Oh be hives: The crap we deal with

I'm talking about allergies, kids. Allergies are serious business. For some people, standing in a room with a peanut is akin to hugging a guillotine. For others, slip in a morsel of casein and they've got an itchy rash on their butt for a few hours. I always predicted that as I aged, I would mimick the allergies of my father...simple, plain ol' springtime allergies like ragweed and pollen, and perhaps something fancy like cat or pecans. When I found out last year that I was allergic to dairy and almonds, I was kind of devastated yet simultaneously resigned. Rather than hugging a guillotine or a rash on my butt, I had persistent and unrelenting hives for weeks on end. I sat sobbing in my doctor's office begging for prednisone when, in my right mind and body, I would've run screaming from them. There was nothing anyone could do to get rid of the hives that had haunted me since I was a kid. Every five to ten years, without warning, plump and painful welts would spring up on my body and face. They would itch and then ache unmercifully. Days turned into weeks turned into months with these things, and nothing helped but doses of steroids strong enough to turn an ox into a tyrannosaurus rex.

After seeing an allergist that had cared for me when I was a kid and dealing with the same issues, at my general practioner's urging, I was left with a similar diagnosis that I was given as a teenager: STOP BEING SO EMOTIONAL, MEAGHAN. I kind of felt like Dr. V, my GP, was literally exasperated and kind of wanted him to slam his head into the wall with me as we explored the reasons why all of this was happening. The year prior, he helped me navigate the reasons why I couldn't breathe. This year he couldn't even help me feel normal in my own body. Hives are unlike any beast you could encounter in a fairy tale or in a dark and twisty alley. They're sneaky, invasive and evasive. There wasn't anything I could do to fix things.

These are a mild grouping of hives from last year.

I went and saw a new, highly recommended, bell and whistles allergist last Spring, while securely positioned at my wit's end. Literally, I had become apathetic about the fight and was just willing to become a hermit if that's what it meant. When I sat down in his office after inconclusive subcutaneous allergy testing on my forearm (which is not common practice, but it was the only place I didn't have hives), he told me that he was optimistic that he could fix my problem. I trusted him and I don't know why. I was so depressed and resigned to my fate that extending a modicum of trust seemed like a rather unusual benevolence on my part, but I did it. I went home and took the meds he prescribed and within a few days, I had some blood work done for food allergies and other ailments commonly occurring in those that have hives for no reason like cholesterol, diabetes and auto-immune disorders. When my allergist's nurse practitioner called and said that I was allergic to dairy and almonds, I was RELIEVED. While my friends and family were shriveling into pain and misery at the thought of me never being able to eat fondue, I was already headed to the grocery store to grab some soy milk.

Apparently, the connection between my dairy and almond allergy and my hives was psychosomatic. As it turns out, the nurse practitioner overstated my blood test results. I wasn't allergic to either. At all. I've been dairy and almond free for a YEAR for no good reason. Humph. I have a whole host of other things wrong with me, but again, no reason for the hives. while people around me are throwing their fists into the air rejoicing my new-found freedom, I'm stumped. Still, even after some cheese!

I haven't had hives since late summer 2008, which is awesome. But according to my internal clock and my allergist, I can expect them again. I have chronic idiopathic urticaria. There is no known cause or cure and I can expect flare ups randomly throughout the rest of my life. Why are our bodies so weird? What is the evolutionary purpose of having something happen to you for no known reason? Do I live in fear of another flare up or do I just continue on hoping I forget about them and that the forgetfulness will be some sort of psychological cure on its own? Is this psychological? Hormonal? There are so many questions that are completely unanswerable.

Also, as it turns out, I don't have any allergies. At all; not a one. But my body interacts with the world as though I do have allergies. I know there are a lot of skeptics in this world, especially as it relates to medicine. And I can't send you all to my allergist, but I can recommend something, I think:
Find a physician who trusts you to trust yourself. Don't diagnose yourself with anything without consulting a physician. Don't trust their diagnosis without asking a number of questions. Whether you're concerned about springtime allergies or a strange rash in your armpits, sometimes the solution is not only removing that which irritates your body. Often, knowing why your body does what it does can help you interact with the world in a better way. Allergy testing is covered by most insurance companies and is really a worthwhile test to have done.
As it turns out, my allergist is keeping me on many of the prescriptions I've been taking for the past year. He's adding a steroid nose spray because my nasal passages are smaller than a child's (see, weird stuff I didn't know until he attempted to perform a rhinoscopy!) and a fierce anti-biotic to eliminate a sinus infection in three of my four sets of sinus cavities...including the one in my brain (yes, there's one there, too)...as revealed by the CT-scan he performed. Oh, and he also prescribed a cup of vanilla yogurt with almonds on top because "[I] deserve it".

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All content © Meaghan O'Malley, 2009-2012. Header image by Rebekka Seale.