Once U-pun An Allergy

From my father I inherited, in addition to an appreciation of stomach-churning, eye-rolling, throw-up-in-your-mouth-a-little bad jokes, a sensitivity to anything entering my nose which is not air. Pollen, pet dander, dust, whatever gets kicked up when you mow grass — you name it. I remember the joy my dad took in mowing his lawn; I presume it was because he didn’t have to listen to anybody jabbering at him. I’m not sure there was a happier place for him than atop his riding mower in the heat of the summer (no one loved hot weather more than he did; he’d be perfectly content mowing grass on Mercury if the option existed). All of this juxtaposed curiously with his wheezing and coughing when he came inside, his allergies and asthma revolting against his love of the out of doors. I’m not much better, but I did escape the asthma, fortunately.

And now, to Joshua, I’ve given the same gift. Except he’s taken it further into life-threatening reactions. So far, I’ve not encountered anything that makes my throat swell shut and my face resemble Rocky’s at the end of Rocky, but Joshua has. One of my favorite foods, and one of life’s little delicacies — shellfish — makes my boy, shall we say, clam up?*

We first noticed Joshua’s reaction, and by “we” I mean Jen, to shrimp-flavored ramen. It was mild, but noticeable (to everyone but me). His second encounter was much more drastic. At a Chinese buffet, he sampled something called “Seafood Delight.”** Within a few minutes his face began to puff up. The final result that sent us to the doctor looked like this.

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And this happened just from eating the regular fish that had been cooked with the shellfish and inadvertently touching his face. If he’d actually swallowed a shrimp, his reaction would be bad enough to have us all thinking, “This scampi happening.”

While this was his most severe reaction, it’s hardly his only one. He lives with a more-or-less continuous runny nose.*** His breathing is always a bit raspy. And this is just his body reacting to day-to-day life. He’s on Zyrtec now, but he’s previously tried a variety of anti-histamines which have been moderately effective. What he’s allergic to, we’re not sure. It seems to be either air or his family, as they’re the only things he’s around all the time. I guess if we ship him off somewhere away from us and his sinuses clear up, we’ll know. Better than drowning him, I suppose.

Unfortunately for him, his favorite animal in the world is a culprit as well — dogs. His grandparents have two dogs, and the instant we walk into their home, both Joshua and I experience the same reaction. Instant sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, watering eyes, and a general feeling of bleh. Cats, interestingly enough, don’t have any affect at all. We used to have a couple of cats here, including a long-haired cat, and we had no issues. I just don’t understand these dog-gone allergies.****

Even the poor boy’s skin seems resistant to life on planet Earth. He has a chronic and wickedly stubborn case of Eczema. We have tried every cream and ointment available over-the-counter and by prescription. The best of them keep The Itchies at bay, but still leave his skin feeling as dry as this joke:

Q: What’s brown and sticky?

A: A stick

For particularly nasty flare-ups, the doctor prescribed a potent little topical steroid. My ignorance of medicine made me think that my kid was going to Hulk Out and start power-lifting the furniture, but I was assured that that was a different kind of steroid. A guy can dream, though. Otherwise, we use whatever looks promising in the skin care section of the drug store.

I feel for the kid. My seasonal allergies are bad, but he’s got an allergy to Life itself. He’s never not reacting to something. We’ve changed detergents and fabrics. I’ve installed filters on the A/C that help to strain things out. We filter our water. Either none of it helps, or it all helps and we’ve never seen how bad it can be. Neither is reassuring.

Until very recently, we thought Jack had escaped this curse. He has no problems breathing, his skin is smooth and perfect. He hasn’t reacted to any food he’s tried. We really thought he’d be alright. At least until he needed an antibiotic which ended up giving him bright red hives. If one waits long enough, the other shoe always drops.*****

So, both our kids are gearing up for lifetimes of dodging bullets. Some are shaped like bottles of pink medicine, others are shaped like yummy yummy shrimp, but they’ll be fired at our kids in an endless onslaught. For my dad it was bees. For me… well, I haven’t figured out what will kill me, but it may or may not be latex. And now my kids have their silver bullets. Sorry, boys. Or maybe they’ll be alright. After all, if you shoot someone in the eye, you might not kill them. You might just give them Glock coma.

*Yes, I know that clams aren’t shellfish. Please re-read paragraph 1.

**While this title is perfectly appropriate at a seafood restaurant, most Chinese buffets tend to make it ironic.

***And that nose is a terrible roommate! Please re-read paragraph 1.

****Paragraph 1.

*****This phrase came from apartment living when you could hear one shoe hit the floor from your upstairs neighbor getting undressed, and then wait for the other shoe to drop as well. In an apartment in which I lived in grad school, I had a very different experience. Each night around midnight, I’d hear terrible noises, like they were operating printing press or a tool and die shop. The noises wouldn’t last for very long, but it’d be impossible to ignore or not notice them. One night, as I was stressed out near the end of the term, the noises started again and I snapped. I walked up the stairs, half-curious and half-furious about the noise. I pounded on the door to the apartment directly above my own. A slight woman opened the door, just wide enough that her Olive Oyl frame blocked my view into her apartment. I asked her to keep the noise down, that I was studying, that it was late, but I kept trying to see around her to know just what they were doing. She apologized politely and, I believe, sincerely. I thanked her and turned to leave. As I did, she turned as well and I saw, in a flash, that her apartment was nearly totally empty. There was a mattress on the floor, a laptop, and an old TV. I have no idea what made all those noises, but it sure as hell wasn’t her. I moved out of that apartment building at the end of the term.