Cindy vs. The World: A Testimony of an Environment Allergy Scratch Test Panel

NURSE

“Cindy, you can’t anything, and you can’t go anywhere. What do we do?”

Flash back to twenty minutes earlier…

I had my scratch today. I was so beyond excited, if for no other reason than it meant I could go back on antihistamines. I was fine on Shabbat, but as soon as Sunday aka Day 2 rolled around I was done with the world. I felt like a junkie, counting down the hours until I could go back on Zyrtec.

After a pretty horrific drive in the LA rain to the doctor’s office (thank God his office is a mile away, in practically a straight line. Because some of us had questionable eyesight and reaction time this morning and all of us in this city drive like morons in the rain), it was time for the test. We tested 72 different environmental allergens. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of having a scratch test, what happens is the nurse pricks your arm with a histamine to make sure your skin reacts in general. Then, she pricks your back with a series of little white plastic things that just tap an allergen to your skin. Each plastic bracket is marked to indicate a different allergen. After 25 minutes (or less but usually not), the nurse and doctor return to evaluate how big the bumps get. You may have no bumps. You may have 72. The severity of the allergy is indicated by a number 1-4 and a letter A-D, referring to the scope of the redness and the height of the bump (ie swelling). Imagine the worst mosquito bite possible. It’s like 50 times more burny and itchy than that.

Anyway.

The nurse said she’d come back after 5 minutes, instead of 25, since my history is you know, severe and I react quickly. She came in after 2, but we still had a ways to go (I mean, I was in pain, but we weren’t finished yet). Then she came in at 5 and called the doctor in. He waited a couple more minutes and at minute 8 came in and sighed. I asked him to take a picture. He said I wouldn’t want to see it. Then he got out the sheet and started noting things. Forty seven things, to be exact, many with a 3C, some 2Bs, 3Bs, a 4B and two 4cs.  I was allergic to 46/75 foods, so I guess this is just my ballpark lucky number range. If only roulette went up to the forties…

I don’t know what half the things I’m allergic to are. The names are all scientific. But it’s every tree and grass and dust, some weeds, some mold but not most, cats (like astronomically) dogs (which is preposterous since I’m around dogs all the time and I’m fine), goats (but I loved Elvis my zoo goat!), rabbits (guess I won’t get a pet), not horses (thank God!!!), and not cottonseed (which is a lie, since that was all anaphylaxis-y when I ate it). These scratch tests aren’t 100% accurate. But they are accurate enough that shots will help.

Anyway, I got some cream, some antihistamines, and spent the rest of the day like a worn out zombie who needed to soak in a tub of oatmeal. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to just scream. My clothes hurt. I had to wear a skimpy dress that’s basically too big on top and backless with a comfy loose sweater over it so that nothing would hit my hives. I’m glad I work in an environment where that’s okay, because if I had to dress up for work I’d have stayed home. One zyrtec, one claritin, a bunch of steroid cream and vaporub later, and it’s time for my Zyrtec. As I write this I am trying not to scream. I screamed earlier, when I was doing the math for the Scoggins Report (which, ps, ya’ll should subscribe to, because it’s awesome and also SpecScout is awesome), and realized that I’m sick of movies being action thrillers. Somehow, I think I’m more mad at the hives and expressing it poorly. Either way. Yelling is cathartic.

The bright side, though — because bright sides are the only sides I like to see — I now know why I can’t eat on certain days, I know why I don’t feel well often, and I’m finally going to get shots to fix it. I can’t believe what my body fights through every day, and I feel so beyond blessed that I am as healthy as I am. I hope in 3-5 years when the shots do their thing, I’ll be able to stand a lot more foods just by virtue of the fact that my body won’t be fighting the outside and the food at the same time. Just one demon at a time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go lather more cream on. Maybe rinse off the hives, too. Rap til I feel better. Or, sing Christina Aguilera’s “Keeps Getting Better” because that song helps everything.

Food Challenge 22: Cindy vs. Green Peppers

This was perhaps the silliest food challenge yet. I expected it to be uneventful because I wanted to start slow on this new post-anaphylaxis round of challenges. (In case you’re wondering why it’s been so long, I had to take a break after the cottonseed oil anaphylaxis and subsequent overreactions, and then Passover got in the way, and then work was too busy for me to take risks).

Anyway. I decided to try green peppers because they are around a lot, in spices and in general. And I used to love them more than any other pepper. And I can eat all the other colors. So I thought, “shoe in!”

Nope.

I mean, maybe nope.

The first time I ever had a green pepper, I said it tasted like spoons. Specifically, the dairy spoons from my parents’ house. This grilled green pepper, of which I had one bite, tasted like old metal pipes in dishwashing liquid.

Green peppers or dishwashing liquid? You decide because my taste buds simply don't know.

Green peppers or dishwashing liquid? You decide because my taste buds simply don’t know.

As I chewed the bite, I started making a horrible face. The doctor took one look at me, said “Oh, the pleasant face,” and handed me a trash can to spit it out before I got sick. The last time I made a face even half as horrible was avocado and we all know how that turned out. (If you don’t, read about it here).

So no green peppers for me. Not a confirmed allergen, but a confirmed disgusting food. For now, at least.

The good news, though, is that when I first started going to this allergist, he told me we’d talk about allergy shots when he thought I was in a better place. We talked about allergy shots, so I must be in a better place! I’m getting scratch-tested on Monday for environmental allergies (anyone have a good playlist to distract me from the horrible pain of that test? Or something fun to read? I read Mindy Kaling’s pilot last time, so I’ll take another pilot recommendation). Depending on how that goes, I’ll start getting shots.

So essentially, I’ll be at the office once a week for shots and once a week for challenges. 2 out of the 4 days its open.

Does that mean I qualify as a Beverly Hills resident?

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 14

Allergens: 7

Undecided: 1

Next Up: I’m taking suggestions.

Happy Allergiversary to Me (Take Two)

I’m big on anniversaries, and today is a big one.

One year ago today, two major life changes happened. The first is that I stopped working in a dirty, rude, horrible office. The second is that I went to my current doctor for allergy testing and found out I was allergic to 46 of the 75 scratch-testable foods.

And so it began.

It’s hard to believe how much I have learned and changed in the last year. I’ve become a better cook and a better eater. I’ve become smarter about my allergies. I’ve learned to accept the reality of the situation and ask for help when I need it. I’ve survived multiple epi-episodes, and overcame a fear of the epipen. I started a crusade against xanthan gum and a started eating pineapple, pears, and cherries. I realized dried fruit is kind of okay. And processed foods have a lot more shit in them than we realize.

I was supposed to have a challenge today to commemorate the occasion, but yesterday at work, I had a terrible airborne reaction and had to get more epi. Apparently, one week after anaphylaxis, I can’t be around lettuce and nuts at the same time and eat within a few hours. Live and learn. That’s what this year has been for me. Living, and learning.

I can’t challenge anything else for another few weeks, and I have to stay careful for the next few days and super careful over Passover when I’ll be far away. But, I got an Auvi-Q! The doctor and nurse decided that the full dose of epi is too much for my body at once, and I react better to the pediactric dose (people who can’t eat are smaller than regular sized adults, I guess), so since I needed a new prescription, they gave me one for the newfangled cell-phone like robot epi injector. I’m obsessed, less scared, and hope I never have to use it.

But the important thing is, I can pinpoint my reactions. I don’t have questions as to “am I allergic to chicken, all I ate was chicken?” which was the case last year. I know what happened. I had cottonseed oil, it fucked with me, and I’m super sensitive. That’s a huge step from last year, and I’m so grateful to be on a road to sorting this all out.

Anyway, here’s a massive tally how far I’ve come so far this year — foods in bold are foods I am NO LONGER allergic to (or testing positive to):

  1. Lettuce
  2. Barley (in the form of beer)
  3. Cacao Bean aka Chocolate
  4. Orange
  5. Green Peppers
  6. Clam
  7. Garlic
  8. Cinnamon
  9. Coffee
  10. Cow’s Milk
  11. Grapefruit
  12. Malt
  13. Olives
  14. Peas
  15. Plums
  16. Soy
  17. Tomato
  18. Wheat
  19. Baker’s Yeast
  20. Walnut
  21. Almond
  22. Avocado
  23. Beef
  24. Blueberry
  25. Buckwheat
  26. Broccoli
  27. Cabbage
  28. Cantaloupe
  29. Cottonseed
  30. Egg Yolk
  31. Flaxseed
  32. Hazelnut
  33. Mushroom
  34. Mustard
  35. Peanut
  36. Pistachio
  37. Pork
  38. Potato
  39. Rice
  40. Sesame (won’t kill me)
  41. Sunflower seed (in oil)
  42. Cashew
  43. Onion (in some forms)
  44. Tuna
  45. Codfish
  46. Salmon

That’s 22 foods back in my diet at least to some degree! That’s incredible. That’s nearly half of the foods back in. And we’ll see how many more get added back in once I complete these challenges.

Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of me this year, and prior. I spent 25 years of my life thinking that I was possibly crazy and making it all up. And this year, I’ve proven the opposite. And it’s really reassuring to know I’m not crazy, and that there are so many people out there who both want to make sure I don’t die and believe me when I say it’s a possibility. Thank you for encouraging me to go to the doctor and to listen to him and for helping me navigate these crazy dietary changes. More than anything else, I feel blessed. This year taught me just how blessed I am. I wish I could also eat more, but hey. One step at a time.