I spent two and a half hours today with the allergist. (Hang in there — I don’t intend to talk about this for the rest of Lent, I promise.) Since I had done without my medications for a week, I was able for them to do some testing on me, which meant I laid down on my stomach and made a canvas of my back for the nurse who first took a purple washable Crayola marker and made dots — six across and ten down — for all of the different allergens to which I was to be exposed. Then she took a tray of needles and stuck me with a different thing in each of the spots. (Yes, it was as fun as it sounds.) She then left me alone for about fifteen minutes to give the sticks a chance to do their magic. When she returned, she recorded what had happened. Out of all the possibilities, I was allergic to all of them but four: red cedar, mouse, cockroach, and dust mites.
In the discussion that followed, I was not given much hope for change. The doctor talked about what the numbers mean, told me to keep up my fistful of pills regimen, with some adjustment, and to think about whether or not I wanted to begin the three to five year process of seeing if the shots would work to build up my immunity. I knew going in there was no magic trick that was going to cure my allergies, so I had set my expectations accordingly and I left more philosophical than despairing, looking for some larger lesson to take away.
In looking at the dictionary this evening, I found it interesting that the word allergy was not even a part of our vocabulary until 1906 when Clemens E. von Pirquet coined the term — from the Greek allos meaning “other” or “strange” and ergon meaning “reaction.”
When the nurse came in about halfway through the process, she looked at my back and said, “The trees and grasses are not your friends.” (The antithesis of what the Little River Band used to sing — “the albatross and the whale they are my brothers.”) That was sad news for me. I really like trees. Grasses, too, though I don’t like to mow. I love to be out in our yard, digging and planting; now I find out my body thinks I’m conspiring with the enemy and keeps calling up reinforcements.
I’ve spent a good bit of time this evening on reframing the whole thing into some sort of lesson or metaphor as a means of helping me figure out how to live in this chronic state of combat, and how to hear what the doctor said while also not letting what feels like resignation be the last word. I have explored some alternative forms of treatment in the past; it’s time to go there again. I love where I live, even if the trees and grasses don’t like me right now; there has to be a way to write a different chapter to this story.
Here in the middle of Lent, in the middle of life, I am face to face with the now and the not yet, the what is and what might be. I am face to face with reality, but I’m not willing to concede what I have been told is the whole story, so I’ll keep sniffing and hoping and praying and sneezing, and trust there is more light yet to break forth.