A few months ago I visited the immunology department of our local hospital to get have some allergy testing done. Oesinophilic Gastroentoritis is often associated with food allergies, so one of the first steps with immunology was to isolate my irritants.
The nurse told me what each prick was for as she worked. When she came to “Dog” I almost had a heart attack.
“Oh god! I hope I’m not to allergic to dogs!” I told her. “I could never get rid of my Monsieur bark-a-lot!”
“Monsiour-bark-a-lot! That’s quite a name!” She said, carefully dropping a tiny drop of what was presumably Essence of Dog Dander on to my prick.
“He lives up to it.”
Then I had to go and sit in the hallway to wait for the results.
A beautiful young woman, who was pretty much the splitting image of Isla Fisher, sat down next beside me. Suddenly she turned to me saying “Nice arm! Been pricked?”
“How could you tell?” I joked. We both laughed and then started talking.
“Last time I had that done I went into anaphylactic shock and was rushed down to the ER.” she told me casually.
“Yeah…I almost died that day. They had to get the paddles out and everything” she gestured towards her chest. “They don’t prick me anymore.”
“I should think not!” I exclaimed. “That’s terrible!”
“It’s life.” she said, giving me a smile. ” I have this really rare condition where I’m allergic to everything. Like, literally, EVERYTHING. Do you have many allergies?”
“Not sure.” I told her. Well allegedly peanuts according to my bloods. Which is kind of weird as I have never had any trouble eating Snickers bars…But I can’t eat gluten or pineapple. I have this rare autoimmune disease so they want to check things out.”
“Oh! I’m a pastry chef and make loads of gluten free products for people”. she told me.
And we started to talk. She was 28, like me, with a sunny disposition, despite the serious nature of her health. She had just moved to our city from Sydney. She was engaged and hoped to have a baby when her health was more stable, as she had just found out she had ovaries. This isn’t kind of a metaphorical way of suggesting she was clucky. She literally had just found out she had ovaries. From birth she was told she would never be able to have children. A recent surgical investigation showed the pesky ovaries “hiding”. Hiding where, I’m not quite sure. It was all very intriguing.
I told her about my year, she told me about hers. We empathised on the awkward moments we’d had running from family events and restaurants to vomit. We talked about the difficulties of having a rare and “invisible illness.” We talked about how annoying it was to feel sick the time. How it had impacted our lives and our mental health.
She told me that she had to come to the hospital every week for the next six months. It was part of some experimental drug trial. And because of her tendency for bad allergic reactions she needed to stay at the hospital for a certain period of time after the drug administration.
“Jeez..that must eat into your time!” I said. “I’m lucky if I don’t spend half a day in this hell hole every time I come in. And that’s just for an appointment”
“Well, you know, my social calendar is PACKED right now!” she joked, giving me a wry smile. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you, I just like to talk to people. My fiancee is FIFO, I have no family in the state, I can only work when I’m well, which is like, never. Most of the friends I have I met here at the hospital. That’s a bit lame isn’t it?
“Not at all. It’s a nice change to have someone to talk to. I’m Rachael.”
“I’m Amber.” At that moment the nurse came back and called my name. As I stood up Amber said “Hey. It was nice talking to you. I really hope your health improves.” I responded with the same sentiment and then there was that awkward moment where I wondered whether I should ask for her phone number.
I’ve never asked a guy out in my life. I get nervous asking mothers at Master D’s daycare to exchange numbers so the kids can have a play date. I’m a giant wuss. So I waved her good bye and walked back into the treatment room, and instantly regretted my decision.
“Good news!” the nurse said. Rubbing off the ink on my arm. “You’re not allergic to dogs.”
“Thank God for that!”
On the way out I looked for Amber, but she was gone. We only talked for a while that day, but I think about her every time I head to the immunology department. Despite having a chronic and life threatening illness Amber was positive, friendly, and empathetic. Unlike me, she had been sick from the moment she was born, and despite her troubles she managed to make the best she could out of life. She inspired me.
So Amber, if you are out there, I hope you are doing well. I hope the drug trial works, and I hope that you are able to have the baby you so desperately want.