Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tree Nuts

In 1983, dining in a Chinese restaurant, while awaiting the results of a major surgery that one of my daughters was having, I experienced my first severe allergic reaction. As dinner progressed, I had a major rush of illness, like a huge head cold, complete with sore throat, runny eyes, achey all over. It happened so incredibly fast, and as I was paying the bill, I told my ex-wife, “man, something is wrong with me”. Before the night was over, my face became numb and swelled to the point that I was barely recognizable. It was sort of an “Incredible Hulk” look. I went to the hospital, and they gave me a big shot of antihistamine, and steroids, which aside from their nasty side effects, is absolutely the best medicine to reduce inflamation. They sent me home, I missed a day of work, and got well. My daughter’s surgery was a success.

22 years pass. No more reactions of the kind I have just described. Then in September, of 2004, not long ago, my feet began to itch, at night, in bed, really bad, like you want to take a hair brush to them. But I would fall asleep, only to have them begin itching the next night. On September 29th, which was the day of the “Santa Monica” release party, I woke early with a start, and a badly swollen tongue. I told Marie that I had no idea what was going on, slurring and stammering as someone with a huge ill-fitting tongue is wont to do, and that I was probably having an allergic reaction of some kind. I told her that since we had a big party to conduct that day, I would just “gut it out”. She teases me now, months later, that I sounded ridiculous. She recommended, suggested, then insisted that I go to the ER at the hospital. Once again, intravenous antihistamine and steroids did the trick. By party time, I was a barbecuin’ fool.

In forthcoming weeks, I returned to the ER three more times, for similar events, a swollen tongue or face. It sucked. And almost all the time, my feet were itching or swollen, to the point that it was painful to walk.

Anaphylactic shock, which is when your throat closes up on you, due to an allergic reaction, and can kill you, is only a motion away from these reactions.

I talked to my primary care physician, and made an appointment with an allergist. Since then, we have been trying out an array of different measures. He gave me an “Epipen”, to use in an emergency situation. It’s a shot of Epinephrine, to jab in your leg, if an emergency arises, like anaphylactic shock. Many people who are allergic to bee stings carry one. He gave me several oral “histamine blockers”, or antihistamines, to control the reactions.

We have all been diligent about trying to figure out this mess. The allergist advised me to stop taking certain other meds (which I have taken since 2000 due to a heart attack), doing “challenges” with each med, to see if eliminating one or another might make a difference. Marie has been offering up suggestions, and I have been having a new theory everyday, much to her chagrin. But suffice it to say, we have taken the situation very seriously. We have scoured the websites regarding allergies. We have discussed the different foods I favor. We have downloaded lists of common allergens, like eggs, shellfish, and “tree nuts”. All the while, one or the other of my feet have been sore, even with the oral antihistamines, and I have had a few small swellings on my face and tongue, which have not required a trip to the hospital.

All the while, in trying to figure this out, attempting to uncover the “trigger”, I have been using the strategy of asking the question, “what is consistent about these recent attacks and the attack in 1983?” Aspirin? Yes. Lipitor? No. Eggs? Yes. Caffeine? Yes. That sort of thing. But no challenge has provided relief......until........

I am almost positive, at this point, that the culprit is.......are you ready for soda! Particularly diet colas, which I favor. I am not certain which ingredient is the problem, but it is probably aspartame. Internet accounts of aspartame allergy include many of the same symptoms that I have experienced for years. It may be a combination of things, say, aspartame and stress. Or aspartame, caffiene and stress. All I know for certain is, I quit the pop, and I don’t have any events.

I feel like I have a new lease on life. Today, I had fried eggs for breakfast. Later, I am gonna have me some tree nuts. But I think I will wash them down with a nice, pure, safe glass of water.

In the Fall of 2005, I will release two new CDs. One of the songs included is a ballad titled “Allergy Sufferer”, which is my way of expressing empathy for those of you with Zyrtec and Singular in your pocket.