It Figures!

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So I’ve been dealing with a cough for a while, now. I wouldn’t bring it up at all, only when I say “a while,” what I mean is four years. Yes, I’ve been irritating people in planes, trains, and theatres for four long years. No one seems the least bit reassured when I say, ‘It’s not contagious,” even though that happens to be true, and who can blame them? 

In answer to the question I know is burning in your mind, yes, I have gone to see the doctor. In fact, I’ve seen several: my GP, three lung doctors, a throat specialist, a stomach specialist, and now, an allergy chap. Thus far, they’ve only managed to agree on one thing: Kelly’s been coughing for four years.

The allergy chap is my last hope. I even told him so, during our first consultation. He shook his head good-naturedly and said, “Don’t say that! It’s too much pressure!” But he plunged right in, anyway, and ordered a battery of allergy tests. You should know in advance that I’m a complete ninny about pain. Pain often determines whether I’ll agree to undergo a procedure or not. My thinking is, if it hurts more than the thing it’s supposed to diagnose, why do it? In this instance, however, I was getting desperate, so I agreed to Round One.

Round One involved a nurse scratching my back 78 times, each time with a different plastic skin-scratching thingy that contained a different allergen. I was to wait 15 minutes, then, to see whether my skin responded to any of the scratches. It did. Several times. Because of those reactions, the doctor ordered Round Two.

Round Two was a bit more invasive. Round Two involved having twenty different needles (I’ve yet to mention my profound fear and dislike of needles, but trust me, my fear and dislike are indeed profound.). First, though, the nurse made ten marks on either forearm. She used purple ink, and some sort of medical hieroglyphics to indicate what, specifically, each jab was – trees, leaves, and other outdoor things, as well as animals, dust mites, and some indoor things. After she’d scribbled on each arm, she produced a tray with twenty vials, each containing a different allergen, and each with a syringe sticking up out of it. Aaack!

To my surprise, the needles didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought they would. She only stuck them a layer or two into my skin, drawing little to no blood. Again, I had to wait 15 minutes. During that time, several areas on my right arm itched like mad, although I was forbidden from scratching them, and a number of bumps swelled on both arms. Clearly, my skin was unhappy about the invasions.

Some bumps were bigger and redder than others. There was one quite large brute on my right arm, which doctor said was an allergy to dust mites. I knew then that I wouldn’t be mentioning that particular bump to the hubs: he complains about my lack of housekeeping skills enough as it is; this would only serve as proof that I need to pick up the slack.

Doctor pointed to another bump – not nearly as large as the dust mite bump – and remarked, “This is a significant reaction.” The bump he was pointing to was the cat allergen bump. You may recall that I have four cats. Doctor had asked me, during our pre-skin-scratching consult, whether I had pets. I answered in the affirmative, saying that I’d had cats for years.

“How long?” he wanted to know.

“Forty years,” I answered, then hastily added, “not the same cat, though!” He chuckled. Reading his mind, I noted, “They’ll be staying on; I’m not getting rid of my pets.” Still, the question I’ve been wondering ever since is this: why, in forty years’ time, haven’t I built up an immunity?

In any case, it was decided that allergy shots were in order, starting the end of this month. Evidently, it takes 8-10 months for your body to build up some tolerance to the allergens. And since, come spring, I’ll be all over the back garden – which, according to test results, indicates allergies to leaves, grass, and just about everything else that can be found in my garden – I need all the help I can get, if I’m going to get this cough under control.

Doctor hastened to note that treating the allergies might – might – help reduce the cough. Or not. But since the heartburn medicines haven’t done the trick, nor the asthma inhalers, the diagnostic scans, nor the exploratory surgeries, I can’t help but hope, after four long years of coughing until I’m red in the face, that finally, my days of suffering – not to mention annoying everyone within earshot – might be over.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because being diagnosed with pet allergies (I tested positive for dogs, too) forces one to at least think about the commitment they made to their pet. Obviously, in my case, being The Critter Lady, who’s written three books detailing her experiences rescuing and caring for animals in need, there’s no way I could or would ever relinquish my pets. I may decide, one day, to keep a smaller number of them in the house, but there will always be someone with four legs here. But that’s easy for me to say.

Others might not be so committed. If that’s the case, please consult with your local RSPCA or other shelter; they’re there to help you as much as they are there to help animals. And, there are a number of breeds of dog and cat that don’t shed much – or, in a few instances, at all – that might prove suitable for those who still wish to have a pet in their life. As you may know, all sorts of research points to the fact that animals are good for us. Having a pet can reduce your risk of heart disease and stress. Isn’t it ironic, then, that while in some ways, animals can make us ill, in other ways, they can make us happy and healthy beyond measure!

Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

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