Fallen to Pollen

I used to go around secure in the notion that I was hearty farm stock.

You could put me out in the fields or on the plains and nothing would go wrong. Nothing! I wouldn't do any work out there or anything, but I wouldn't wilt or get sick, either, because I was strong, healthy, solid of gene, with an ass-kicking constitution. Broken bones? Haven't had one since I was 13, and when I did, I tried to reset it myself. Stomach aches? Not likely! Migraines? Never. Flu? Don't know what you're talking about.

As of last week, though? All of that came crashing down when a doctor told me that, at age 42, I suddenly have allergies. Allergies! The very antithesis of hearty farm stock! Sniffly, snotty, whiny, I-can't-go-outside-because-I'm-weak-and-immuno-compromised allergies. This tore at my sense of self like a rabid band of prairie dogs. Allergies were the realm of those brainy, pale, nose-picking girls in middle school who had to run and get shots every time you turned around. But, effluvium in the atmosphere bringing me down, though? Me? Why, that's just not possible.

Of course, all the sneezing, sputtering, snorting and wild, rhythmic mashing of my eyes due to the itching and burning should have given it away. But it didn't. It's just lots of back-to-back bouts of pink eye and colds at the same time each year - I can shake 'em off, I told myself.

Finally, on a lark, just for grins, because I had extra time, and wasn't doing anything else, I went to the doctor. A sullen staff member took a pen and marked up my arms with what looked like hieroglyphics -- 48 tiny numbers on each arm, arranged in a grid. Then she put little drops of syrup next to the numbers, each containing a festering allergen. Next, right at each drop, she scraped at my skin with something sharp, opening my flesh to let the irritants seep in. Then she drew more numbers on me and used diabetic syringes to shoot me up in a neat pattern all along the grid with 46 allergens. Because of my physical prowess, my scrappy constitution, my iron gut and my nerves of steel, none of this really hurt.

Following all the scraping and shooting, I was made to sit there for 20 minutes to see if any mosquito bite-ian bumps formed. If they did, voila, we'd have our answer(s).

While I waited, the doctor handed me a big pamphlet -- a magazine, really -- on how my life would be ruined should I be allergic to dust mites as well as a few other unfortunate indoor allergens. Via pictures and words, Mite As Well Give Up Daily showed me that my existence would morph from one of happily working, playing with my child, and visiting with friends, to a life of soaking everything in my house in scalding water all day, every day, and sweating and crying. The things I couldn't push into the washing machine with the end of a broom or hand wash in the sink with my shriveled claws I'd have to "encase." The things I couldn't encase would have to go into the garbage. Including my mattress, pillows, drapes, rugs, dog and cat.

Holy crap. I looked down, getting ready to start in on some fierce incantations, and saw then that the 3 Across and 4 Down position on my left arm was raised and red, as if a hungry bug had just been by for a samich. Please, dear baby Jesus in your manger, with swaddling clothes all encased, just don't let it be dust mites...

The doc swept in. He looked at my arm, stopped short, looked me in the eyes quizzically, then peered down at my arm again. "This is odd. You're only allergic to one thing," he said. "We don't see that very often."

I brightened. I like being odd. But more than that, I like knowing what my future entails. "Ok, so what is it?"

"It's maple pollen," he said, to which I let out a big gasp of relief. "The season for that is now, ahead of the usual spring allergies. You're probably at your worst in March, right? Keep your windows closed from mid-January to mid-April. And come see me every January for your prescriptions."

I was stunned. Maples? Those beautiful trees that turn such an outrageous, screaming shade of crimson in October? The talented headliner in the free outdoor concert that is fall in the Mid-Atlantic? The only tree that has ever made me pull over to the side of the road to stare slack-jawed? That tree is betraying me, sending its sperm into the air to choke me? Maple! You deadly siren in saucy lipstick, getting a jump on the other trees and spreading your toxins just before spring, making me wish I'd be born without eyes.

I realized with a jolt that my husband had planted a maple in our front yard a few years back, now just a few feet from our heads as we sleep. The little fledgling, currently the tree equivalent to an 11-year-old boy, is just starting to get peach fuzz and think about sex/pollen. It's the only tree we've planted as a couple. Do we have to cut it down? Because that would be bad, symbolically.

"No," said the doc. "There are so many maples here, the air is literally filled with their pollen. Cutting down one tree will do nothing. But your dog is getting covered in it every time he goes out, so do try to wash him before he comes in."

Right, I thought, envisioning lots of bladder infections for the dog instead.

I left there looking like some sort of scrappy, math-oriented junkie, numbers and scratch marks and needle holes covering each arm, shoulder to wrist. This helped me feel tough, even if my new diagnosis eroded at that status.

I also left there scheming. Was this my opportunity? My chance to move out of northern Virginia to a far more southern clime? Perhaps with shores? Can I now say, "Marty, we have to go -- it's for my health," and not be completely full of it? Maybe I could find out all the varieties of maple, learn where they are in my neighborhood and when Marty is at work, sidle up to them like a shameless hussy, stroking them, touching them to my face, running their leafless winter branches across my eyelids and hoping my head swells to the size of an outboard motor. "See, Marty," I can say, "I am suffering." And then we will fill our suitcases with flip-flops and juicers and be out of here.

Sadly, those dreams died minutes after I got home from the pharmacy. The host of prescriptions I administered through all head orifices (mouth, nose, eye) worked almost instantly, just as the doctor said they would. And now I feel fine, normal almost. Damn you, pharmaceutical industry.

My sense of self is intact, too. Here's how: Do maples grow in fields? Like the kind where strong and healthy people work? No, they do not. So I can still go out into that kind of field and nothing will happen, right? Right.

For now, thankfully, I get to remain exactly who I thought I was.