Friday, July 30, 2010

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes


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.


ajt said...

I had a doctor once who referred to the internet-induced hypochondria as "a bad case of WebMD," which I always thought had a nice ring to it.

The business of the tomatoes is indeed a tragedy of epic unfairness. Honestly, I wouldn't wish a tomato allergy on my worst enemy.

Mel said...

Oh my god, that's just unthinkable!! I hope they can get you some better-living-through-chemistry miracle drug or something! Yikes!

Christine said...

Noooooooo!!!!! Tragedy! Would acupuncture help, I wonder? I've been quite the hypochondriac myself, only towards the tomato plants. Fusarium wilt? Powdery mildew? And what are root knot nematodes?! The tomato crop this year is ruined, I know it!
Hope you get this all sorted out and feel better soon!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Christine, I was thinking of you today as I walked away from the doctors' office. Thoughts went something like this:

"Well, SHIT! There goes that great idea for a tomato tasting party with Christine and the garden bloggers."

I'm terrified of needles, but would endure just about anything to avoid giving up tomatoes.

Steve, Christa, Emily, Meghan, Charles & Elizabeth said...

there is nothing to fear from a trained and licensed accupunturist. Unlike the sharp hollow needles that pucture in western medicine an accupuncturists needles are solid and blunted at the end. The don't actually puncture the skin but work their way between the skin cells. One of my massage instructers is an accupuncturist and he has done alot to allieviate my concerns about the "NEEDLES!"

Anonymous said...

Look on the bright side; think of all the weight you'll lose from avoiding tomato related products!

Stefaneener said...

Oh, that would truly and completely stink. Think of all of the related foods. . . argh.
Acupuncture, yes, anything to help support.
But don't take chances. No one needs to epi-pen you. I still think we should have a get together, though.

Kristen said...

this saddens me greatly! I've been quietly comparing my tomatoes to yours for months now and they've looked so healthy and pretty. I'd hate to think you won't get to enjoy them after all that love and work.

I would wish a tomato allergy on my worst enemy--but only the worst.

Anonymous said...

Im allergic to cantalope like that, i grew up eating them and being sick as a kid

meemsnyc said...

Wow, that is horrible. Being allergic to fresh tomatoes would be terrible. I had a really bad allergic reaction to something this month, I was covered in hives for 2 weeks. I know this feeling.

knitica said...

Clearly you need a tapeworm. See Act III:

and also:

So can you eat cooked tomatoes? I've heard of people who were only allergic to certain fruits and veg when they were fresh.

Knit Wit said...

I share the fresh tomato allergy and it truly is a shame. I find that Roma tomatoes don't induce the same suffering but they don't taste as good on a sandwich either. Canteloupe is another one I have to be careful with. The juice can make my hands itch and eating more than a slice or two at once causes blisters on my tongue.

I hope your allergist can find something to help you.

Chris said...

My son, who is now 28, has had this allergy all his life. He can't have any fresh fruits or vegetable. He has found that sometimes he can eat something if it isn't in season. As long as they are cooked, he is fine. Weird, I know. He carries an epi pen and all his friends know. That way they can help him if he has a reaction in a restaurant. He is meeting more and more people with this allergy.


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