When we first moved to North Carolina, my then-5-year-old son went to the doctor for what we thought was a small cold only to find out that he had a silent case of walking pneumonia. He had struggled before with allergic reaction and the allergies began to present themselves as asthma symptoms. As he’s grown it hasn’t gotten better, so yesterday we were able to visit the allergy specialist and pinpoint exactly what environmental allergens it is that he struggles with. (Hint: it’s everything!!) He’s even allergic to cockroaches. Which is great to know, because otherwise we’d be fine with having cockroaches around!
As I sat at the office watching the very organized and systematic way they test and evaluate allergic reactions a memory from my childhood came flying back to me. My grandma, Rusty, was a health nut. She had been a smoker throughout her life and finally quit when my oldest cousin put a piece of chalk up to her sweet little toddler mouth to pretend to smoke like Gramma. My grandma was a TOUGH woman. And she was having NONE OF THAT nonsense. So she quit. Because of that decision she probably got 30 more years with the rest of us. Once she decided to quit smoking, this US Navy Veteran embraced health and exercise. She was a health club member my whole life. She took me to MANY Jazzercise classes and step aerobics classes and all sorts of 80s fabulous-ness. I have so many memories of her in leggings under leotards and matching headbands…it’s like Sweatin to the Oldies.
Gramma also liked to try new health items and trends. So one day she discovered a health food store that if my mind serves me right was like a small Trader Joe’s with a back area where they did “food sensitivity testing”. She was all in. When I was little I spent a LOT of time with my grandma going on fun outings. And weird outings. I have distinct memories of being carted along to a Podiatrist appointment on more than one occasion. I hope you aren’t eating while you read this, but watching a doctor file off the dead skin from your grandmother’s well-worn toes sticks with a person. But back to the food. (What a segue. I’m sorry. I didn’t see it going this direction…but we did strange things together, my gramma and me.)
So at the health food store we encountered some VERY scientific food sensitivity testing. You see, they had you hold a piece of food up to your stomach. Just like a huge chunk of cheese right up against your shirt. And then you would put one arm out to the side and the guru would push down on your arm. If you could resist the pressure and keep your arm up, you had no sensitivity to that item. If, however, they could push your arm down…well that meant the food was sapping your energy and thus you should avoid eating that food. I don’t remember all the foods they tested, produce certainly, and then breads and cheeses and other dairy items. What I do remember is that I was “sensitive” to nearly EVERYTHING, except a few vegetables. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that I was an 8-year-old child so of course my arm was easy to push down. Perhaps my gramma had conspired to convince me to eat more veggies. Perhaps the woman was right, and I should be avoiding all food but green veggies. I’m not sure I will ever know conclusively. But as I watched them sketch a graph on my son’s back, which immediately erupted in welts when touched with the allergens, I thought back to that day with my gramma and the silly things we attempt in the name of health. The mental image of a tiny me in the back of a grocery store, angrily holding a cheese against my stomach, well, it brought some levity to the testing process.
The doctor asked if my son plays any sports: yes. Baseball. An outdoor, spring sport played on grass and dusty fields. Under trees. The only way we could make this more dangerous to him would be if we made him pet a mold covered puppy before he took the field. I’m grateful to have all of that confirmed. I mean, we had seen his ears swell up like Shrek, his breathing catch short in the dust, and the whites of his eyes swell up like bubble wrap (did you know that was a thing? That your eyeballs can swell? It’s horrifying.) I’m mostly grateful that now we can treat him and hopefully put some of those sensitivities behind us. I’m so grateful for modern medicine. But who knows, perhaps we would have learned the same thing by holding a cat up to his stomach.