Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Allergy Shots

I mentioned in a previous post about the Wasps’ Nest that I was thankful for having had my allergy shots. Let me explain a bit about that.

When I was a toddler growing up in Hawthorne, New Jersey, we used to frolic under the sprinkler on hot summer’s days. With no air conditioning, it was one of the few ways to cool off when the temperature and humidity would become unbearable. Mom would get us into our bathing suits (or sometimes just strip us down to our underwear) and hook up the hose to the oscillating sprinkler and for half an hour or so we would run beneath the frigid water until we had goose bumps over every inch of our bodies.

Somewhere, sometime along all this fun, I stepped on a bee that was probably gathering pollen from the clover in the lawn and got stung. No big deal at the time, the sting hurt briefly and a tiny swelling like that of a mosquito bite appeared. Life went on.

A short time later, maybe the next summer, we were repeating that childhood fun when I got stung again. This time it was a big deal. Instead of a tiny, inconspicuous bump, I started to swell up like the Michellin Man and went into anaphalactic shock. Mom called the family doctor who rushed to the house and administered a life saving shot. I’ve always been told that if he had been ten minutes late, I would have died. I had developed a sever allergy to bee venom after that first sting. At the time, there was nothing else he could do except to say, “Don’t get stung again!”

And I didn’t for a long time. When I was around nine, we moved from Hawthorne to Oakland on Yawpo Avenue just up the hill from the center of town and the abandoned academy with its old riding stables, overgrown fields, fences and woodlands trails. I would wonder those trails for years and never had a problem. But the fences proved my downfall.

One day several of my friends and I were walking one of the old trails taking a shortcut through the fields and, as boys will do, picking up rocks and throwing them at the fence that ran alongside the trail. We would throw as hard as we could just to hear the loud “thwack” the stones would make as they hit the old picket fence. Unbeknownst to us, there was a bees nest on the other side of the fence and they weren’t happy about the stones. Of course I was the only one stung. Several times.

We made it back up the hill to home to report to my Mom and she hustled us off to our new GP across town. He gave me a shot in his office and proceeded to tell my Mom that it might be a good idea if I were to be given a desensitizing series of shots to prevent future emergencies. Medical science had developed a means by which one’s allergy could be reversed. It meant getting several years worth of shots to build up an immunity to bee venom. Sounded good to me!

And so it began. At first, I would get a tiny amount of bee venom every week or so in the good doctor’s office and they would watch for any severe reaction before sending me home. Then, after the reaction became negligible, there was an increase in the strength of the venom and the shots would occur every two weeks. Another increase in the potency and the shots were every four weeks. This went on for about three years. Finally, the doctor pronounced me “cured” of my allergy but still cautioned against waging war on bees.

Many years went by before I got to test the “cure.” About ten years after the last shot, I was doing some research for my Masters Degree when I stepped in (or too damn near) a yellow jackets’ ground nest. Now, yellow jackets aren’t actually bees, they’re wasps but they are as mean as the Africanized Killer Bees. Luckily, they are more territorial than Killer Bees and will give up pursuit after just a few dozen yards.

At the time, I was live trapping mice along the medians of interstate highways. My car was parked on the shoulder of the road with a sign posted in the window stating why it was there and where I was. This day, after being stung a dozen or more times, I got out of the woods to see a state trooper parked behind my car. It was the only time in two years of research that a trooper stopped to check my car. I walked up to the trooper’s car and explained who I was, what I was doing and that I had just been stung numerous times and wasn’t sure if I would have a reaction or not. I asked if I could sit with him for a while—just in case. (We were 15 minutes from a major hospital and I told him to get me to the ER ASAP if I should start to foam at the mouth or something.) We sat and chatted for a bit and when nothing except a tiny tingling sensation appeared to have been the result of all the hits I took, we parted company. I drove to a friends house, who was only five minutes from Morristown Memorial Hospital and we repeated the wait-and-see routine over ice tea. After and hour or so, I felt comfortable enough to drive home convinced that the “cure” had worked.

Since that day, I’ve been stung several times with less reaction than I get from a black fly bite. And every time I do, I thank that Oakland doctor for all those shots he gave me.

A year or so after the Median Massacre, I went to an allergy specialist to see what else I was allergic to and what he might be able to do for me. The test results produced a fairly thick volume of positives. Some I was aware of, such as animal dander, ragweed pollen, insect bites (mosquitoes, deer flies, etc.), and some that surprised me (chocolate and caffeine?). I proceeded to get desensitized to some of the worst (the pollen and insect bites for instance) and ignored nearly all the others, as they had never been a problem for me. I would get six shots in my arms at every visit to the doctor’s office for nearly three years. Now I feel almost nothing from the occasional mosquito and deer fly bites where before I would have an itchy lump the size of a marble. And as for pollen, I seldom have a problem with itchy eyes, runny nose and the like, unless it’s a very, very bad season—and that’s usually in the spring with all the different trees.

I probably should see about getting shots for animal dander, what with the cats and all, but the over the counter pills seem to do the trick and since most of them are available in generic form they’re not that expensive. Besides, I've heard that while there is a shot for dogs, cats, rebellious indepedent as ever, have no such shot.

Oh, and somewhere along the way I have seemed to have lost my allergy to poison ivy. But that may have been a self-induced immunization. I used to get it all the time. Just looking at those three glossy leaves would make me break out in a blistery rash that required bathing in pink calamine lotion. Then, one day when I was about 18-years old, while fishing bare-chested along the Ramapo River along the NY-NJ border, I slipped and fell into a patch of poison ivy. (It was either the ivy or a drop into the river some ten feet below.) While the next two weeks were Hell, I haven’t seriously had a case since. And I’ve done everything but roll in the stuff.

As I said before: Thank God for allergy shots. Worth every penny, needle prick and more.


vipergirl said...

I grew up not far from you in Lincoln Park.

MorningGlory said...

OMG, I lived in Hawthorne back in the late 50's/early 60's! My father grew up there, graduated from Hawthorne High. We lived on Mawhinney Avenue, on the Dead End after Lincoln Ave, one block down from Warburton. I went to Lincoln School. Talk about your small world!