As if trying to balance out some great karmic equation, for the duration of what has – despite containing my birthday – grown to be my favorite month of the year I am cursed with severe seasonal allergies that no medication can quite quiet.
How severe? It took not one, but two separate 24-hour prescription decongestants to open up my nasal passages for an 8-hour day of work, during which I was a dessicated zombie-husk of my normal chipper self.
I quickly discovered that if you’re a designer you do not want someone delirious and half-blind from dehydration to be your proofreader.
My allergies initially emerged one day when I was eleven. We were on a boat, near the banks of some brackish body of water in the Philadelphia area, and we passed by a bevy of reeds.
“Achoo. Ahhhh-choo. Atchu. Atshooooo.”
My convulsive sneezing was unstoppable, even after I had been brought below deck and told to breath through a damp washcloth. One of those river reeds was my histaminic kryptonite, and it had doomed me to a life full of seasonal suffering.
When I was in highschool my mother met another nurse who worked in an allergy clinic. Clearly, I was an early topic of conversation, and one night my mother arrived home to inform me that I could make hundreds of dollars if I participated in an allergy study. I would go off my normal medication for a few weeks, taking the study meds instead.
To a teenager it seemed like the easiest money possible; I begged her to sign me up.
It was then that the agony began. For a week before being screened for the study I had to forgo all allergy medications, prescription or otherwise, so that the study could get a baseline – to prove I was allergic enough to join.
I showed up at the end of the week, splotchy, stuffy, grumpy, and unable to complete a sentence without adding several sneezed punctuation marks.
I qualified with flying colors as a perfectly allergic specimen, and gladly received my study medication.
I knew that some people would receive placebos, but I assumed that – given my hyper-allergic state, I would clearly qualify to be the lab rat for the medication actually being studied.
Oh, but, through the cruel irony of pharmaceutical science and my mother’s error of omission, I hadn’t fully grasped the concept of a “double-blind study.”
I returned to the office several weeks later, splotchier, stuffier, and grumpier than I had been on my previous visit.
The nurse received me with a grin, which I returned with a doleful stare. She drew some blood, despite my convulsive sneezing, and then sat me down to survey me.
“I see here that in our last interview you said on a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being worst and 10 being best – that your quality of life was a 3 when not taking your allergy medication. What would you say your quality of life is now, after several weeks taking our study drug?”
I glared back at her, probably sniffling.
“I’d say 2. Definitely a quality of 2.”
“Well that’s… unusual. For quality to go down. Why would you say that is?”
“Because I’m taking the placebo.”
She smiled bashfully. “Now, now, I can’t reveal what you were taking because I don’t know.”
She pronounced the last three words in an intensely cute, almost sing-songy way.
I willed myself to sneeze on her, but I chanced upon a rare sneezeless moment in my life. I settled for glaring at her in stoney silence.
“I’m going to go down a list of symptoms, and you tell me how bad they’ve been this past week – 1 being worst, and 5 being not bad at all.
The survey continued, interminably, each successive question more and more antogonizing, and my answers steadily monosyllabic.”
“Okay, finally, I have an open-ended question for you. What’s an everyday activity you perform while on your normal allergy medication, and how has that activity been impacted by taking our study drug?”
“I, ahh… I see.”
We stared each other down for several long seconds.
“That’s an… an unusual activity to name. I was looking for something more like playing sports, or shopping.”
“Well,” I sniffed, “you see, I would have to cross a street to do either of those things. But I haven’t been able to cross streets unassisted for the duration of the study. Because, my average sneezing fit (currently averaging upwards of seven and half sneezes) lasts longer than the duration of a yellow light in Philadelphia, so unless I start crossing at the very beginning of a green I’ll wind up stuck in the middle of the street when the light turns red, sneezing and half-blind, until some inattentive motorist just mows me down And, don’t even get me started on South Philly stop signs.”
“I’ll just put down ‘going for walks.’ Would that be okay?”
If you’ll excuse me, I think that’s as much blog as I’m good for in my current state. I’m off to a land of cold compresses and 75mg of Benadryl washed down with some high-end vodka.