‘Tis the season to be sneezing

Summer’s in the air. It’s in the chirping of the birds, the swaying of the trees and the trundling of the ice cream truck, but most of all, it’s in my nose.

Atchoo!

My nose forecasts the weather better than the eight o’ clock news. It’s hardly done with the last flu of the winter season before it lets loose with the first sign of the season of love. You know, the season when flowers get all romantic and spew pollen into the air. If one of those love letters happens to enter my respiratory system, my nose is convinced that the envelope contains anthrax.

Pollen: Yoo-hoo! I’m here, where’s the reception party?

Nose: Code red, code red! Fire in the hole!

Pollen: Wait a second, there must be a mistake, I’m only—

Nose: GET BACK, YOU! You pose a major threat to the wellbeing of this organism! Open the floodgates!

The nose never learns that freaking out about the allergen is pointless, maybe because it doesn’t pause to look before it goes into freak mode. The non-allergic nose is a calmer and more observant entity than the allergic nose. It lets all sorts of things pass by without comment. This is the basis for a major divide in the population of the world: people who are allergic, and those who are not.

Allergic people communicate in a wordless language. They see the signs and respond without having to be told what is going

on. Those who are prepared always keep tissue paper on hand in case their nose starts ringing alarm bells in the middle of nowhere. In my case, it’s a tissue roll, others prefer carrying around an entire tissue box. (The ladylike “single piece of tissue” is only found in the pocket or purse of non-allergic females, kept there for greasy fingers or stray lipstick. It probably thinks it’s a very serviceable little piece of tissue, and indeed it is, but if it were in the employ of an allergic nose, it wouldn’t last beyond a sneeze or two.) I did try switching to handkerchiefs somewhere along the way, but I kept leaving them behind in other people’s houses, so I switched back to my trademark tissue-roll-with-a-plastic-bag-to-put-the-used-ones-in. It sounds hilarious, and it probably looks so too, but it eventually becomes something you are known for. In any case, whether people know I am allergic or not, they definitely know that I always have a roll of tissue paper with me. Hence I, along with the rest of the allergic population, function as a “tissue paper dispenser”. Spilled ink? Go to the tissue person! Ketchupy fingers? Tissue, please! I like being able to help with little everyday emergencies, but it’s funny when some people only talk to/know you with regard to that one thing.

Then there’s the type of anti-allergic medicine that works for you. Put two snifflers together and they will ultimately begin talking about which one works best for them. Some antihistamines, along with being effective, also turn you into a “jahaaz”—and I don’t mean the kind that flies. The world keeps moving at the same pace, but you slow down. You function almost in a state of suspended animation. You register the fact that someone is talking to you, but you may not get what they’re saying. The only way to avoid this is either to find a brand that doesn’t turn you into a

zombie or to not take any anti-allergic altogether, in which case you will be a zombie anyway. It’s not just the sneezing that reduces you to that state. It’s the constant drip-drip-drip, either at the tip of your nose or at the back of your throat. The sensation that your head is stuffed with cotton wool. 70% of your attention is unavailable for normal use. Which is why people prefer to take the medicine anyway; it’ll turn the sneezing switch off even if it keeps the zombie mode on.

While allergic people are usually in tune with each other, non allergic ones are on a different wavelength. Not only is it difficult for them to understand what it’s like, they take a surprising amount of time to grasp the fact that you are allergic. The first time you have an allergy attack in front of them, they’re convinced you have the flu and are going to pass it on to them. The second time they see your nose and eyes flooding, they wonder why your immunity is so low. The third time, they finally understand that you aren’t kidding. Some of them still persist in saying, “Flu again?” even though they have been seeing you having attacks for years. I still remember the time when my father, tired of the amount of tissue I used in one attack, handed me two pieces and told me to survive on them for a two-hour car trip. Thankfully, my mother (from whom I have inherited the fussy nose) had a backup supply on hand. That was a long time ago, though. I have become more economical in my use of tissues, and have developed different strategies for emergency and special situations, which every allergic person comes up with independently and then discovers that the rest of the world does the same thing—the allergic ones, I mean. Stuff like plugging your nostrils with wads of tissue so that they keep soaking up the steady flow (like when you need to study for an

exam and can’t devote so much time to handling your nose). Or, in dire circumstances, reusing used pieces of tissue when they become dry. No points for guessing which readers are going “ewww” and which ones aren’t.

Summer isn’t the only thing I’m allergic to. My nose is also very suspicious about dust mites. People who aren’t allergic to them nearly always respond with, “Well, keep the house clean, then!” This is because they are unaware of the great distinction between dust and dust mites. The little bits of sparkle floating in that ray of sunshine coming through the window—that’s dust motes for you. Dust mites, on the other hand, are tiny eight-legged cousins of the spider. They like to hang around us humans because they eat the particles of skin we shed every day—not on us, I should add, but in carpets, sofas, bedding and the like. (A fussy nose really drives you towards research!) There are no carpets in my house, and when the season changes and the blankets come out of the storeroom, they get put out in the sun before being used. Still, those little buggers find some way to torment me now and then, like when an absentminded relative kindly puts a straight-from-the-storeroom blanket over me while I’m sleeping. Of course, to my nose, that is just plain sacrilege.

Some people are allergic to allergies (I don’t think humanity has produced a specimen that isn’t irritated by the sound of someone sniffling) and expect sufferers to hate it as much as they do, but I don’t. I could have had something much more serious; comparing allergies with other things makes me feel that I got off easy, even if I sometimes don’t know exactly what caused an allergic episode. To quote James Thurber, “I used to get up at 4am and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out

what kind of allergy I had but came to the conclusion that I was allergic to consciousness.”

’Tis the season to be sneezing

Aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa-tchoo!

With red nose and eyes full streaming

Aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa-tchoo!

Bring some Kleenex, or Rose Petal,

Aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa-tchoo!

Whatever gets your nose to settle

Aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa, aa-tchoo!


Originally published in Us Magazine, The News.

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