Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An itchy science nerd = Photo play-by-play of allergy testing

This post has nothing to do with Maya.  It's all about letting my science nerdiness shine through :)   So if you don't see the suspense and intrigue in medical tests, you might want to sit this one out.

This week I've been to the pulmonologist twice.  If that seems excessive, consider the fact that prior to this, my last appointment was 4 years ago.  Oops.  He walked into the room on Monday and said "Hi!  Wow, I feel like it's been a long time, no?"  (I went off all of my medications before I decided to try to conceive, and my breathing problems got substantially better during pregnancy.  By the time I needed to go back, we were right in the middle of the first round of EI assesssments, and the rest is history.)

So my breathing hasn't been feeling right, allergies are starting, and Dave is home on break to watch Maya---the perfect storm for getting in for my pulmonary function test (PFT) and check-up.  On Monday I did the PFT (which is kind of interesting---a lot of breating exercises into a computerized tube thing that makes charts and graphs).  The results came back "good".  I was suspicious, because I don't feel "good".  The doctor was checking out my information and told me to come back today (Weds) to have 2 additional tests done. 

So the first test that I did today was an asthma challenge test.  (Dave thought this one sounds like a game show segment . . . "Step this way, folks, for the Aaaaasthma Challlllllengggggge . . . " )  It involves doing a segment of the PFT and then inhaling a medicine that "irritates the lungs".  Then you redo the PFT segment, then take a stronger dose of the medicine, etc.  If you can last through 5 rounds of battle, you're asthma free.   (I am not asthma free----after 4 rounds I could barely stagger over to the machine, and when I tried to breathe in the tube the computer beeped and the tech brightly (and quickly) said "Ok!  That's it for you!  Here, take 2 puffs of this inhaler now!")

The second test was an allergy panel.  It was awesome!  I've always been "allergic" but I've never really had any sort of scientific confirmation of my allergies (or asthma, for that matter).   My pediatrician was old school (and also, just plain old) . . . his diagnostic process went like this:

My mom:  I think she might be allergic to cats
Doctor:  Hmm.  (turning to me)  How do you feel when you're around cats?
Me:  My eyes itch.
Doctor:  (writes in chart "allergic to cats")

So I was (nerdily) excited to find out what I'm really allergic too.  The test consisted of 40 tiny skin punctures (really, puncture is a silly word for it, it's like when you poke your skin with a safety pin enough so that the safety pin dangles there, but you can't really feel it.  Not that I've done that or anything.) to test for 40 different things.

I decided to photodocument my arms through the 20 minute test with my cell phone camera.  The other folks in the waiting room must have thought I was crazy, but if I didn't find a way to entertain myself I would have scratched my arms off.

Arm 1 at the start (the markings say "A" and "B")

3 minutes in

 20 minutes in

In the bathroom mirror, as I was about to leave the appointment.  The swollen welts that remain were the things that I was allergic to on this arm.

Arm 2 at the start (C, D & E).  On the left you can see the rows of puncture squares.

3 minutes in.  See that big scary welt thing happening on the left?  It was so, so itchy.

In the mirror, about to leave.  Still itchy.

I'm allergic to a bunch of fairly mundane stuff:  cats, some grasses, some molds, ragweed, some dust mites, etc.  Nothing crazy.  The funniest allergy was that big, angry, spreading welt----that was for timothy hay.  You know who loves timothy hay?

The rabbits!

We are probably the only people in the Bronx who order timothy hay by the bale---we have half a bale on our terrace right now (the rabbits eat it and it lines their hutch & run).  I laughed out loud when the doctor told me that my strongest reaction was to the timothy hay----it figures.

I think the nerdiest part of the appoitnment was when the pulmonologist was setting up for the allergy panels---he had little trays of the liquid allergens, and was taking out the 8-pronged scratcher things, and marking my arms, and I kind of giggled and said "I feel like we're doing a chemistry experiment!"  On the outside, he kind of smiled and said something polie to me, but I think on the inside he was probably rolling his eyes and thinking "Yes, that's what I do.  'Chemistry experiments'.  Not 'medical testing',  like say, a doctor would do . . . but experiments, like you do when you're in high school. You go to the waiting room now."

1 comment:

Tanya said...

great post, Dana - actually it *was* quite interesting to see how it was done. I don't know how you avoided scratching them though. that's some serious will power. (by the way the word I have type to be able to post my comment today is "gwuffnpa". Do you think that's someone's job? No, probably randomly generated.)