Patrick Zoda has been working nonstop for a month, trying to save his Staten Island home after it was badly damaged by Sandy. As he works, the debris cloud filling his house has also been filling his lungs.
“I feel totally drained, tired," Zoda told NBC 4 New York. "Every morning I wake up coughing."
Dr. Brahim Ardolic, chairman of Emergency Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, says he has seen a greater number of patients with respiratory issues in recent weeks, mostly in people with pre-existing conditions. The combination of flu season and Sandy cleanup -- which has brought unhygienic conditions, dirty water and mold into homes -- is a perfect storm for sickness, he says.
"Which of these factors actually cause these people to come in is very difficult to say, but clearly, there is an increase in the number of people that are coming in with these conditions," Ardolic said.
Zoda, who lives in Midland Beach, says this cough is different from anything he's had before.
“It is a very dry cough that I have. It's not a normal cough,” Zoda said.
And doctors say it’s not just mold that could irritate residents, but also dust and insulation.
For Zoda and hundreds of home owners just like him, there is just no time to get sick.
“If I have to see a doctor, do this, that, everything, clean up. Only so much one person can do,” he said.
Even if people are pressed for time, they need to see a doctor, Ardolic says.
“You've probably had very little rest, been exposed to conditions that are horrifying and you maybe are sicker than you know. And what gets you ill, it's not the mold necessarily but you might be ignoring symptoms you wouldn't normally be ignoring,” he said.