said. “You can’t let anyone get in the way of your faith.”
Jacob said she frequently speaks of what her life will be like when she is healed.
“She’ll ask me what I did on the weekend, and I’ll say this past weekend I went to Holiday World and I rode the rides, and she’ll say something like ‘When I’m healed I would like to go there with you,’” he said, “It’s heartbreaking to me.”
Jacob said that an old friend, Napoleon Graham, told Beverly many years ago that he was a prophet and convinced her that God would heal her during this lifetime.
Beverly confirmed this, saying that Napoleon had heard from God that she would be healed before she died.
In a phone interview, Napoleon claimed he told her only that she would be healed, but not necessarily in this lifetime.
“I do believe she’s going to be healed, I do believe she’s going to be healed, I’ll tell you that,” he said, “I don’t know if it’ll be on this side of the earth or when she goes to heaven. But she will be healed.”
Beverly said that Napoleon going back on his word made her sad, but that she is not worried.
“This body has had too much stress, it is very fragile. So now I can’t let myself get worried,” she said, “No matter what happens, I’m keeping my eyes on the Lord.”
Despite the extreme circumstances of her life, Beverly says she is at peace.
“Who knows? Maybe he will heal me enough that I can go to the doctor. I may live 10 years or maybe I die tomorrow, but I trust the Lord’s timing,” she said.
Beverly recognizes the uncertainties in her life, but she seems unfazed by them.
“I used to cry a lot. I used to wonder and worry about my life,” she said. “But now I have accepted it. I just take it one day at a time.”
Tammie, who works at the Medical Center at Bowling Green, admitted that she cannot be sure Beverly’s illness is imagined.
“You can’t prove anything like that,” she said, “She has to actually come in and allow people to draw blood and do things that actually give you answers.”
However, in Tammie’s experience, nothing can convince Beverly to get the testing done that would determine the problem.
Maybe, like Tammie says, Beverly just does not want to hear the truth. Maybe, like Beverly says, it’s the antibacterial fumes that keep her away from doctors.
Either way, as long Beverly stays locked away in her home, no one will know.