Thursday, December 10, 2009

I do not dig the Singulairity.

I realize it is in perhaps bad taste to write about one's personal health struggles. Think of this post as a dress rehearsal for my sixties, which I plan to spend griping with suitable eccentricity and wit, while wearing gaudy jewelry and sipping Bloody Marys. I fear I am already such an old soul -- c.f. Winston Churchill-- but that's another story.

Longtime readers know that I am allergic to cats. I'll be traveling across the continent next week, and I anticipated possibly spending some time while there in a house with a cat. I've also struggled with more seasonal types of allergies off and on (including, I fear, some that are making my current cold worse) and so I figured that it might be a good idea to meet with a local allergist. The person might have suggestions for dealing with the seasonable allergies and/or might be able to give me something prophylactic so that I can be in the house with the cat. I do not actually like needles,* but I figured I could withstand one if I had to.

Allergists apparently make new patients do skin tests as a matter of course. A nurse injects tiny quantities of different common allergen into your arm and sees which ones cause slight irritations. About fifteen seconds into said skin test, I started yelping in pain. The nurse started looking at me, worried, since apparently people do not normally react that harshly to quantities of allergen that tiny. I could not take anti-histamines to relieve the throbbing in my veins, nor scratch. But the allergist herself did bring me some water with ice cubes to suck on, which dulled the ferocious itching some. She also offered a granola bar, but it was the unfortunately too chewy kind.

I'd brought along a a book about voter fraud to keep myself entertained while waiting. In some ways, it had significant waiting room/metro book potential --1) non-challenging enough that I can read it comfortably in an environment with many distractions, unlike certain prior metro reads; 2)but intelligent enough not to be insulting; and 3)ideologically congenial enough that I will not seem too outwardly surly to other humans who do not know me.

Except... it may not be the best idea to degrade a good Metro book by reading it while being injected with painful substances. I took it out again on the ride home from work, hours after my arms stopped looking like Scantron sheets. And I started... twitching.. slightly again. I hope that was coincidence and not Pavlovian.

To go back to the allergist: the good news is that I am not allergic to dogs, so that I can have a golden retriever, and I am only mildly allergic to the marsh elder (whatever that is.) I am allergic to just about every other kind of flora and fauna that there is, including the aforementioned cats. And that I had rather strong reactions -- the scale conventionally used runs 1-4, with 1 as negative and 4 as "very positive." My chart is a long list of 4 pluses.

The allergist felt sorry enough for me that she offered me a prescription for one of the more aggressive anti-allergy drugs out there, Singulair. She warned me that several of her patients have nightmares while on it and also that about 3% of people who try it have lower back pain. Despite the pretty good odds, but perhaps one should not mess with lower back pain several days before embarking on a five hour flight. The Internet also mentions suicidal ideation as a side effect. I am a libertarian who works in government, which makes me prone enough to depression without chemical help.

Nor are allergy shots a viable response for dealing with the cats, apparently. In the 1970s, apparently allergists gave out prophylactic steroid shots like candy. My father had some which significantly helped his allergies, and he has encouraged me to look into the possibility. But allergists now are more reluctant to give them -- I've imbibed enough of the Overlawyered Kool-Aid to suspect that shifting med mal rules might be at fault, but I'm no real expert and can't say for sure. There are "desensitization" regimes that work, but each regimen requires months and are thus not a practical response for dealing with individual cats. So, at least for the immediate future, I am stuck with my cocktail of over-the allergy counter-drugs.

*Several of my mother's Ukrainian relatives made long visits to our house during the glasnost era. At one point, my mother asked our cousin Olga if she wanted to take anything special back to Lvov with her, and she comes up with "Lots of hypodermic syringes!" Apparently Soviet doctors didn't generally sterilize needles, and Olga had lots of horror stories about infections her children got due to lack of sterilized needles. So my mother and I at age 7 show up at a medical supply store and attempt to purchase about 1000 clean needles. And, of course, the people at the medical supply company laugh at us and refuse to sell us the needles, because non-drug-addict Americans do not generally purchase needles in bulk.

Eventually, my mother was able to get adequate needles through her family physician. But not after I heard story after story about the horrors of lack of sterilization, which makes me dread the possibility of infection through needles even today.

Pnin no doubts thinks this is ridiculous, because he does not fear needles, despite the fact that I was the one who actually grew up in a first world country...

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