Ah, hay fever. Ah-choo. Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Only after 30 years in Barrow, I’d almost forgotten what it was like. I can only guess that no self-respecting pollen would travel that far north for the singular purpose of annoying me. Or maybe my body just never recognized North Slope pollen as pollen. It certainly took it forever to recognize a North Slope summer as a summer.
Whatever the reason, I had 30 good, hay fever free years when I could go outside in the fall and not be felled by multiple sneezes that literally took my breath away and brought me to my knees.
Growing up in the 50s, there wasn’t much they could do about the condition. It’s specter haunted my fun filled summers. I knew that sometime after July and before September, my allergies would hit with a vengeance and then my mother would require me to return to Dr. Dittenfass. To this day, his very name causes me to shudder with dread.
I would enter his office with my mother and try to make myself as small as I possibly could. I tried desperately to curl up so small that I’d be hidden behind my Nancy Drew book. But they always found me.
Treatment in those days consisted of two shots a week plus something called draining my sinus passages. The results of the draining, an uncomfortable process at best, usually lasted until we got to the elevators as we left his office. Then my sinuses would close up again. My mouth would drop open and I would mouth breathe till my next visit.
I was banned from riding in the car from about August till the first frost because we didn’t have air conditioning in the car, and to survive a drive, the windows had to be down. This meant all that pollen blowing in on me. If we ever did risk a ride, it usually meant a trip to the nearest emergency room because I would get an asthma attack.
Yep, you couldn’t find a more fun person than me from late summer till late fall. I perfected the art of mouth breathing and drooling when asleep. I managed to always find a place to run where the pollen was heaviest. And I managed at least three or four emergency room visits a season.
Each year, part of my summer was spent with my Aunt Louise in a place called Beaver Dam Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State. She had a small log cabin there. Uncle Louis used to drive up from Brooklyn every weekend. During the week, we were pretty much on our own. The nearest store, Bunk’s, was a small general store you walked to about a mile down the road. You could get bread, milk, eggs and ice cream and not much else. There were few phones and fewer cars left behind by husbands departing for the workweek.
One evening we took a walk to visit her friend Vi. My cousin Joe challenged me to a race. It was the last week I would be there since hay fever season was upon us and I needed to be closer to medical care when it hit. But I was young, stupid and not about to let him win. So I ran. By the time we got to Vi’s house, I was having a full-blown asthma attack. There was no phone, no car and no neighbors to run to.
So my aunt did what any self-respecting Italian would do. She fed me. She stuck a lollipop in my mouth and told me if I sucked on it, I’d be able to breathe again. It worked. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion on such a young and impressionable mind or the fact that I thought my aunt was infallible. For whatever reason, I stopped wheezing and sucked that lollipop down in no time flat.
Thinking back over that incident now, I can see where it might have set me up for some patterns concerning food that haven’t exactly been healthy in my later life. On the other hand, it beat heck out of Dr. Dittenfass and his long needles and thin metal rods stuck up my nose.
I could go see an allergist now that the hay fever seems to have returned upon my move to Anchorage. Or I could just buy a box of lollipops and thank my aunt for providing me with a much pleasanter cure.