Thursday, April 18, 2002

O! How I Hate Allergies

When I was a kid, I wished I had an allergy...but only to compete with my dramatically sickly stepsisters, who were allergic to everything, who had strep throat and bronchitis and ear infections whenever they could manage it, and who milked every little twinge and pimple of its Oscar-worthy sympathetic potential. My sister and I were grotesquely healthy by comparison, and often felt very left-out because of it. I decided to be allergic to pine cones and gerbils (I wanted something that wouldn't come up a lot), and would scratch at my arms and 'sneeze' in a very cartoonish manner whenever I encountered such objects. I didn't get any sympathy, in fact all I got was impatience and angry admonitions, but I enjoyed the performance nonetheless.

Later on I discovered that it is actually a good thing to be healthy all the time, and dropped the charade on the pile of useless childhood affectations along with my fake English accent, my stated conviction that my stuffed animals would one day come to life (and then we'll see who's boss), and my oft-aired belief that I would be a much better person, son, and student if only I could fly.

I wasn't really aware that I had sinuses for most of my life. Even when I had a head-cold, my sinuses never bothered me. But around the time I was in my late twenties, they started acting up. I got a sinus infection when I was 26, and that was the beginning of the end for me. At 28, I discovered from a doctor (to whom I had gone for relief of the throbbing, shattering migraines I was suddenly suffering) that I had allergies. He prescribed pseudephedrin (Sudafed), and told me that I had allergies and should go to an allergist to find out exactly what substances were triggering the allergic reactions.

I didn't do any such thing, of course. I don't trust allergists; in fact, I don't really trust doctors in general...I only went to the school clinician because it was "free" (I had been paying a small fee with all of my tuition payments) and I was beginning to suspect I was having strokes (that's how bad the pain had gotten after six months of migraine headaches). Since then, I have simply studied my own reactions; I find that, once I'm aware that something external is causing the problem, it's fairly easy to discover which things are doing the damage when introduced to my environment...all it takes is a little scientific observation.

The first thing I discovered myself allergic to was the usual plant-related stuff that I found around our own garden, dried grass and other airborne seeds, fruit-tree pollen...but particularly fern spores. Then I discovered that there was something in either latex paint or paint-remover that was absolutely killing me, after stripping and painting some cabinets in my bathroom and having to spend the next three days in a dark room with a cold washcloth over my eyes. After I started going around to nurseries and plant shows with Shiloh (have I mentioned he's a landscape horticulturist? Well, he is, and a very good one), I started adding to the list: freesias and lilies (the perfumey kinds, anyway) have immediate sinus-swelling results, as do most kinds of fertilizers (mold spores), a lot of insecticides, and the more heavily-scented roses.

Quitting smoking helped a lot...I'm still allergic to things, but my sinuses don't get infected as much, and it takes me longer before I am in actual real-live agony. Quitting yardwork helped even more, I refuse to ever paint anything as long as I live, and politely refusing when people enjoin me to "smell this flower" is always helpful. The funny thing is that I have a very highly-developed sense of smell, and I love sniffing at things. Now I just have to do it more carefully...if the first sniff gives me a little tickle in the back of my throat, I just have to back away and forget about it.

A more recent discovery is that I am allergic to lavender. The Ds once gave me a gorgeous silk eye-pillow for my birthday, designed to reduce stress, filled with chamomile and lavender for aromatherapeutic relaxation. Well, I was having a bad sinus day (the roses outside my office were blooming full throttle, and it was acacia season), so I laid back and slid the cool mauve silk pad over my eyes and went to sleep. When I woke up I couldn't open my eyes, I thought my teeth were going to crack under the pressure in my skull, and my tongue felt like I'd been giving the sofa a rim-job. After that, I found that I am allergic to something in one of my favorite men's colognes, Acqua di Gìo; later experiences with a particular boy wearing essential oils led me to suspect that the substance in question is Hawaiian blue ginger (whatever the hell that is), but it might very well be heliotrope, which has a similar smell.

But that's not the worst of it. I discovered a while ago that not only am I allergic to all sorts of plants and such, I am also allergic to certain allergy medication! I had been taking Sudafed all along, and it wasn't doing enough for me, so I switched to Benadryl; after a couple of days of that, my heart went off rhythm! Well, cardiac arrhythmia is not something to laugh about, so I went to the drop-in clinic at Summit, where they took an EKG and left me in a room next to a weeping senile woman for a couple of hours (Lucy, don't leave me here...why can't I go home?...I don't want to be here...I feel so poorly...why isn't the doctor coming?...where is Lucy? was very depressing). By the time a doctor came and looked at me, the arrhythmia was gone, but he asked me some pertinent questions and decided that it was the Benadryl that was doing it. A fairly common allergy, he told me. Why would it be common for people to be allergic to allergy medication? That doesn't make any sense to me. (Actually, it's not doctors I distrust so much as I distrust the pharmaceutical industry, and suspect doctors of being the willing dupes of that industry. Allergenic allergy medications, indeed. And don't even get me started on the insurance industry! But back to bitching about myself...)

To cap it all off, I started developing food allergies. Crab and lobster, to be specific. It took me a long time to discover that one, since I seldom eat crab and almost never eat lobster. I will assume that crawfish will be included, but I don't know for sure since I've only eaten that once. But it occurred to me eventually that my midnight diarrhea attacks had something in common...on each occasion, I had eaten crab or lobster for lunch or dinner that day. So now I have something else to avoid; and since they're closely related, genetically, I'm almost afraid to eat shrimp as well. What if I develop an allergy to other shellfish? Oh, please don't take oysters and clams and mussels away from me! Why can't I be allergic to something I don't like? Take the squash, the celery, the avocadoes! I'll happily avoid lima beans and collard greens!

Oh, well. At least I'm not allergic to chocolate. That would be a real shame. I would just have to be sick all the time, wouldn't I?

The reason I bring all this up today is that I am beginning to think that I might be allergic to my co-worker's new perfume, Lancôme Trésor. It has that blue-gingery smell about it (a smell I really like, by the way), and my teeth are getting that strange crystalline feel that presages a sinus attack. And I feel very stupid, having great difficulty forming sentences when people are talking to me (another famous allergy symptom).

I hate to ask her not to wear it, she enjoys it so much...just as I hated to ask my other co-worker to not bring the scented roses into the common areas of the office. I feel like such an ass making requests like that, just because these pleasant smells make my face ache. I can take a pill and ignore it, can't I? That's what I hate most about allergies...the very idea of having 'special needs' absolutely galls me. I've always been offended by people who start gagging and coughing at the first whiff of perfume or cigarettes or dust, or who ask people to please not wear deodorant or hairspray or shoe polish around them. It seems so damned nit-picky, y'know?

So it seems the upshot is that I can either: a) suffer martyrdoms of pain; b) exist in a plastic bubble; c) be a complaining bitch all the time; or d) become even more dependent on an evil pharmaceutical giant. At the moment, I'm sort of mixing it all together in a fairly useless sampler. I guess it's better than being least, I hope so. I have this sneaky feeling that when I do eventually die, I will be very angry that I didn't contrive to manage it sooner.'s something to which I'm really glad I'm not allergic...yet:

Just say YES to crack!

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