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Allergic to Life

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            As a kid, I had what they used to call hay fever. I’m sure there’s some eight syllable medical word, but it boiled down to summer allergies so bad I’d literally run a fever, and I mean literally in the literal term. This settles where the term “hay fever” came from.

            Still, a summer with allergies beats any winter, any time, any way. Not that the season matters, as I’ve learned thanks to the efforts of a pushy wife and fourteen hundred needles.

            Last winter I suffered through a series of sinus infections. Naturally my wife suffered more, which perhaps explains why she encouraged me to go see an ear, nose and throat specialist.

            By “encouraged”, I mean “made me”. My protest that an ENT has nothing to do with sinuses – it’s not in the name – fell on ears even deafer than my own clogged ones. At least ears are in the name.

            I wonder if they have foot, leg, and knee doctors?

            The ENT (I used to be an EMT, which earned a lot less) tortured me. There’s no other word for it. The man had more probes than my urologist, who also tortured me. He sprayed something up my sinuses that actually qualifies as waterboarding, without the board. Then he did something even worse: He agreed with my wife.

            I had to get allergy testing.

            Remember the fourteen hundred needles I mentioned? I was destined to be needled more than Charlie Sheen at a celebrity roast.

            That would only be after the reams of paperwork, which were slightly more painful than the needles. Had I, anytime in the last ten years, sneezed, sniffed, itched, dried, wet, reddened, peeled, stuffed, coughed, or been cross of the eyes? Yes. “Describe each time.”

            We were there for three hours before they put the first needle in me. Then it got fun.

            The tester had a board full of needles, and each needle had a tiny speck of something that I may, or may not, be allergic to. How they came to get those materials is something I’d rather not know, but they made sure there was only a little, in case a test subject was severely allergic. If one of the tiny marks on my forearm puffed out and swelled, I was reacting.

            The tester looked away, and when she looked back my forearm had swelled so much I resembled Popeye right after taking the spinach.

            To her credit, the tester’s eyes bulged out only for a moment. Then she calmly opened the door and called to the medical staff:

            “Red alert! I need 50 cc’s of all our antihistamines, a gallon of decongestant, hydrocodone, ice, oxygen, codeine, epi-pens, and an extra copy of that release form he signed, in triplicate. Also, cancel lunch.”

            From somewhere in the next room I heard a puzzled voice: “Just how many patients do you have in there?”

            Then the tester lady put twice as many pokes into my other forearm.

            She used a little card, which had several round holes in it of different sizes, to measure my reaction. The bigger the swollen area, the more allergic. After a few tries she tilted her head and said, “I think we’re going to need a bigger card.”

            Then she started poking single needles into my shoulder, one by one. Those reactions, by the way, held on for over a week.

            “What’s the verdict?” my wife asked, while I huddled, slobbering and shaking, in a fetal position on the floor.

            The tester shook her head. “Do you have any plastic bubbles?”

            “Um, we have bubble wrap.”

            “I’m not sure you can sterilize bubble wrap.”

            I already knew I had allergies – see above about hay fever. It turns out that I’m what they call severely allergic, which is a medical term meaning … well, I guess it’s pretty straightforward, what it means. I’m seriously allergic to … let me take a breath:

            Dogs, cats, indoor mold, outdoor mold, dust, grasses, ragweed, pollen, politicians, insects, dust mites, urushiol, fungus, feathers, and cottonwood trees.

            Here’s a fun irony: Standing by the entrance to the allergy doctor’s office are two big cottonwood trees.

            Oh, Urushiol? Poison ivy. That allergy I already knew about, through sad experience.

            Afterward we had a talk with the tester lady, while I recovered. And I’m not exaggerating about the recovered part, because to prepare for the test I had to go off my regular allergy medicines for a week, so I was in bad shape before she even got started.

            She explained to me that, while my medications might mask some symptoms, my body was still fighting the allergens every moment, every day. Imagine, she said, being in a boxing match in which you’re hitting at an opponent constantly, without a break, for years. How would that make you feel?

            Well, that explained a lot. Not just the typical allergy symptoms, but sleep problems, depression, headaches, irritability, itchiness. I had been sick my entire life, constantly, and because I had no period of wellness to compare it to I thought it was normal.

            Now I had a chance to experience not feeling awful all the time. When we met with the ENT again, I asked what treatment we could try. Anything, I said – anything to give me a chance to feel awake and alive for the first time in my life.

            “Allergy shots,” he replied. “Since you have so many allergies, we can’t fit all the treatment into one dose. So, you’ll have to have two allergy shots, one in each arm every week, for the rest of your life … or at least, it will seem like the rest of your life.”

            I nodded, and pretended to consider it. Then I said,

            “On the other hand, I don’t know what I’m missing, so it’s not really that bad, is it?”

            But my wife encouraged me to try to shots, anyway.

            By encourage, I mean “made me”.