From the allergist, who did a pincushion job on my arms, I learned that I tested three-plus out of a possible four for ragweed and, ahem, house dust. (I know he tried not to make that one sound like a reproach, but I got the point). There were also a number of two-plus findings, tiresome to list and unlikely to gain me any excuses when it comes to yard work.
I countered that ragweed season was obviously over, since my father was reported to have stopped sneezing, that I had more pressing things to do with my life than vacuum my house every day, and that I had been consistently nosey during the month of October, which I spent in a whole other hemisphere -- particularly during my stay in the brand new, pristine, gleaming Hotel Regent in Auckland, New Zealand.
He did not retreat. "House dust," he said in oracular tones, "is everywhere." Never knew that.
I learned many other new facts from these specialists. I learned that ear, nose and throat persons are now called otolaryngologists. I also learned that it is anatomically possible to run water under pressure up a person's right nostril and have it come out through the left, and that if one nostril is blocked the water will not shoot up into the brain but will pour out through the mouth. Never knew that.
The stack of literature handed me at the allergist's office told me that while hay fever is a once-a-year thing for most people, allergic rhinitis is pretty much year-round. The pamphlets also brought me distasteful news about an organism known as the house dust mite ("a microscopic insect-like creature which lives primarily in mattresses, carpets and upholstered furniture" and dines exclusively "on shed scales from human skin") and about a host of products available to those with allergic rhinitis, none of which I covet: room humidifiers, electronic air cleaners, mattress and pillow covers, innocent cosmetics, advanced antihistamines, powerful nasal decongestants, subtle corticosteroids.
I also learned that, with the possible exception of a dry cleaner faced with a mystery stain, there is no one more wary of stated or implied guarantee than a medical specialist dealing with a problem nose. "Let's try this pill (nasal spray, injection)."
Becoming the patient of an allergist or an otolaryngologist is not likely to prove a one-visit experience. Bring reading material when you go for your appointments unless you enjoy meditating on the creation of a dust-free bedroom or pondering the common etymological origin of "rhinitis" and "rhinoceros," or are keen on perusing "Highlights for Children" or "Ranger Rick." I discovered what became of all those finicky kids who rejected my friendly cats and my classy down pillows. They're still around -- sitting and sniffling with me in the allergist's waiting room.
Adult and juvenile sufferers agree that this is a bad year (last week, the pollen count set a 10-year record here), and while other guests at the cocktail party debate Gramm-Rudman, you may spot me over by the fireplace chatting with your nasal next-door-neighbor or your red-nosed brother-in-law -- picking up helpful hints, dropping a bit of insider's lingo: "Nasalide" . . . "Trinalin" . . . "sonic mist humidifier." We pop a few of each other's pills.
And as I dab my nose in preparation for a kissy farewell with the host and hostess, I say with cheery reassurance, "I'm not infectious, just allergic."
Considering the grave illnesses that strike impartially at kings, queens and commoners, a reasonably well-controlled case of allergic rhinitis can hardly be classified as catastrophic, and I am adapting.
According to a waiting room publication with the snappy title of "The Fact Book About Allergic Rhinitis," the disorder affects "an estimated 20 million to 40 million people in the United States."
Not a very scrupulous estimate, but -- all things considered -- why not me?Elinor Lander Horwitz is a writer who blows her nose in Chevy Chase.