Twenty years ago, I went through an initial round of allergy testing, the whole being-stuck-with-needles-two-hundred-times torture routine. I was allergic to a few things, but I claimed to be more allergic to needles than to my allergies, so I didn’t finish the testing. But as the years went on, my allergies became unbearable. Daily headaches. Itching episodes. Swollen eyes. Buying crates of Kleenex at Costco. I could not wait to get health insurance again.
When I did, I marched back to my old ENT and soldiered through the entire testing ordeal, declaring my commitment to battle my allergies until they were completely wiped out by immunotherapy. Three years of weekly therapy shots to get that done? I welcomed those needles with two open arms. And it would be both arms that would take a shot each week.
When the final round of results came back, I went in to get a list of what I’m allergic to. The first thing the list said was that I had no food allergies. Hooray!
As the allergist went over my allergens, they didn’t seem so bad—bahia grass, Johnson grass, timothy grass (we don’t have grass in our yard), cockroaches (don’t have them, either), and mites (damn it, everyone has dust mites). Horses and feathers, which meant only that I had to get rid of our down pillows. Candida and cephalosporium, which are yeasts, and then a list of eight kinds of molds. Simple, so far: get new pillows, and my daily headaches, swollen eyes, runny nose, itching episodes, red rashes, and dark circles under my eyes are going away, baby. (As long as I get those weekly shots, but I’m committed.)
“You don’t have grass? Who does your yard work?” my allergist asked. “I don’t care if you like doing it, you’re not doing it anymore. Mold is all over your yard, and you don’t know it. See? Right. That’s why you have to have Kleenex in your pocket when you go out there. You’re done with that for three years, missy.” Our tropical yard is one of the main things that drew us to this Florida house. It’s paradise. Except during summer, when it’s a suffering hell.
Then she turned the page to the list of foods I am to avoid. But I don’t have food allergies. “You’re allergic to yeast and mold, and they are present in food.” No aged cheese. Oh, great. Velveeta and American “cheese” here I come. What will I eat on crackers at parties? Oh, no crackers, either? No flour, no pasta, no baked goods, no malt or barley? No pizza then? “Pizza dough is made with yeast, dummy.” She didn’t really say that. There were needles around, and I’d gotten a little wide-eyed by then. I may have been drooling.
No overripe fruits or veggies. In fact, I should wash fresh fruits and veggies in water and lemon juice when I bring them home. Like lugging the groceries into the house and putting them away isn’t work enough? I’m going to squeeze fresh lemon juice, mix it with water, and dunk all the fruits and veggies in it? Do I have to wear a lab coat and latex-free gloves while I do it—even though I’m not allergic to latex? What about a face mask? “No, but if you go outside to the pool, you should wear a face mask. I have a handout on the kind to get.”Bananas that have even one brown spot? Off limits. Nothing that has started to ferment goes into my mouth. Wine is fermented, I say. “Yeah. You’re not drinking any wine. Or beer. Or any alcohol of any type except for potato vodka,” which was something I had never heard of, and neither have most bartenders in the world, I have since found out. “Also no chocolate, and I might as well tell you right now, no bacon, either.” You have to have a lot of guts to tell a woman she can’t have wine, chocolate, or bacon, all in one breath. Turns out this woman is ex-Navy. That explains it. Good thing she didn’t mention the prohibition of tequila right then, because I am an ex Navy wife and we might have had a throw-down.
And telling a southerner she can’t have black tea is a sin, or it should be. Gone are the days when I can pop raw mushrooms into my mouth, too, and savor their nuttiness. No olives, black or green, no soy sauce, no pickles, no vinegar, no honey or syrup or brown sugar or Equal or Splenda—“Hey, do you drink diet sodas? You don’t anymore. You can have Stevia, but that’s it.” Telling me I can’t have Diet Pepsi just about seals the deal. I’m through with this allergy shit.
But she wasn’t through with me yet. More things I’m allergic to: English plantain (oh, hurt me!), pigweed, yellow dock, bald cypress (cypresses are all around the lakeshores, but we don’t live on a lake), bayberry, live oak. Live oak. We live under live oaks—they shade our house, they drop leaves on every inch of our property. Live oaks are one of the most remarkable things about our little town. “You can’t open your windows at home, then,” she said, “And you can’t drive with your car windows down.” What about my new convertible? The one I drive with the top down, music blaring, my bliss? “You have a new convertible? That’s priceless,” she said, big smile. “Wanna trade?”
I’m allergic to being allergic all over again.
At least I’m not allergic to my cats. I’m counting my blessings about that. When I cheat and go pick up a pizza from Valdiano’s with my top down, come home and watch a movie while I eat it straight from the box and swig from my two-liter of Diet Pepsi, enjoying hot cherry peppers, balsamic vinaigrette, and aged parmesan on my salad, my cats watch me, but they aren’t going to tell my allergist. They don’t share my eff-you attitude. Well, yeah, they do. They’re cats. But they don’t know I’m cheating and they don’t know how to use the phone—or my Epi-pens should they need to revive me, come to think of it. That’s a chance I’m willing to take. But I’m leaving the Epi-pens on the coffee table just in case.