What It Looks Like When You Don’t Cover Up a Sneeze

When I was a child, I was an allergic mess. I would both look forward to and dread visits to my uncle and aunt, because they not only had a dog, but cats as well. My eyes would start to itch and swell up, I would sneeze, and I would constantly blow my nose into one of the two handkerchiefs I always had on my person. I even saw an allergist named Myron Weitz once a week for the better part of a year. He performed numerous scratch tests on me, indicating that I was allergic to tomatoes, oatmeal, tobacco, and a few other things. Then I would get a shot each week which was supposed to make me immune to allergens. It never did.

In the end, I think I was allergic to Cleveland. Once I moved to Southern California after graduating from college, my allergies lessened—especially after I learned to stay far away from cats. There was a time in the 1970s when I developed asthma and had to take a horrible medication called Tedral which kept me awake all hours.

Now I come down with allergic reactions for only a few days each year. Unfortunately, this is one of those times. Something is in bloom that disagrees with me. My nose is stuffed up, I’m sneezing, and my eyes feel as if I had sandpapered them. It could be that the winds are blowing something in from the desert. I just don’t know.

I checked the pollen reports, and supposedly there currently is no major threat. Yeah, but tell my nose and eyes that!

The Allergy Sufferer

Yup, That’s Me, All Right!

I was first made conscious of it in high school. I sneezed a lot, and my scalp was full of flakes. My doctor concluded that I had allergies. Consequently, I was sent to an allergist around Cleveland’s University Circle. He produced a rectangular network of scratches on my arm, each one representing a known allergen. The upshot: I was allergic to cats (that one I already knew), tomatoes, and oats. I did not believe in those last two.

Nevertheless, I was in the doctor’s office every Saturday morning for the next year or so getting a shot to fight my allergies. The results were imperceptible: Every time we visited my uncle’s house, my eyes watered, I sneezed, and my face was essentially an ugly red splotch. My parents rightly decided that this therapy was taking me nowhere.

Then, when I came to Los Angeles, I discovered I had asthma. I suspect that was the result of sleeping on the floor with all the dust mites and other nasty biota. I had a bed, but I liked the idea of sleeping on a firm surface. I still do, but I sleep in bed on an extra-firm mattress instead.

This spring has been a bad time for my allergies. It started with two months of blepharitis, an annoying allergy to the dandruff in my eyelashes?! Then there was the inevitable nose-blowing and lava-flows of thin mucus. My super-power in this time of year? I become Mucus Man. I slime all evil-doers.

To top it all off, I occasionally get a light spell of asthmatic wheezing. Yuck!


Return of an Old Enemy

At the Eastland Motel, Lubec, Maine

Looks innocuous, doesn’t it? It was here in the easternmost motel in the United States that my old enemy reemerged. Around one o’clock in the morning, I awoke gasping for breath. Martine didn’t hear anything because she habitually sleeps with earplugs. I sprang up in bed and felt an incredible tightness in my lungs. With every breath that I attempted, there was only a hideous whistling sound as my air intake appeared to have shut down.

Finally, after a minute or two thinking that I was going to collapse on the bathroom floor and die with a startled look on my face. (I was there staring at myself in the mirror over the sink with wide, frightened eyes.)

Eventually, after a few choking coughs, the breathing started up again, accompanied by awful wheezing.

The problem had begun a week earlier in Canada. We ran into several days of 100% humidity and intense rainstorms. Although I had had asthma before, it seemed finally to have dissipated in the 1990s. But now I had both a chest infection and a return of the wheezing that used to bedevil me, especially in the more changeable seasons of the year. (Yes, Southern California does have seasons of a sort.)

Finally, on Sunday, September 23, I checked in to the emergency clinic in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. A Canadian physician prescribed a course of antibiotics (Clarithromycin) and prescribed Ventolin for my wheezing. The crisis arrived two days later in Lubec, where we stayed to see Franklin Roosevelt’s famous summer cottage on Campobello Island across the bridge in New Brunswick.

The Ventolin seemed to work, but I was still waking up with a choking series of coughs. Now that I am back in Los Angeles, here I sit at the computer at 2:00 am after having waken up choking. And now my Ventolin is out, and I have to call my physician later in the morning to see what she could prescribe to help me.

In a few minutes, I will stagger back to bed, where I am sleeping in a sitting-up position which helps somewhat. Eventually I will get to sleep, but I will wake up coughing several more times. Curiously, the worst always occurs almost exactly three hours after I’ve gone to bed.

I can hardly wait to get a full night’s sleep again—once I’ve managed to shake this old enemy, if such is possible.