Okay, maybe it hasn’t been seven years, but time is relative. No, I am not talking about a deep stirring desire to find greener pastures, I love my husband (and we haven’t even been married for seven months yet). I am talking about hives. Hives that I have been breaking out in randomly for 2 1/2 long years.
It started right around the time we got engaged (coincidence I am sure). I would wake up in the middle of the night with my feet and hands swollen, red, and itchy. It was awful. And, having rarely dealt with even a simple pollen allergy prior to this, it took me months to try taking an antihistamine in response (it just never occurred to me).
The antihistamine “solution” was something I stumbled upon accidentally as I was on a cruise a few months after this all started and was absolutely going to distraction with the itching one night. My entire back was inflamed. All I had in my makeup bag was a Claritin so I took it. And there it was, sweet relief. I started taking one a day, and for a month I was itch free, but then the hives came back and I was so dejected I dismissed the Claritin as no longer useful and suffered through the bouts.
Now a sensible person is asking themselves at this time, “for God’s sake, why have you not gone to see a doctor yet!?” And I really don’t have a good answer for that. I guess I didn’t want to hear that I was allergic to anything. After all, I am a chef and I can think of nothing more tragic than to find out that there is a food or wine out there that I simply cannot have. Ignorance is bliss as they say. But, one can also only be uncomfortable for so long. Eventually I gave in. Because they would come and go with no pattern I took pictures (which I will spare you the sight of as they are enough to make someone without a tendency toward hives to break out) and booked an appointment with the dermatologist. They were extremely (read: not) helpful. “Yep, those are hives. Go see an allergist.”
So I booked an appointment with an allergist. As I described to him my issue he asked all the usual allergist-type questions: have you changed soaps, gotten new carpeting, added something new to your diet? No, no, and no. Then he pulled a retractable ball point pen out of his pocket. And, with it retracted, traced a line down my forearm. 30 seconds later there I was, all red and blotchy and itchy (thank you very much). “Well,” he said, “you’re not allergic to anything.” Okay, so… “Some people just break out in hives.” Fantastic. “That will be $50.00.” Okay, he didn’t say that last part, but it was implied.
His advice was this: when I have a flare up, take as many over the counter antihistamines as I need to until the itching stops, but mix them up. Take 2 Claritin for breakfast, a Benadryl for lunch, and a Zyrtec (which has the same effect on me that a horse tranquilizer would – talk about a hang over) for dinner. He also wrote me a prescription for Allegra and told me to toss that into the mix as needed. Clearly this was going to be an expensive disorder.
So I took my prescription and hit the local drug store. I must have looked like a crazy person walking out of there with enough antihistamines to treat an army. For the next two months I had 2 or 3 drugs in my pocket at all times and the minute I would start itching I would pop a pill (it’s a really good thing that antihistamines aren’t addictive substances). And then I noticed that I wasn’t as itchy. I was down to 3 pills a day, then 2, then 1. Then I tried not taking any; that didn’t work well. I went back to one pill a day. And that’s where I have been for 14 months; one pill a day, occasionally 2 if things get bad. That’s where I have been, I should say, until a week ago.
Suddenly I was back in full fledged hives mode. I was in a panic. Why me!? Is this never going to stop? I called the allergist for another appointment. “Hmmm, he’s really booked right now. I can get you in on the 18th.” The 18th!? Lady, I’m breaking out in hives, I can’t wait 3 weeks. “Well, let me talk to the triage nurse, we’ll see what we can do.” Within an hour I had an appointment for that afternoon. By the time the 4:30 rolled around I was convinced that I was dying of some rare cancer or something. This really couldn’t be normal. And so I sat in the exam room waiting and when the doctor came in he asked the usual allergist-type questions: have you changed soaps, gotten new carpeting, added something new to your diet? Um, no. “Well, you’re in your early 30s, you’re most likely going to be dealing with this for the next 70 years.” That’s not a great prognosis. “Some people just get hives. It’s actually quite common and we doctors are simply not smart enough to find the trigger in most cases. People think it’s always an allergy, that’s simply not the case.” Sigh. “That will be $50.00”
And that’s the rub (pun intended). I guess when you get right down to it I don’t have the seven year itch, I have the seventy year itch. I think I’m going to go take a Claritin now.