I never suffered from seasonal allergies before I moved to DC. Growing up in a bucolic part of Southeastern Pennsylvania, surrounded by trees and fields, the pollen from trees, grasses, wildflowers, and other plants never gave me a moment’s concern. Now, however, I know when the trees are doing their business long before most people are aware of it.
It turns out I’m not alone. Record-high tree pollen has been recorded in the Washington metropolitan region, and allergists are swamped with new patients. Many say that it is not at all unusual for people coming from other parts of the country or the globe, who have never had seasonal allergies before, to develop them within a couple of years of moving here. Word is that the tree pollen levels locally are going to start falling off later this week, and that will help. Although later in the summer, when the temperatures and o-zone levels rise, there will be evenings when I will have to beg off early, because just stepping outside for more than a few minutes will cause me to sneeze and tear up without stopping.
I didn’t need a news story to tell me how bad things have been here, however. On Sunday afternoon my eyes felt so raw and teared up so much, that I had to hasten my departure from drunch in order to get home, take out my contact lenses, and stay away from the source of the problem. I’ve tried many over-the-counter allergy medications, but the only one that seems to provide some temporary respite from symptoms is good, old-fashioned Benadryl, although the effectiveness is not very long-lived.
If you are not a seasonal allergy sufferer, it is difficult to explain how debilitating it can be. The medicine makes me drowsy and dehydrated, but going without it makes my nose run and my eyes feel like they are on fire. It’s really a pick your poison situation. Neither is ideal, and in either case tend to engender a strangely lethargic, yet hair-trigger mood. The challenge is, how to avoid the impulse to lash out at the slightest provocation or inconvenience, when suffering in this way.
From my point of view, the first point of rational thought, when I make an effort to recall it, is that this is simply the price I pay for the privilege of living in the Nation’s Capital, in a beautiful neighborhood surrounded by trees, gardens, and parks. If I lived in Los Angeles, I would have to suffer from the effects of smog and being dependent on a car to do anything. If I lived in Denver, I would have to deal with bone-dry, skin-cracking air and the physiological problems associated with living at high altitudes. One could argue that it’s better in the Bahamas, except then you have to deal with hurricanes, poisonous spiders, and no-see-ums – swarms of virtually invisible, biting midges that apparently infest everything and make our mosquito season look like a mere bump in the road.
The second, and perhaps more important point, is that my own discomfort fails to negate the obligations I bear in dealing with others. While it is easy to perform my job duties in a temperature-controlled, air-conditioned environment, protected from the irritants that turn me into seriously angry guy, when my allergies do go haywire, that is no excuse for me not to make some effort to turn a kind word to someone in need, or provide help when I’m asked. I would never go so far as to adopt the British stiff upper lip and say that everything is fine when it most definitely isn’t, but acknowledging that I feel like crap and then going ahead anyway, seems to work.
It’s hard to have noble thoughts or engage in pleasant conversation when we feel miserable. Yet the reality of living in an imperfect world is that periods of pleasantness are a part of this life. In the next, seasonal allergies will be relegated to Hell, where they belong. In the meantime, our choice is whether to go about our business and continue to engage the world as best we can, burning red eyes and all, or retreat into a kind of limp and ineffective self-pity. The former seems to me the far better option.