In June I spent some time away with my family at a cabin near Park Rapids, Minnesota. My grandparents enjoy renting this one specific cabin for a week each year so that my grandpa can go fishing. It’s somehow become a thing where the rest our small family tags along.
This year I opted to take some extra time off to spend more time with my family and less time at work, which was great. I’m not even being sarcastic, it was actually a pretty good time.
We did a lot of normal cabin things like grilling out, taking walks, and (my personal favorite) sitting in the three-season porch watching the water and drawing without feeling guilty that I should be doing something else.
It’s pretty small in that cabin, like, two small bedrooms that we give to my grandparents and uncle when there are seven people staying there total. So my Mom, two sisters and I take air mattresses and sleep in the only other available room, which is the living room that leads straight into the kitchen. Heaven forbid you sleep in later than 6am because people will be making coffee with much gusto and carrying on a conversation at normal talking volume six feet away.
But I would take all of this over actual tent camping, because there is no way you would catch me attempting to sleep out in the wild with only a thin layer of fabric between me and all that nature.
Camping seems like a giant waste of time to me, because why take yourself out of a perfectly functioning house with necessary amenities and try to “rough it” in a tent for fun. That does not sound fun at all. At least the cabin we stayed in had air conditioning and electricity and could in no way be considered camping. This is important because if I actually did have to stay in a tent nature would probably kill me.
I am literally allergic to nature.
Or maybe nature is allergic to me, because it does it’s best to eliminate me every time I venture out for too long without a hefty supply of allergy medications and anti-itch creams and sunscreen and a lot of layers.
Let’s be clear: I detest winter and most of what it brings. This is because it really doesn’t bring much of a reprieve from seasonal allergies in any way since there’s dust and dirt filling up the house anyway. I much prefer spring and fall because it’s nice to see that things are alive and not just one boring shade of grey. Summer is just hot. But at least things are growing and rain is cool. What I am getting at is it does not matter what time of year it is because somehow I will still be allergic to it.
This has been an ongoing thing since I was a small child. Waking up feeling like I had a head cold for the first hour of each day
became something normal. On top of this I had asthma too, so I was always coughing and sneezing and appearing very ill even though it was just an average morning.
At one point it was suggested that I get tested to determine specifically what I was allergic to, which is where some kind soul scrapes your back with various traces of common things that could cause reactions. Then they wait a while and look for signs of inflammation where the scratches are. It felt great, especially when I reacted to almost everything.
They doused me with allergy medicines and creams to keep on hand and sent me on my way. In high school a neat thing started happening where twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, I’d get some kind of allergy sickness. Not a cold, but it felt like one. It was a weird thing where my body simply could not handle the changing of the seasons and pretty much went into panic mode. And it occurred like clockwork every year for, like, eight years, so after the first few times I started expecting it and accepting it.
Fast forward to life after college and I opted to begin allergy injection therapy. They decided to do the scratch test again and,
yep, still pretty dang allergic to all of the same things. At least we know bee stings will not kill me. It’s one of the few things that did not cause a reaction. Neat.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with allergy injection therapy buckle up, because it is a process. Following the scratch test the allergist determines the things a person is allergic to and somehow (magic, probably?) creates a serum of a combination of all of those things. This is what is injected into you – literally it’s the things that cause you the most discomfort with the hopes that your body will form more of an immunity to them.
Over a long period of time and with frequent visits to the shot clinic, the serum dosages gradually increase to build more tolerance. I get two shots each time I go: one in my left arm with the serum for outdoor allergies (grass, trees, pollen, etc), and one in my right arm with the serum for indoor allergies (mold, dust, animals, etc). At each appointment I am required to stay a half hour after getting the shots because there is a risk of anaphylactic shock.
The appointments start weekly, go to twice a month, and over a long period of time go to only to once a month at maximum dosage. I finally hit maximum strength dosages after two years this past winter. Miraculously, it has made a difference. There was a good deal of skepticism at first because it doesn’t always work, but I was willing to try anything. It can be a little overwhelming to wake up every day, sneeze 12 times, and not know if you’ve got an actual cold or if it’s just the allergies trying to suffocate you.
Now I can wake up and if I accidentally forget to take my Allegra and Sudafed it won’t kill me. It will be uncomfortable and certainly somewhat noticeable, but it won’t knock me flat on my back like it used to. And I’m able to be outside without my throat clogging up and forming an instant headache if it’s too dusty or windy. But I still keep an eye on the pollen count, in what has just become the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written.
All in all, it’s good I’m not overly inclined to spend too much time outdoors. Nature, for as cool as it is, can be kind of toxic for people like me. My boyfriend joked that if I went on that weird TV show “Naked and Afraid” that I would die instantly, but I pointed out that that would happen whether I was allergic to everything or not. I’ve got the survival instincts of a potato.
Even after that long process of injection therapy there’s a chance I will need to continue with these monthly shots for five years or more. Potentially forever. The body is a tricky thing and, apparently, you can force it to become partially immune to certain triggers with patience and effort, but without maintenance I could go right back to being as allergic to everything as I once was. If I stop, it could all have been for nothing.
I guess the life lessons being pulled out here is that maintenance is good, science is crazy, allergies suck, and it’s good I am not afraid of needles.
Renee Brown is a freelance writer living in Southern Minnesota who really does have more interests than being a member of her generation, but you’d have to ask her about that. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JinjahSnap.