>All of us have been reading about the Food Allergy Awareness Month across blogs on the blogosphere. And unlike The Guy, who is allergic to sea food, I have no apparent food allergies that I may be aware of, I have plenty of allergies that equip me with enough experience to contribute my wee bit to this campaign. So when Sue suggested I do a post on it, I came up with a really long one!
I wasn’t born with these allergies and had a healthy childhood. I ate just about everything I wanted to and though I needed them rarely, I popped pain killers when my periods became very, very painful. Despite living in the dusty north Indian plains, I scraped through most of my school life unscathed by all the allergies that various family members on my Dad’s side evinced. My grandmother was severely asthmatic and could not take up a lot of physical activities that would be considered normal even for women her age. R, my cousin, took after her and was also severely asthmatic. Allergens like dust and pollens did a lot of harm to her physical constitution and in turn impacted her school life. Her asthmatic attacks, like my grandmom’s, were often so bad that she had to be hospitalised.
Four years elder to me, R’s life was dictated by these attacks. As a sister, I could only imagine what it must be like. When I suffered my first asthmatic attack in 1997, I knew exactly what it feels like to be panting for breath, to be fighting an inexplicable constriction in the lungs, to be wheezing helplessly. I could not believe this was happening to me, but it was. I suffered three mild asthmatic attacks in quick succession and I was convinced at that time that it must be something else – an allergy that had triggered off this breathlessness. And perhaps it was. I remember trying very hard to figure out in my head what it was that I had eaten on all three occasions that could have caused the attacks. But it became difficult to put my finger on it because the attacks, though mild and manageable once I started using the inhaler, became a frequent feature in my life. I did not participate in the Sports Day at school because I was terrified of all the dust on the field filling up my lungs!
It was the same year that my body began rejecting a lot of meds. I remember vividly the day I sat writing a test in class, convulsed with menstrual cramps. Just so that I wouldn’t be groggy while writing the test, I waited for the class to get over before I popped a Brufen. It wasn’t the first time I’d had that medicine and till that day, it had suited me just fine. But the medicine triggered some strange reactions in my body and within minutes my face swelled unrecognisably, and my eyes were only two slits in my face. I was appalled! I went home and wept inconsolably at these weird things that were happening to me. It took two whole days for the allergy to subside.
Next time I needed a painkiller, I made sure it wasn’t a Brufen. But it didn’t matter because I had developed an allergy to ALL the painkillers that are there. Later, the reactions were different: my body – every part of it – would be covered with red blotchy patches that looked like huge, enormous mosquito bites. And despite the anti-allergics, it took me at least two days to be able to get out of the house without having people stare at me. I even developed an allergy to Paracetamol which means that every time I’m down with fever, I just have to wait for it to go away because no medicine will work for me. I cannot have cough syrups or your over-the-counter drugs for cold and flu either – allergic to them too!
That isn’t the end of it. I realised, much to my consternation, that I was also allergic to severe cold and severe heat and sudden changes in temperatures. On a trip to Chennai in the summers, the air-conditioning inside the shops and the high temperatures outside left me itchy, scratchy and very irritated.
I haven’t had any painkillers in the last 10 years. And in those ten years, my threshold of bearing pain has gone up ten times, because I have no other option. Doctors have been of no help. When they look at my allergic reactions to medicines, they are dumbfounded.
‘But why do you need a pain killer anyway?’ people ask dismissively. All of us feel the need for painkillers at least once in a while. Like when you get your tooth extracted, when you get injured, when you sprain an ankle, when you have a surgery. It’s not easy to bear all those kinds of pains.
Last year, my index finger got caught between the car door and I was in excruciating pain. But I could not have any painkiller; I spent the whole night with my finger dipped in ice cold water to numb all sensation.
On another occasion, The Guy accidentally fell with all his weight on my foot. I thought I had fractured a few bones, it was so painful! Turned out it was only an inflammation and when I applied an ointment to relieve the pain, I discovered I was allergic even to these sprays and ointments! It’s exasperating to have your life crippled only because you’re in some sort of pain.
People suggest getting an allergy test done. R and my father did undergo that test a long time ago. And according to the results of the test, it turned out that my father was allergic to all possible food items except arhar dal and rice. He lived on that alone for one whole year, but it didn’t help him deal with his allergies any better. The doctors also advised against it. So I never got one done.
My pa-in-law recalls what his teacher in med school told him about treating allergies and I think it’s the only thing that makes sense: Allergy rab di marji! You bet.