I’ve lived in Southern Arizona almost my entire life and I couldn’t remember the last time I was able to breathe easily. Growing up, I always suffered from congestion issues; you name it, I had it. It didn’t matter if it was the recurring ear or sinus infections, or the ever so wonderful bronchitis, laryngitis, or strep throat. I was guaranteed to fall ill of all of these multiple times a year.
Anytime anyone visits a doctor you are asked to fill out forms to provide a better snapshot of your medical history. A lot of the questions on the forms pertain to current and past family medical history. I was adopted from Calcutta, India when I was 5 months old. Regarding medical information, my adoptive mother was only provided with my weight, length, and that I was born with jaundice. She just figured that I suffered from a low immune system causing me to be more susceptible to illness. We assumed being born in a third world country, particularly a city very poverty stricken, would have also have been a contributing factor.
As time went on I just figured this would be something I would have to deal with for the rest of my life. I would get sick and it would take a while to feel better and this cycle would continue over and over. Finally, two years ago, I became very ill in January 2013. My family physician diagnosed me with a sinus infection and prescribed a Z-Pack. I couldn’t seem to get rid of the constant congestion, headaches, itchy eyes, runny nose, drippy throat, and chest and back pain from coughing so frequently. I was exhausted from the fight to breathe and not being able to sleep through the night. This continued on for the next four months. I missed a total of 10 days of work during this time. I was scared I was going to lose my job for unexcused absences. Finally in May, when I felt some of the symptoms start to return, I spoke with my mom about how to proceed. I told her I could not afford to miss work anymore work and I also could not continue to function feeling horrible all the time. She suggested speaking with my family physician about seeing a specialist. We thought an ear, nose, and throat doctor would be a good place to start, but he suggested an allergist.
By the time the referral was approved through my insurance and I was able to get an appointment to see the allergist it was July 2013. We went through the usual questions; he listened to my chest and pushed on my stomach to make sure I wasn’t suffering from any abdominal pain. Next he had me sit with a nurse and she hooked me up to a breathing machine. I ingested some medicine for about five minutes and then they took me back and listened to my lungs. Next was the best part of the entire appointment (note sarcasm), the scratch test. For the procedure, you lay down on the table shirtless lying on your stomach so your back’s exposed. Your back is then numbered with a felt marker. The amount of marks will be decided based on what the doctor believes you are allergic to. I had the maximum marks, to test me for everything imaginable. Then using small needles, the nurse dips them into the allergens and grazes it next to respective marking on your back. It doesn’t really hurt. It is just more annoying than anything. Once she finished I had to sit there for about 30 minutes to wait for a reaction. The waiting was the worst part and my back began to itch and get very warm. Once the thirty minutes had passed, the doctor and nurse returned to document the results. My back was extremely red and irritated. As the nurse recorded the results from the doctor he looked at me and said “No wonder you haven’t felt well, you’re allergic to everything!”. The nurse wiped away the allergens and applied aloe vera to my back. Instead of reading everything I was allergic to, the doctor decided to read everything I wasn’t allergic to, which was cotton and feathers. The doctor was surprised I had waited so long before asking for a specialist referral. I couldn’t believe I’d been suffering for so long with such extreme allergies.
Next he set a course of action regarding treatments that would last a minimum of four years. He prescribed sixteen shots to be administered once per week with everything I’m allergic to. You may be wondering why would he would want to do this and the reason is to build up a resistance or a stronger tolerance so when allergies are at their highest I won’t be so susceptible to getting sick. In addition, he also prescribed an Albuterol inhaler and LABA inhaler (steroid) for exercise induced asthma attacks.
Once the very expensive serums were made ($4,000 a course round), I was able to begin my treatment, which began in September 2013. Since then, every Tuesday at 5:30 (PM) I visit the allergy office, blow into a peak flow meter, have my lungs listened to, and receive my injections. I have to wait thirty minutes after the injections are administered to ensure I do not have a reaction before I am free to leave the office. I also take a Zyrtec pill every day to guarantee if there are any peaks in allergies and I won’t have uncontrollable issues. I’m almost at the two-year mark of receiving treatments and I would have to say it has made some improvements in my life. I’ve only been ill four times in the past two years, which is a huge improvement. This process is tedious, but results are happening. I hope to be well enough by 2017 to end treatments as scheduled.
If anyone can take something away from my story, I hope it’s that you don’t have to endure constant suffering. If you aren’t feeling well for long periods of time, do something about it. Ask questions, do research, and get the assistance you need to start feeling better and live your life to the fullest.