At this point, my symptoms got even more complicated, because I didn’t know if they were related to my illness or the drugs that my doctors were prescribing.
My new blood pressure medicine worked by reducing my heart rate—to 46. Forty-six! I was afraid that my heart would forget what it was supposed to do from one beat to the next! I looked up “low heart rate,” and it said that sometimes people in very good shape have low heart rates. I considered that for half a second and admitted, “Nah. Probably not.” I called my doctor, and she told me to cut it in half. That helped a lot. In the meantime, the itching from the hives was becoming unbearable and the swelling continued. Of course, I was going through the usual allergy questions: laundry detergent? Soap? New foods? Nothing seemed different. The next time I showed up at my doctor’s office, she sent me to an allergist. Since I had had another bout of laryngitis caused by throat swelling, she got me into his office that same day.
As usual, I got lost in downtown Raleigh. Arriving at the allergists’ office completely stressed out, I found a practice full of people who see patients reacting to mysterious and sometimes invisible substances in all kinds of ways all day long. No big deal. To me, it was a very big deal. In the past, I’d known that I was allergic to cats and latex. Solution: Do not touch cats or latex. Boom. Done. Now, I didn’t know what was going on. My preternaturally calm doctor and nurse decided to send me out to a lab for blood work, and then see me again in three weeks for a follow-up. They couldn’t do allergy tests that day, since I had had Benadryl (newly purchased!) the night before, but he was going to put me on a daily dose of a prescription antihistamine that would allow me to work. I launched into probably the most ridiculously condescending speech of my life (and there have been a few), saying that my goal was not to add another prescription medication to my daily routine, but rather to identify the problem and to eliminate it. The doctor was admirably restrained, and said that that was his goal, too, but that sometimes that was not possible, and it was certainly not going to be possible today. I was most unhappy. I was even more unhappy when, after more than two weeks, the five vials of blood I donated that day turned up nothing but a dust mite allergy.
Three weeks after that appointment, I was scheduled for allergy tests. I had to go off my now-beloved antihistamine for five days before the appointment. Within three days, I went from symptom-free to completely symptomatic. Even though we had bought a new mattress, box spring, and pillows, there had been no change in the hives, which mostly started in the wee hours of the morning. Fifty-five allergy tests later, I could see that I was a little bit allergic to cats and extremely allergic to dust mites. Talk about welts! The best thing that happened in that visit is that my husband accompanied me, so he got to hear three different professionals say, “You should never dust or vacuum by yourself.” One went so far as to say to David, “Maybe you could do that?” I asked the doctor if he thought I could get Blue Cross to cover a maid, and he replied, “I can’t even get them to cover Zyrtec.” He admitted that he did not think that dust mites could be the complete answer, and neither did I. He noted that I had recently switched from name-brand Synthroid—which I had taken for fifteen years— to the generic levothyroxine, and said that the inactive ingredients in the generic sometimes caused these symptoms. If that was the case, I would be only the third patient he had ever treated with that allergy.
Would I be that rare patient?