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My entire life up until now has been both a waiting game and a science experiment. Just like the first few years of life in the 80s, I was once again the guinea pig.
The setting is Charlottesville, Virginia, 1982. I was just about two years old.
Days and nights of baby eczema rash, hives and scratching brought my mom, dad and I to my first allergist.
After seeing the eczema face rash and hives all over my neck and arms he recommended scratch tests for allergens, which was the gold standard for allergy diagnosis at the time. It really was a form of torture where a sanitized blade scraped the skin and the specific allergen in the form of a liquid was applied from vials. Because it was still an experimental testing process at that time and later found to be incredibly dangerous, I can’t even find images to show you from Google.
My young, newlywed mom who was only about twenty-one years old at that time gave very specific instructions to the doctor to omit the scratch test for peanut. He verbally obliged, so of course, she trusted him. It was a time when anaphylactic shock was still a rumor for many allergists and doctors.
To that allergist, anaphylactic shock didn’t exist.
Within seconds of one of the scratches, two year old Maya went into anaphylactic shock. The doctor had gone ahead and tested with the peanut allergen anyway.
He catapulted across the room to call for the nurse to grab an Epi-Pen while my mom tried to calm down my dad whose rage was focused on the doctor.I must’ve blanked all of that out because I don’t remember any of it. And you might say, Maya, nobody remembers memories from the time they were a baby.
|I remember peeking out from freshly bleached blankets.
Well I do. Maybe only one or two, but I remember them clearly and vividly, as if it were yesterday.
There really is nothing like the feeling of kicking your feet around and
feeling clean, cold sheets caress your hot, raw, itchy inflamed skin.
You ever watch a puppy wiggle all over a carpet on its back or all over freshly cut green grass? Well that
was basically me on those sheets and I didn’t care who was watching. What a happy baby. She hadn’t yet felt shame.
It was only a matter of time.
My dad told me that mom had searched the phonebook all of the next day and found an allergy specialist affiliated with the University of Virginia, the school she was taking classes at during that time.She called and made an appointment. I’m grateful she did, because that doctor was one of the nicest and most knowledgeable doctors I ever had. He took a personal interest in me and I looked up at him with the characteristic allergic ‘shiners’ and big eyes and it was as if he could hear me and we could communicate without me saying a word. I was whining and had a scowl on my face and immediately clung to my mom. He smiled warmly.
“Hi, Maya.”I could hear his eyes speak to me without him saying a word.
I am going to help you.
I felt love.I felt completely safe as he inspected my eyes, neck, arms and backs of my knees which were covered in itchy, oozing eczema rashes.The doctor’s name was Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills.
Unless you’re in the fields of allergy and immunology or practicing medicine, that name might not sound familiar. But in my teens I remember looking him up while I was living in New York, to see if he was still practicing in VA. I was overwhelmed to find out he had discovered the cause of dust mite allergy and written numerous journals that were at the forefront of Allergy and Immunology around the globe.More recently, I found out he discovered the cause of the strange meat allergy caused by the Lone Star tick in the USA due to his own experience getting bitten by the tick. He was also one of the doctors involved in a study that links alpha gal meat allergy to heart disease and excessive plaque buildup in the heart valves.
To this day, I don’t know why or how I was lucky enough to cross paths with Dr. Platts-Mills but I believe everything in life does happen for a reason, as cliche as it is. At a time when my mom wasn’t believed, she found a doctor who truly understood and went above and beyond to help me. And even though I still struggle with allergies to some degree, it isn’t nearly as bad as it was in my childhood, thanks to my current doctor, my air purifier
, my autoimmune injection therapy and my daily Zyrtec capsule
. Now, at forty-two years old I can live a somewhat ‘normal’ life while managing my eczema and allergic reactions.