This summer which should have been memorable as the First Summer we Spent in Our House, has instead turned into The Summer of Itch. (Which, I'm realizing, rhymes with "son of a bitch.") I have had an almost continuous rash -- with miserable itching and revolting-looking hives -- for the last two months. I've also been doped out on antihistamines, which means that I'm even more weird and boring than usual. What a summer.
Although I had been to my primary care doctor about this rash, it wasn't until today that I met with an allergist. She was utterly delightful, and I hope that I struck the right balance between having being a well-informed patient, and not having freaked myself out by doing online medical research.
You know what I'm talking about, right? You start reading up on your symptoms, and before you know it, you've fallen down some rabbit-hole of Internet Craziness. And if you aren't careful, you'll inadvertently look at medical photography that will haunt you until your dying day. Worse: given what you'll have just read, you'll convince yourself that you're going to drop dead next week. Admit it. You've been there, too.
Robb points out that this phenomenon is described as far back as the 19th Century. It is hilariously described in Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch - hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into - some fearful, devastating scourge, I know - and, before I had glanced half down the list of "premonitory symptoms," it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever - read the symptoms - discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it - wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus's Dance - found, as I expected, that I had that too, - began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically - read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.
I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.
I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need to "walk the hospitals," if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.
Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.
I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.
It turns out that I may have something called Oral Allergy Syndrome (sometimes less confusingly known as Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome), wherein people with pollen allergies develop allergies to fresh fruits and vegetables.
On the most basic level, an allergy is an inappropriate immune reaction. The body interprets the proteins in tree pollen (or whatever) as something that it needs to fight against, and then goes all out, attacking something that's not a threat in the first place.
In the case of people with Oral Allergy Syndrome, the body first starts out at war with pollen, and then notices that the proteins of certain fruits and vegetables look suspiciously similar to those in pollens, and starts goes on the warpath after the fruits and vegetables.
When and offending fruit or vegetable so much as touches the lips, tongue or mouth, the body-parts start to tingle and itch and swell. In some cases, simple contact with the skin with elicit this kind of reaction.
In my case, it looks like my body has decided that I'm allergic to contact with tomato plants, and as the summer progresses, it's starting to look like I may be allergic to fresh tomatoes. (Today I ate a sandwich, from which I removed slices of fresh tomatoes, and my tongue has been sizzling non-stop.)
This is a tragedy.
I love tomatoes. Most of my vegetable garden is devoted to tomato growing. It's bad enough that I can't eat spicy peppers, but if I have to give up fresh tomatoes as well....Well, that's just to grim to consider.