Breaking The Crutch - 02.15.99

About a year and a half ago, I managed to overcome one of my longest running addictions. Like most addictions, I didn't start out with that intention, and quite some time later, actually realized what it really was.

Many many years ago, around my 10th year on this planet, my parents decided that I needed to see an allergy doctor. As a child, I had been taken to the emergency rooms several times because I couldn't breath, and I was pretty much miserable for the majority of summers.

I still remember that initial brutal appointment where I was tested for what allergins I showed a reaction to. The first part of the visit was easy enough with my mother and I sitting in a room with a doctor, answering questions to the best of our knowledge as to what we thought were the major problems. The doctor jotted down some things in his notebook and told me that they were going to begin testing soon. I was to shed my clothes to my underwear and put on a loose fitting sort of gown that was lying next to me. Then he left the room.

I did what he told me and when he came back, he had a handfull of things with him. Being the inquisitive type, I asked him what all the items were and he began explaining.

He told me that what they were going to do now was put 67 droplets of allergins on my back. When they were put on my back, they would feel cold at first, but I would get used to it. After the drops had been placed, the doctor would take a small tool and scratch my back in each of the 67 spots in order to see which ones would swell the most.

He was right that the drops felt cold at first, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the scratching sensation that started soon afterwards. Although they weren't deep cuts, they certainly didn't feel very good, but after I even got used to them.

When the doctor had finished, he told me that the next 15 minutes would be the worst of all, but I wasn't sure how it possibly could be. Sure enough, just as he left the room, the discomfort began to set in. Instead of being quick, short bursts of pain, I could soon feel a steadily building, burning sensation across my back. The worst part about it was that I couldn't move. I had to stay laying on my stomach as the itching and burning sensation grew and grew.

When the doctor entered the room again 10 minutes later, I felt like I had just gone through about 4 hours of torture. He measured the spots on my back in order to make his assessments and I was told that I could put a shirt back on. As soon as it was draped across my back, I wriggled around constantly in order to try to somewhat soothe my back with the gentle brushing of fabric.

I got some more bad news soon after that. The doctor told me that there were several areas on my back that were on the line of whether they were bonified allergins or not, so they were going to need to do one more test before I went home. The final test was 16 more allergins, and they were to be injected into my right arm.

With 2 rows of 8 dots on my right arm, I sighed and let them go to work to get it over with. I tried to make my arm go limp as it was jabbed 16 times in less than a minute and a half. When it was all over, I was literally physically and mentally defeated. However, they had gotten the information they needed, and I was to start treatment right away.

The treatment of course, was more shots, and they were to continue indefinitely until I built up enough of a resistence to the allergins that it would show in a yearly checkup that I didn't need them anymore. In addition to 2 shots twice a week, I was given a Ventolin inhaler to use when I needed instant breathing relief. I was told that I could use 2 inhalations up to 4 times a day as needed, and for quite some time, I stayed pretty close to that number.

When I first got the inhaler, it seemed like a miracle to me. Previously when I had an asthma attack, I would simply have to sit down and wait for 10 minutes or so while I calmed down and my lungs somewhat opened up. It seemed rare that I could completely breath freely, so when I was given the inhaler and it solved my problems instantly, I had it with me all the time. Whenever I felt a tightening in my throat, I would pull out my inhaler and take a few puffs.

While I don't think that I ever abused it (except for some possible over-use during particularly bad times of the year for allergins), I did come to depend on it for almost 10 years. Sometimes I would use it 3 times a day, while other days I would only use it once, but I would carry it in my pocket wherever I went and keep it close when I went to bed. It became a crutch, and for someone who has an aversion to medication, it was also overlooked for too long.

Finally, around the time that I referred to at the beginning of this piece, I thought about how much I had come to rely on the little plastic and metal contraption. It was at that time that I made my first conscious effort to use it as little as I possibly could.

For probably the first month or so, it was really hard for me to get used to not using it. My body still had the physical knee-jerk reaction to using it, and while I still carried it with me (just in case), most of the times I would stop myself because I didn't need it. Instead of taking the standard 2 puffs as my body had grown so used to, I would simply take several deep breaths and try to relax my breathing in order to calm down the tightness in my chest.

In the past 9 months, I've only used my inhaler once, and that was because I was exposed to a particularly high concentration of allergins. I don't usually even carry it with me when I'm going places (unless I'm going on an extended trip or somewhere I might possibly need it), even though my activity level has stayed the same or gone up.

Why I don't actually need the inhaler anymore isn't really something that I can explain. Part of the reason is that I simply grew out of it, while part of it is probably explained by taking shots for 6 years and my inhaler for several more. I just wonder now how much time was actually spent taking the inhaler when I didn't really need it. Not only do I feel better in regards to my health, but the better part of it all is knowing that I'm not hooked on something that I don't really need anymore. Now, I need to get over that Kool-Aid fix.