10 July, 2008

Just Allergies?

Surely, there must be a better way to explain the allergic reactions that, periodically, send me into anaphylactic shock, along with a bunch of other crap. I experienced a particularly scary one a few nights ago, and had to go to the hospital.

Many people, when they hear the phrase "allergic reaction," automatically think of hay fever or something seasonal, or, at the very least, something very mild that can be magically solved with an antihistamine pill. My allergic reactions--the serious ones--have the potential to (as one ER doctor so bluntly put it to me a few years back) kill me. I have had these reactions off-and-on since the age of 14. They do not happen as frequently anymore, since some of the culprits ended up being certain foods; however, on occasion, these "attacks" still strike without any warning or wrongdoing (wrong-fooding?) on my part. As with many sudden health-related crises, they are terrifying.

Let me put it this way: These things usually start out with little twitches of something (or things) that is (or are) obviously not-quite-right. It may be the itchy feeling on or in my eyeballs, which causes them to feel like a particularly sneaky bug is creeping across the surface of my corneas. It might be--to put it gently--gastrointestinal distress, wherein what feels like a big-ass snake is eating its merry way through your lower intestines (and boy, does that one show up in colorful ways). It may be the firey, nails-on-chalkboard feeling that your lungs start to have; mere minutes later, you might not be able to breathe. All of these things may start within minutes of each other. Next: You cannot breathe. Forcing an antihistamine pill down your swollen gullet becomes akin to forcing a too-big bite of something down your throat; it can be done, but dammit, it takes a hell of a lot of work. The final touch of this "allergic reaction" may manifest in something that my mom, hilariously, calls "Homer Simpson eyes": your eye sockets will swell; they will look like purple and red-toned boils stuck to your face. In other words, you will not look human for a while, and you certainly will not feel human.

Those close to me--my family, my partner, and my close friends--take this matter seriously. They know what the signs are, and they certainly know that if I say that I need to go to the hospital, I mean it. Hospital staff, usually, also take these attacks seriously. I can, fortunately, count on one hand the number of times that I have had to yell (more accurately, wheeze) to an ignoramus desk clerk that this shit will kill me if they don't do something. If I were not white, or if I were poor, or without health insurance, the few times I've had to resort to such a gambit probably would not have worked. It is likely that I would not be typing this.

Some people do not take these reactions, and the resulting medication regimen in the days afterward, seriously. Let's see: There was a former friend of my family who had a "dream" that I was faking these attacks to get parental attention, and then, the next day (as if on cue!) called my mom up and told her this. My mom, to her credit, angrily hung up the phone and refused to speak to this person ever again. (I can't help but wonder what this former friend would think of my fibromyalgia! Ha.) There was the boss I had a few years ago who, after I had an attack at work (which she was not around to witness), accused me of conspiring to close her shop for the day by having an attack (nevermind that I worked full time for her, and had not missed a day of work before then) in order to get her to lose money. She also threatened to withhold payment if her store "lost money" as a result of my taking the day off after going to the ER and being put on a medication regimen that made me a less-than-effective salesperson. Now, this seemed ludicrous to me at the time, and it still does; why would anyone pre-mediate a serious allergic reaction, particularly if it would cause them pain and suffering?

The above examples make me very glad that some people will never have to experience serious health problems; good for them! I am, at present, extremely lucky to have a job where my superiors take the health and well-being of all of their employees seriously. I'm fully aware that I am extremely lucky to be in this sort of situation; many people are not so lucky. I believe that this needs to change.

I'm not entirely sure how to end this--my regimen of steroid pills seems to be kicking in, so I'm going to end this post. In sum: Allergic reactions can be serious business.

1 comment:

amandaw said...

I'm with you. A lot of people don't really understand what illness (and disability) is. And that's why you get the "You're doing it to get attention" and "Boy, I wish *I* could stay home and lounge around all day!" as well as the shit-for-brains idea a lot of people have that you need to incentivize avoiding the doctor because otherwise, you know, the ER is going to become a competitor with the bars and night clubs around town for Saturday night entertainment. (roll eyes)

And it's just sickening how grateful we are when we run across competent, understanding medical professionals, isn't it? Doing their damn jobs correctly should be the default, not some holy saintly act.

It is good to hear you're ok.