“Achoo!” I sneezed myself out of sleep again! It’s 5:08 AM and I know I am going to have a hard time falling back asleep. My right nostril is running relentlessly and my right eye could fill a river. I try not to think about the fact that I went to bed close to midnight not being able to stop myself from watching the Bachelor. As I blow my nose yet again and add on to the pile of tissues by my bed, I wonder if I should get up and get ready for work or try to remain in bed until the last possible minute. I opt for option two and lie down again. For once I am thankful that despite being in my mid twenties I am single because I roll up a big piece of toilet paper and stuff it in my nose. It is sticking out and itlooks like a tampon. I briefly consider that option and spend a couple minutes pondering it.
“Can tampons absorb snot?” I ask myself out loud and drift off to sleep.
My alarm clock shatters the blissful silence. I shuffle blindly to the bathroom and turn on the light. Squinting in the mirror I see the toilet paper in my nose. I pull it out. My nose starts running again immediately. I glance in the mirror again and sigh at the sight of my long hair in dire need of a color and a haircut, my nose red from sneezing and my blue eyes marred by a spider web of blood vessels irritated by all kinds of pollutants.
“That’s it. I am going to an allergy doctor.” I say to no one. I cannot risk any more rides to work where I sneeze multiple times while driving, always wondering if during that split second when I have to close my eyes, something or someone will jump in the road. I am not even talking about the difficulty of trying to blow one’s nose while driving.
During my initial appointment, the doctor is very nice and spends 45 minutes with me. Being used to the conveyor-belt-like doctor’s visits in the past that last one to two minutes, I am speechless. He schedules me for allergy testing. I am not all that excited about the time and the cost I will have to spend. I cringe at the dealing and wheeling I will have to do at work. Being a teacher does not allow for much flex time and the fact that my salary matches my age does not help either. But I guess I could either spend the money on the testing or on hundreds of boxes of Kleenex in the future. Besides, he did spend all that time with me, right?
It is pouring rain on the day of my first allergy testing session. It looks like someone is dumping buckets of water from the sky. I crack the car door open an inch, trying to stick my umbrella through and open it before the rest of my body comes out. Of course, the umbrella refuses to cooperate. I am getting madder and madder and open the door more and more, until it is wide open, and rain is pouring inside the car and all over me. I get out and realize that it will be better to just run to the doctor’s office building rather than to continue trying to open the umbrella. By the time I get to the door, I am completely soaked.
I sign in at the receptionist desk. A little bit later, a nurse opens the door to take me in for the testing.
“Ms. Ry…Rick” Her voice trails off as she tries to say my last name. I stand up and motion to her that it is me and she doesn’t have to keep trying to pronounce my name.
“Just call me Eva.” I try to help her.
She smiles but then says:
“So, how DO you say your last name?”
I feel like telling her that it doesn’t freaking matter. But I am a coward and pronounce my name slowly for her. She tries, unsuccessfully, to repeat it. She is not even close but I smile and say that it was pretty good. She seems pleased. She is young and very overweight. She asks me the routine questions and writes in the chart.
“So do you have a boyfriend?” She asks out of the blue.
“No.” I say without elaborating.
The nurse starts a long monologue about how she and her husband are happy together. I wonder if he is just as overweight.
“So have you been looking for a boyfriend?” She inquires.
I don’t know why she wants to know. When I say I am not really looking for anyone and that I am enjoying just going out and having fun, she gives me a dirty look. Then she prompts me to get on the scale. As she balances it, she says in an accusatory tone:
“Girl, you gotta put some meat on your bones!”
And you need to take some off, I think, but I know that it is not allowed to say that to fat people.
She tells me to undress the top half of my body.
“Including your bra”, she says pointedly and stares at my chest, “then lie down on your stomach.”
By now I am thoroughly freezing in my wet clothes in the 65 degree office. She leaves the room and I take off my clothes. I am even colder. I use paper towels and try to wipe my wet skin and warm up a little. It’s not working. I lie down on the bed and cannot decide how to settle my head. I opt for straining it sideways in the direction from where the shots will come.
The second I settle, the nurse comes back in, making me feel like she was peeping through the key hole. She reveals her torture tray. I see vials and needles.
“I will prick your skin with those needles. They are dipped in the potential allergens.” She explains.
I can’t help but feel like she secretly enjoys this. Relax, I say to myself. Right then, the nurse resumes our conversation.
“So do you want to have kids eventually?”
“I don’t think so.” I try to evade her nosiness.
She presses me to answer why I do not any children. Since she is the one holding the needles, I make a diplomatic reply about not being able to afford them and waiting for the right feeling. She then plunges into another monologue about how she and her husband are happy, looking at me here and there for some sort of a consent or approval. I wonder why she insists on my validation of her status.
After about half an hour, my back is starting to itch in multiple places. The liquid from the pricks on the perimeter of it rolled down so now I have pathways of red itchiness on my sides as well. I strain my head even more and try to look at my back. The nurse exclaims:
“I have never seen a cat reaction this big!” And she disappears from the room.
I dream about being a bear scratching my back against the bark of a tree. The vision is so vivid and desirable I almost drool. The nurse returns with three other nurses and they all stare at my back.
“Look at the cat!” Says my nurse.
I feel exposed, pissed of, itchy, cold, and my neck hurts.
Finally, a male doctor comes in to see what is going on. By this point, I can care less if I am half naked in front of a man because my back is one giant itch patch. I say so.
“I am also starting to feel dizzy.” I add in a deliberately whiny voice. This is a lie but I want the nurses to feel bad. The doctor tells them to put antihistamine cream on my back. I am allowed to get dressed after everyone files out the door.
I am handed several pills and a cup of water.
“What are they?” I ask.
“Oh, just something for the reaction.” The fat nurse says.
“I know that”, I say patiently, trying to contain my voice within the limits of a polite tone, “but what pills exactly are they?”
The nurse sighs and tells me the names of the pills, giving me a look like she is a Nobel prize recipient and I just rolled out of a jungle and demanded an explanation of a nuclear reactor.
“Are they non-drowsy?” I inquire.
“No, you shouldn’t really drive now.” She retorts.
I tell her that unfortunately I sent my limo driver home. She actually picks up on my sarcasm, turns around and walks away. I feel happy.
I get in my car and start driving home, trying to decide if I should sit back and let my shirt get stuck on my back slathered with all that anti-itch cream or if I should lean forward so much my face would be on the steering wheel. I opt for a sticky shirt.
I get home and already start feeling the effects of the drugs. I drag myself to the couch and fall asleep. When I wake up, my shirt is still stuck to my back. As I am peeling it off, it feels like there are thousands of feathers tickling my back. Since the nurses did not give my any extra cream, I wonder what I should do. I have an uncontrollable urge to scratch and scratch. I resist by watching Jerry Springer on TV. I am so amazed at the contents of the show, my back is temporarily forgotten.
During my second session I get another 30 or so shots and pricks. It is not as bad as the first time around because about half of the shots are molds and apparently my body can deal with mold just fine. I am not sure if I should take that as a compliment.
I have a follow up visit with my allergist. I am trying to forget the fact that I already spent close to $500 on visits and testing. I keep telling myself that the doctor initially did spend 45 minutes with me, right?
“My lab will mix up a special batch of allergens based on your testing results”, he informs me, “these vials will be unique just for you.” He tries to make me feel special but all I can think about is that if ordinary medications cost a lot already, how much can a personalized vial cost? However, I feel that I am too deep in the process to refuse.
My allergy shots sessions begin. I am given two shots in each upper arm twice a week. I have to sit for 20 minutes in the waiting room and go back for a nurse to look at the reactions.
The first time I go in, the nurse wipes my upper back arm with antiseptic and gives me the two shots. They hurt. The other arm hurts too. I wait and feel the back of my arms starting to itch. By the time the nurse looks at my reaction, my upper arms are so swollen, they look like someone implanted an egg underneath the skin. She stares at it and slathers a lot of the same sticky antihistamine cream on it.
“You are the only one on whom we will have to start with a lower dose that the starter dose.” She says looking at me accusingly as if I somehow purposefully sabotaged their plan.
Next time I come in, there are different nurses. One of them gives me the shots and I barely feel them. Painless shots. My life is good. Until 20 minutes later. Again, I have two eggs implanted under my skin. The nurse shakes her head and writes a long entry in my chart. I hang my head and go home.
I have the same reactions for the next two months. I am starting to feel depressed because, technically, I haven’t even started my shots yet since I had such a reaction to the starter shot.
I go in again. There is yet another nurse. When she gives me the shot, I feel some of the liquid stream down my arm. 20 minutes later, my reaction is much smaller. Another nurse looks at my arm and smiles:
“Looks like we will move up to the starter shot next time!”
I am silent about the fact that half of the shot probably didn’t enter my body. I so badly want to move on! The cycle of egg like reactions versus smaller reactions continues based on who gives me the shots.
About nine months later, another $500 for the personalized vials and who knows how much money for all those shots, I have a follow up visit with the doctor. He zeroes in on the fact that we did move up to the starter shot.
“And how are your allergies doing?” He asks regarding me hopefully.
“Better.” I say. It is not true and I don’t know why I lie like that. They are not better, they are exactly the same. On the way home, I berate myself for not saying the truth. It’s almost as if I wanted to show him that I am not a freak of nature on whom the shots don’t work.
My struggle continues for the next year and a half. Nothing changes except my bank account balance. The doctor says that he will have my vials re-done so that hopefully the reactions get smaller due to the different combination of allergens. I reach the breaking point when another bill for nearly $500 arrives. I assumed the vials would be free since the previous ones were apparently the wrong mixture. I want to cry. Sneezing, I watch my bank account dip yet again.
I manage to drive to my shots for two more months before completely giving up. I am done. I am a freak of nature. I do have a feeling though that maybe I could be used as a case study for the ineffectiveness of allergy shots and get some of my money back. I wonder if I should suggest it to the doctor during my next visit. However, I decide there will not be another visit as I would rather spend that money on getting drunk on wine, having a reaction from the pollen trapped in the grapes.