Monday, March 08, 2010

Early Spring, Raging Allergies, Mistaken Impressions

When I hit adolescence, I developed allergies to pollen, particularly ragweed and goldenrod, which were at their peak in the Midwest at the height of fall. You had to wait for the first frost for the symptoms to diminish. While in high school, I started to get weekly allergy shots in lieu of antihistamines, which just knocked me out. A classmate, Arthur Bates, also had allergies and he had a car--a late model convertible -- and he was kind enough to invite me to ride with him to the Defiance Clinic so we could both receive our allergy shots. I particularly remember our drives in late winter when he would lower the ragtop and turn the heat all the way up with CKLW blasting the latest hits from Motown on the radio. We were styling before we knew what it was! His dad worked for a guitar company in California (Fender?) and eventually Arthur and his family moved west. I continued my allergy shots sporadically through about 1978, dropping them when I went to Brussels to school. The allergies, whether I lived in Ohio, Minnesota or Kentucky, always occurred in the fall.

My first spring in Seattle, back in 1982, I could not figure out what was going on. I felt draggy with a stuffy nose and weepy, itchy eyes. It turned out that rather than during the fall, prime allergy season in Puget Sound was at springtime when alder trees blossomed. So resumed allergy shots to alleviate the symptoms, and they worked off and on until 2009, when my allergist suggested that I try a nasal inhaler. It was a revelation! The symptoms that had remained even with the shots, disappeared and I ended my regular visits to the injection room at Group Health downtown. But then, of course, came the cancer diagnosis last fall and the inhalant use disappeared as my attention was consumed by chemotherapy.

Of course, now spring is here and my neglect is paying huge dividends, particularly as there's been a rather potent mix of symptoms from the allergies and the Tarceva reaction. Last week, the Tarceva facial eruptions showed up as whiteheads on my eyelids, right where the eyelashes are rooted. So there were 4-5 whiteheads spread along this small path on both eyes, similar to styes. Exquisitely painful. Hot compresses to reduce their swelling were partly successful but then the eyelids themselves became red, swollen, and tender. One of the side effects of Tarceva is eye ulcerations, so I became concerned about where this was heading. An email to the Group Health consulting nurse on Sunday morning led to a phone conference with the consulting nurse and I was advised to come into Urgent care for a look see. Which I did.

The physician's assistant examined my eyes using the orange dye under a black light and determined that there were no ulcerations nor scratched corneas. She ordered some eyedrops for me and I was sent to the basement pharmacy to pick them up. There were several other folks waiting for drugs. One of them was an older Indian woman wearing a beautiful sari with a sheer over dress that had a hood on it. As we were both sitting there waiting, she leaned forward and asked, "what is that on your face?" pointing to right above my mouth. Embarrassed, I responded a bit gruffly that it was a side effect from the cancer drug I was taking for my lung cancer. She asked if I was a smoker and I said not for 30 years, thinking to myself, how rude was that. It was not until she left, and I got my prescription and stopped in the women's room that I discovered that the black marker that the hospital staff had written on my admit bracelet had somehow rubbed off on my face and what this woman had been asking me about was this rather large swipe of black pen on the upper left side of my mouth! No wonder the question about smoking, eh?

That put me in my place. I wonder why none of the medical personnel I dealt with mentioned it to me? Ah well, at least I didn't make it out into public that way.

And just a footnote to the whole thing. This visit took over 2 hours. Normally I am in the doctor's inside office twiddling my thumbs for the majority of the time because there's nothing to read back in those rooms. This time I brought my ITouch. I had purchased it last year to download music on it and to have a way to access email while travelling. I recently learned that you can download books to it using the kindle application from amazon. I have several books on my ITouch as a result, and the time passed with ease because I was deep into a book. Highly recommend it particularly as it fits easily into a pocket or a purse. The battery wears down quickly but if you take the charging cord with you, there's always a spare electrical cord in the doctor's office.

Good reading everyone!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I too much enjoy Kindle adaptation for iPhone. I have the "Great Books" from iTunes/Amazon and have been enjoying them very much. I am currently reading "Count of Monte Cristo". I started with Jane Austen. After reading all her books, I moved to Thomas Hardy. I started with "Far from the Maddening Crowd" and probably enjoyed "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" most but enjoyed most of his books. I will probably stick with Dumas for I am enjoying "The Count". There are 7 Dumas books in the collection so that will hold me a while. I love the iPhone Kindle because the book is accessible anywhere I have a few moments.