A house call is worth a dozen tests. And then some.

Flossie Marks used to complain now and then about shortness of breath on exertion. She never had chest pain and, after all, she carried firewood from the basement to feed the wood stoves and fireplaces in her large Victorian house. At 81, who wouldn’t be a little short of breath doing that?

Last summer, she finally sold the house where she and Eli had raised four children and hosted nine grandchildren for holidays and summer vacations. After Eli died three years ago the large house had become a millstone around her neck, and she had lowered her asking price by more than half before it finally sold. She had confided in me last spring that she didn’t think she could handle another winter there.

She had been so excited when she told me about the cute little apartment she would be moving into in September.

Then in November, I saw Flossie with a concern about nighttime coughing. She had gained some weight, but of course, she wasn’t running up and down three stories and down in the basement anymore.

She confided in me that she wasn’t thrilled with the apartment complex she had moved into. There was loud music and neighbors’ late night arguments sometimes kept her awake.

Her EKG and chest x-ray were normal, and she wasn’t anemic, but her BNP was mildly elevated. I ordered an echocardiogram. That was normal. As I contemplated my next move, Flossie ironically broke her ankle slipping on the wet bathroom floor. She never injured herself feeding the fires in her Victorian, but a wet tile floor put her in a cast boot and crutches.

I needed to proceed with my assessment of her cough and shortness of breath so I offered to do a house call.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at dusk for my visit was that several light fixtures outside and inside the building weren’t working. I also heard the music Flossie had told me about as I walked down the dimly lit carpeted hallway.

Entering her ground floor apartment at the back of the building, my nose instantly registered a strong smell of mold, and my mucous membranes started to burn.

Flossie was sitting in a recliner with her injured foot elevated, and as we spoke, her conversation was interrupted now and then by a dry cough.

“Did you see all the broken lights and did you hear the thumping rock music coming in?” Flossie asked. “I should have moved into the Leblanc Apartments instead — they have more people like me there. My best friend Norma Beck lives there, you know her. The superintendent there has said I can have an apartment close to Norma’s that becomes available the first of next month.”

“Sounds like that could be a good change for you,” I said, and I thought to myself as my eyes watered from the mold in the air. “It might stop our breathing workup right there.”

“A Country Doctor” is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes:.

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