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Into The Woods

I Resent My Accursed Allergy Shots, Unless They Work, In Which Case I Love Them!

A photo of a white tray full of 13 little syringes, which is sitting on top of an unseen white tray of even more syringes
Photo by the author|

The fun.

The heady scent of apple cider is in the air, the foliage has begun its annual transition from life to death, and the Defector staff has once again retreated to a secret wooded location to conduct annual company meetings. In an effort to keep the blogs humming while we're sequestered, we've curated a collection of woods-themed posts for your enjoyment.

There is a game I like to play with new friends called "How would you die in medieval times?" The most fun way to play this game is not to think of the likeliest, most historically and personally accurate reasons you might kick ye olde buckete—i.e. childbirth, the dreaded sweat, childbirth, the plague, again, if applicable, it's probably childbirth—but rather to imagine which strangely antediluvian cause of death you would wish might befall you, including but not limited to: lethargie, kil'd by several accidents, worms, sneezing out your soul, bloody murther. The most depressing way to play this game is to imagine what may have actually killed you in medieval times, which, in my case, would probably be trees.

As a kid, I always knew I was allergic to nature. One summer, my family went on vacation to Aspen. We hiked around the Maroon Bells, twin hematite mountains that frame an alpine lake in perhaps the closest real-world approximation of a Bob Ross painting. It was wildflower season, and the meadow fringing the mountains erupted in bloom. I ran around picking wildflowers until I had a bouquet, and when I returned to my parents they realized my eyes were bloodshot and my face was slimed with snot and tears. My allergies often triggered my asthma, meaning I spent my childhood puffing various inhalers and my nebulizer, which sprayed a polite fog of medicine into my mouth under a bubble-like mask for about the length of an episode of Scooby-Doo. At one point, my pediatrician suggested allergy shots, but my mom waved them off as something I could do when I was older when shots were less of a big deal, and since then I have lived at a necessary distance from such villainous things like spring, hikes, blooming meadows, and picturesque tree-lined streets.

But as I grew up, so did my mucus levels. In New York, the pollen season typically lasts from April to August, a time when trees and grasses bloom and spew orgiastic plumes of the sperm cells we call pollen into the air, dousing the city in a miserable dusting of the horrible accursed grains. Of course my body perceives these evil sprinkles as intruders. How could I blame my immune system for fighting back? I am not a tree, waiting to be fertilized! I am not a horny blade of grass! And as climate change warms the planet, the pollen season now starts earlier, lasts longer, and features even more pollen. Last spring, when I simply could not attend a single spring picnic in the park without exploding into face hives, was a breaking point. It was time for shots.

I went in for a trypophobia-inducing prick test, in which a pointy grid of tiny, diluted allergens turned my forearm into even rows of red-white bumps apparently called wheals. Some of my wheals resembled small mosquito bites; others looked like horrible pearls embedded under my skin. At a follow-up appointment, to make sure the prick test didn't miss anything, the nurse proceeded to shoot me full of every allergen I did not react to, just to make sure, and that's when I realized the two trays of needles they had brought into the room were not shots to be evenly distributed between the many other people in the waiting room; they were all for me. The nurse proceeded to give me 17 shots in my arm.

A photo of a white tray full of 13 little syringes, which is sitting on top of an unseen white tray of even more syringes
So the fun thing about this photo is the tray of shots you see is sitting on top of ANOTHER tray of shots, all of which were for me <3Photo by the author

I have never been scared of shots, but I had never been in a situation where I had to get 17 shots in one arm in one sitting. As I returned to the lobby to await any wheals, I felt a primal urge burbling within me. Where was my treat? My lollipop? My sticker? These shots produced no wheals, but each shot produced a small bleb, which is a bubble of fluid under the skin. I looked at the 17 blebs lining my arm and felt another urge to pop the bubble-wrap of my own skin. A month later I started my shots. I would get four every week.

A horrible shot of my 17 blebs in my arm from 17 allergy shots

The two crucial things to know about allergy shots, which I had to sign multiple waivers acknowledging, is that 1) they need to happen for three to five years 2) they might not even work! Allergy shots work by repeatedly exposing your body to more and more allergens, desensitizing your immune response to those allergens. Since everyone's response to immunotherapy varies, the shots are less effective if the levels are too low, and you need to get the shots for a long freaking time to feel any effect. It takes about a year of the jabs to notice any significant improvement. After eight months of four jabs a week, I can't feel any difference! I'm congested as I type this! Haha!

But every week, rain or shine, wildfire smoke or hazardous climate-change–fueled flooding be damned, I trudge to my allergy clinic to get my four shots and sit in a folding chair listening to the greatest hits of the '80s on repeat with all the other hopefuls. All of us showing up, bleeding only slightly, and doing our best not to scratch our swelling injection sites. Because there are some things in life that require blind faith: awaiting Normani's album, investing in cryptocurrency, falling in love. And, as if to remind us of why we must keep the faith, my allergy clinic has a slideshow playing on a tablet on the wall of various stock-photography Brainyquotes.

A tablet on the wall showing a person doing yoga along with a quote from Deepak Chopra: “If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.”
An unexpectedly transsexual-coded quote from Deepak Chopra that I can only assume, in the context of this waiting room, is meant to refer to allergy shots.

The slideshow occasionally displays extraordinarily saturated photos of the Great Outdoors: blood-red maples, lime-green weeds, aspen trees the color of Gatorade. Frankly, these photos are even more inspirational than any Brainyquote. Gazing upon onscreen nature, the only trees and grasses I can currently encounter without face hives, I remember how extraordinary it might feel to go for a hike, forgetting my Zyrtec, and not wanting to claw my eyeballs out of my face. What would I give if I could romp around a meadow of wildflowers, my eyes bloodshot not due to pollen in the air, but only my newfound delirious happiness? Open those gates and let me into the woods! Show me those roses, because I wanna smell 'em! And if by the end of five years my shots don't make any difference, I'm going to sue the FDA.

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