When I was a little girl, one of the things I wanted most was a cat. I wanted a cat like some little girls want a horse (say, for example, my sister). She at least had the sense not to beg. A horse truly would have been beyond our means, but I thought a cat was quite reasonable. They are certainly cheaper. But my mother flatly refused, without ever really giving an explanation. I thought she just didn’t like them. That does happen. But as it turns out, maybe she knew something I didn’t.
When we left home, my sister and I both eventually made our dreams come true. I got a cat, she got a horse. That’s when I found out I’m allergic to cats. And so is my sister. She is wildly allergic, I’m less so, but I think that’s due to exposure. I eventually got to the point where I could tolerate my own cats, but I couldn’t be in the same room with someone else’s cat. Then that got better and I could be in the same room, but I just couldn’t touch them. That’s very hard to do with cats, who are twining themselves around your ankles and purring, and looking generally very cute and begging to be petted. But if I succumbed, I would be rewarded with my eyes swelling almost shut and itching, and finding it hard to breathe. So it wasn’t hard to exercise some discipline there.
Eventually that got better too. The experts call this “immunomodulation”. I just learned that word today, and what a good word it is. Sixteen letters, even. That would be a great Jeopardy clue. Normally that has to be accomplished with drugs, but it can also be done by exposure, which leads to greater tolerance. Most of the time.
As an aside, I have to say that I once saw an allergist after an unfortunate encounter with fire ants, and I got the standard test for all sorts of allergens, including cats. The test showed that I am not allergic to cats, so I promptly dismissed the test. Now that I know more than I did then about medical tests of all kinds, I know that I was right. Tests are inadequate. Period. They are an aid, but they are not infallible. I also tend to have what are undoubtedly allergy symptoms every spring and fall, but the test did not show any allergy to pollen, the likely cause. In spite of that, I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to oak pollen. The tests did show that I am seriously allergic to fire ant stings Duh. This reminds me of my former car, which had a “low traction” light. You could be sliding across ice and spinning around three times before the light came on. Duh. Thanks for telling me. Lucky for me, the allergist was very smart. I’ve been lucky that way–to find doctors who are very smart. He said, I know you’re allergic to something–I just don’t know what it is.
So the exposure thing has worked well for me, except some times. Because immunomodulation (I just had to say that again) does not mean you’re cured. One of those times was last night, when I suddenly couldn’t breathe. Normally I buy Claritin in packs of 10 tabs, which is not cheap, but I don’t need them that often. Maybe once every three months. So here I am, pawing through my handbag in the middle of the night, and I can’t find any. Arrgh! This is like trying to use the copier in my office, and it’s out of paper. Who!!!! I scream,was the last person to use this copier without replacing the paper? In this case, that would be me. So, I had three choices. Go to the pharmacy. Go to the ER. Lie down and concentrate only on breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. I picked Option 3. In between screaming at the cat to get away. Get Away Now! Get Away or You Die! That kind of thing.
So I must end with a story about Fakesister. Sorry FS, you will now become the unwitting star of this post. If I have as much trouble as I do, you can imagine what it must be like for Fakesister. So one day, I accompanied Fakesister to her horse barn. Where there are horse barns, there is horse food. Where there is horse food, there are rodents. Where there are rodents, there are cats. Ergo, horse barns equal barn cats. QED.
So her horse Hoover has the condo of stalls, and it’s large enough for Fakesister to keep her own tack cabinet in it. It contains all the minor accessories needed for horse care–brushes, hoof picks, bridles, and bags of baby carrots, etc. On this day, she is preparing to open the cabinet when out of nowhere, a tiny black barn cat appears. (Barn cats all seem to be small and stunted.) The cat is weaving itself through her ankles and I’m like…Alarm! Alarm! But she’s wearing leather riding boots, so no harm done. The cat isn’t actually touching her.
So Fakesister opens the cabinet, and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A bag of cat treats. I thought, Are you crazy?! But here is what I think the deal is. My sister loves all creatures, as do I. It isn’t just allergies that are genetic.