For as long as I can remember, I have carried a Kleenex at the ready. A hunter could easily track me by my trail of wadded tissues—stuffed under my pillow, down among the bedclothes, in every available pocket, tucked under skirt belts and up blouse sleeves, making little white mounds in my purse, on my desk, under the cushion of my favorite reading chair, inevitably drifting down to the floor of whatever room I visit, even briefly.
My nose is usually slightly red. Sometimes my face itches, my eyelids puff and water, and the whites of my eyes turn pink. My ears ring and the roof of my mouth itches. I occasionally suffer from mild nausea or diarrhea. Sometimes my sinuses feel like they’re made out of cement, and sometimes I have trouble breathing. I have a whole repertoire of headaches from the one that feels like eyestrain to the big mamou that settles over my head, neck, and shoulders like a sick, dense smog of pain. Often I am sleepy, achy, and lethargic.
Still, in terms of heavy allergy suffering, I am a mere piker. Once while my sister was cooking dinner she got the allergy dizzies and dropped a 29-ounce can of tomatoes on her food. She was in a cast for weeks. I know a state bureaucrat who insists that wearing wool makes the insides of his lungs feel raw, an officer with the ACLU whose hands swell when she eats fish, and a musician who sneezes when he goes into bright sunlight. All perfectly legitimate complaints. That’s not to mention the filmmaker who is constantly sneezing and tearing with hayfever (a general term for pollen allergies) and wheezing with asthma. Riding a horse gives him rashes on his thighs and elbows, and eating peaches makes his chin itch (from the inside where he can’t get at it, he insists). One of the most pathetic cases I ever encountered was a fellow who was allergic to alcohol. He’d drink himself into a stupor and then scratch himself raw.
I used to think that I was sensitive only to outdoor pollens, but when I quit my editing job and started writing at home, my allergies seemed to worsen. There were days when I could hardly drag myself out of bed. Chronic headaches. Was it psychological? Writer’s procrastination?
I decided to see an allergist. It seemed more reasonable than moping around the house hoping that my ailments would voluntarily vanish. An acquaintance recommended a group of allergy specialists in Austin. I have since learned that not all the doctors who bill themselves as allergists have specialized training. It’s easy to check with the local medical board, however, to see if a doctor has been certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Specialists in this field also usually belong to two national allergy societies—the American College of Allergists and