Mr. Big Shot
Start stockpiling the antihistamines! They say this spring is gonna be one of the worst for allergies in recent history and they’re blaming it on the Polar Vortex, that pesky low pressure system in the Arctic that’s been sending cold wet weather our way and delaying the arrival of spring.
When spring does finally come, it will come with a vengeance as trees, weeds, and grasses will spew pollen everywhere. My eyes itch and my nasal passages clog just thinking about the impending botanical explosion.
Looking around at all Rehoboth’s trees, I realized it was time to take action. Doping myself with decongestants, antihistamines, and steroids wasn’t enough anymore. Yes sir, it was time for “suppression immunotherapy,” the fancy term for the treatment program whereby they inject you with the thing you’re allergic to in order to build up your immunity to it. It won’t cure my allergies, but my hope is that it might ease the symptoms. The success rate hovers around ninety percent for most people.
The first step was to learn what I’m actually allergic to and that’s how I came to meet Peaches, a middle-aged woman wearing flowered nurse scrubs. (Whatever happened to a tailored white uniform?) Peaches started my allergy test by pricking me with a suspected allergan to make sure I was antihistamine-free in order for the test to work.
After five minutes, nothing happened.
“You ain’t clean,” Peaches said.
“I swear I am,” I countered. “This is the third time I’ve tried this damn test.”
“Humph,” was all she said as she exited the examining room, leaving me sitting there with my shirt sleeves rolled up and mentally reviewing the list of banned substances I’d been given. What could have gone wrong this time? I’d abstained from all my pills, sprays, and eye drops. Heck, I’d even sworn off heartburn medicines because they block histamines. When I was about to convince myself suppression immunotherapy was going to be an impossibility for me, the door swung open and in came Peaches carrying a smorgasboard of vials and needles.
“We’re gonna do the test, and if nothing happens, we’ll go with the deep needles,” she explained, whipping out a magic marker and making rows of blue dots on the belly of my forearms. She quickly pricked each dot and dabbed on a different drop of allergan. “If you’re allergic, it’ll swell up. Don’t scratch. I’ll be back to check on you.”
Within a couple of minutes, I noticed a few reactions developing, as if I’d been bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes. Some were the size of pennies.
By the time Peaches came back to check on me, most of the swelling had gone down. “You missed the big welts,” I told her. “They rose up and then deflated, like a soufflé.”
Peaches eyed me warily, then ran her seasoned fingers over my forearms like a braille reader, stopping to mark reactions on an allergy scorecard. “Ain’t right,” she mumbled, and with that she brought out the big needles. “Your skin is tough, so we’re going deep.” She injected me with several shots and took off again.
This time all the places she tested swelled up, which pleased Peaches immensely when she returned. I had positive reactions to all the trees, all the molds, all the grasses, all the weeds, as well as dust mites, feathers, cockroaches, dogs, and cats. Fifty-three things in total, even something called smuts.
“Child,” Peaches exclaimed, “you are allergic to life! And here I thought I was allergic to everything. You ought to be living in one of those bubbles.”
No wonder I’m always so bloody miserable in the spring…
Curious about the test, I asked about Bradford Pear trees, which I despise and really hoped to claim an allergy to. Peaches explained that most people aren’t allergic to flowering trees because the pollen from flowers are spread by insects and birds, not by air currents.
“What about peanuts,” I asked?
Peaches looked at me. “You ever go to the hospital after eating a peanut butter sandwich?
“No,” I answered sheepishly.
“Then you ain’t allergic to peanuts.” Allergists it seems don’t generally test for food allergies unless specifically asked.
As Peaches began explaining what the next steps were, I inquired if she’d done immunotherapy. Her reply was a resounding no. “God gave me these allergies and when I’m sneezing and my nose is running, that’s how I know his spirit is in me.”
Now it was my turn to humph. Until I learned my treatment would consist of two shots in each arm once a week for nine months just to build up a basic immunity. That’s one hundred and twenty eight shots! I swear, I’ve only had a couple dozen in my entire life. A maintenance plan of continuing shots would be required for ever after.
As I walked out of the doctor’s office loaded down with literature and wondering if I could seriously commit to something so draconian, I couldn’t help but wonder which of us was madder, Peaches or me?
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town. More Rich Barnett