Wednesday, April 29, 2009

SOS Benadryl

I remember never understanding why people complained about allergies. I assumed it was some kind of psychosomatic thing, something possibly without merit. I didn't know anyone who had allergy problems, and I myself had never had even the slightest symptom. I also thought this somehow meant I was of heartier stock—maybe it was my Greek immigrant family history that had something to do with it. I couldn't imagine anyone on my mom's side of the family ever complaining of allergies; it seemed such an American condition. My father had allergies, asthma, hay fever, too, I think, when he was growing up. I remember him telling me that he was allergic to goldenrod and many other things. But long before I was born, he outgrew all of it, and I never saw him with itchy eyes, runny nose, and so forth, despite outings in nature. There were seasonal allergies, which I'd heard about for a long time, and then suddenly people had peanut allergies and wheat allergies . . . I rolled my eyes, because little did I know. I do still think that a prevalence of allergies seems particularly American; or maybe it's just our intolerance for any kind of discomfort. Maybe in other nations, people just suffer in greater silence, with a feeling of resignation. We are generally a soft population. Perhaps I, too, have turned soft in the past decade or so. It was not until I reached my early thirties (actually, maybe I was just thirty, or thirty-one tops) that I realized how uncomfortable seasonal allergies can be. For some reason, they hit me full force one spring, and now they return yearly in varying degrees of intensity. Today is the second day this season that I've battled symptoms, and it's making me miserable. The worst for me has to be itchy eyes; I'd like to tear them out of my head. And I'm so distracted that all I can remember to write about now was that first cursed day. It was, I think, spring of 2001. I was on my way to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to meet a friend for coffee. As I set out from my apartment, my eyes began to get very dry. By the time I made it to the subway, they itched like crazy. And, in the time it took me to go maybe three stops north, I literally could not keep my eyes open. When I emerged from underground, my eyes started watering like mad. I had no clue what was going on, having no history of reactions to what must have been an extremely high pollen count. Luckily, one block between the subway and the Starbucks that was my destination, there was a Duane Reade drug store. I popped in and headed back to the pharmacy counter. The clerk there took one look at me and before I could get a sentence out said: "Let me guess, your eyes bother you." I didn't even care about the ironic tone, I just wanted help. I was ready to throw myself at the mercy of just about anyone, I was so pathetic. I said I had no idea what the hell was going on but I needed relief. "Allergies," said the clerk. "What do I take?" I had no idea what people did to ditch the symptoms, it was all a mystery to me. "Benadryl." So I bought some and took it immediately once I reached my friend and her Frappuccino or whatever it was she was drinking that day. The Benadryl, to my relief and dismay both, worked pretty quickly. The relief is obvious. The dismay was because, really, I didn't want to know anything about what Benadryl was, its variations and uses. I didn't want to be one of those people with allergies. Of course when I explained this sudden attack to another friend, she told me I was stuck with them. That it was not a one-time thing. Once you got them, at least as an adult, you'd just keep getting them. Maybe it's denial. Every year, I run out of my supply of Benadryl. Every year I forget to replace the box in the medicine cabinet, until it's too late. I let it get too late because I think I won't need it, not this year. Now I'm in a full-blown, red-eyed sneezing fit. But I do comfort myself with this: the knowledge that, if I wanted to, I could still go to the kitchen and make myself a sticky, thick peanut butter sandwich, and the only effect that would have would be to bring on an extra pound or two, plus the need for a glass of milk.

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