A bad case of the everything


Feb. 13, 2003, midnight | By Stephen Wertheim | 17 years, 11 months ago


I'm perfectly healthy, going to the doctor's for a routine check-up. The nurse looks at me:

"Oh, I don't like the way you filled out those insurance forms. We better give you a shot."
"For what disease?"
"It doesn't matter, I don't know; shut up and roll up your sleeves."

I realized that I cannot remember one time, one occasion, when I've gone to the doctor and not gotten a shot. Some of these illnesses he's immunized me against seem, I think, a little dubious. Hepatitis F? Is this thing a real threat? What about Purple Fever? The Croatian Measles?

Call me crazy, but I suspect they don't actually exist.

On this visit, however, the shot contained some all-too-familiar offenders. It was an allergy test, wherein a series of needles bludgeons my arm with such scary substances as dust, mold and the organisms in Regis Philbin's hair gel. The idea is that a few bumps form atop substances to which I am allergic, and then I try distracting myself from the insatiable itch by staring at decades-old issues of People magazine.

I didn't get a few bumps. I got a full-arm plateau.

I'm allergic to everything. Not just dust and pollen—I mean everything. Trees, feathers, flowers. I'm allergic to grass, okay? Grass! This stuff is everywhere! Should I move to Algeria? There's no avoiding grass.

Here's my question: How did we create a human being allergic to grass and trees? We've been at this evolution thing for a fair number of years, and the best-suited humans supposedly survive, but now we're breeding people who cannot tolerate the natural environment. This is it—grass, trees, feathers, flowers—this is the Earth! How am I allergic to the Earth?

The doctor can't explain that, but he can increase my shot frequency to twice a week. Of course, getting to his office requires my briefly stepping outside, where grass and trees cause me to unleash sneezes powerful enough to reverse El Niño trade winds.

After months of this, I've decided the needle-stabbing part of the shot process doesn't bother me anymore, but the waiting room has got to go. First you wait just for the privilege of getting the shot. Then you think, "Finally, they called me and I'll be out of here soon."

But no. When the shot is over, the doctor makes me go back to the waiting room. Walking back is like returning to your old jail cell, and all the prisoners humiliate you for having done that I'm-leaving-while-you're-still-stuck-here strut only moments ago. I'm thinking:

"Fantastic. I've come again to the other sick people, with all their contagious diseases, together once more in the same room. This makes a lot of sense. Well, it gives me a chance to pick back up with People, so I can make fun of Dick Clark's high-school yearbook photo while I contract the Ebola virus."

Quite frankly, I have long thought that if you are able to sit in the waiting room for the normal excruciating period of time, the doctor shouldn't even have to see you. That should be it.

He just peers in:

"Sir, you've survived watching Animal Planet next to walking pneumonia and bronchitis for the last three hours; your spine has held up after using my backless chairs; your joints endured filling out my book of insurance documents. You can go home now."

But as bad as the waiting room is, I'm sure not going home. That, you see, would require me to step outside.

There's grass out there.



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Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »

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