Friday, May 20, 2011

Cats are my Kryptonite

When I was young we would go to visit my Aunt Ann and Uncle Frank in Glassboro.

Every Saturday night without fail we'd get into the car, the four of us, and ride through Suburban New Jersey.  The trip was around a half hour and for a pre-teen it felt like it was forever.  Not to worry though because they were good people, family.  It was one of those comfortable routines we'd have until I hit my teens and started getting that "hard wired angst" that we all got.  I'd slowly duck out of sight and then begin to opt out of going by the time I was 13 or 14. 

While family night was all well and good, there was a problem.

Aunt Ann had cats.  Not one but usually a herd of three or more.  She loved those cats and like anything else if you have pets, they are yours.  For others, pets are part of the background.   The cats didn't necessarily ignore me or the rest, they were just going about being cats.  Which is to say fairly indifferent until you had something they wanted and then all the sudden you'd have a friendly being trying to take advantage of your good nature.

That's all well and good but while Aunt Ann had cats, I had allergies.   Specifically to Cats.

My allergies were so bad at one point that my visit to Aunt Ann consisted of going there, saying hi and hanging out for as long as I could then retreating to the front porch to try to decongest.  We tried allergy pills that sometimes worked to help me stay inside for a while but the reality was that it was so bad that when I stopped going, it wasn't so much of why but why it took me so long to assert health.

This allergy got so bad that in my 20s I would call ahead to find out if there were cats at the party and if so I would simply beg off. 

There were a couple things going on here.   In New Jersey at that time, I would have hay fever from Labor Day through the first hard freeze.   I would also be gobbling a Chlor-Trimeton tablet every 12 hours without fail.  It would make me sleepy, tired and somewhat cranky for four months out of the year.   If I suspected that there were cats somewhere I had to go, I'd slip in another tablet at an hour or so before I'd arrive which meant no alcohol.  I was the designated driver before we got a name for it.

One Christmas Dinner at Mom's house in my early 30s I had an interesting conversation.   It drifted onto my cat allergy and that I just had come off of "allergy meds for the season" and was grateful that we had an early freeze.  The couple that sat across the table listened intently and told me of their own problems with allergies and their solution.

The premise was that I was one of those typical kids fed on whole milk and cereal every morning without fail.  Add to that heaping gobs of cheese with dinner and a glass of milk to go with the sandwich at lunch.  Their explanation was simple - your body was loaded with allergens already from your dairy addiction.  Cut the dairy out and your allergies would go away for the most part.

It seemed kind of strange to me that something that the Milk Marketing Board was saying was so healthy could be the downfall of my childhood, but I thought I'd try it next season.  Starting August 1st, I begun to use up the milk in the house and by September 1 I would be completely off of any sort of dairy. 

It Worked.   Completely. 

That first season I had to take exactly three chlor-trimeton tablets.  Three.  In four months.

I was the kid who could not even sit on the front porch of my neighbor, Karen, because she had her black cat there.  Now I was actually able to spend time with friends with cats.  It wasn't that I was able to spend the evening or sleep over, but instead of going there and hanging out for 20 minutes and leaving, I could go and stay a reasonable amount of time, enjoy myself and then disappear.

Since moving here, I've returned to baking with dairy, and if I'm having a hamburger, it will have a slab of extra sharp cheddar on it.  I'm also noticing that I'm not quite as bulletproof around cats as I used to be. 

The moral of this story is that while it may not work for you, it was a life changer for me.  As a result, I am now able to visit with friends for a time where I couldn't do that before. 

It all came to notice to me the last time I went for a visit to work with someone on his website.  There's a cat in the house and I lasted an hour before I had to beg off.  It looks like I'll be using up the cheese and treating it as a once in a while thing instead of a daily requirement.  Between the spring time allergens that we get in South Florida that are beginning to get to me, and the limitations that my cat allergy put on me, it is a small price to pay for the freedom not having to worry about all of that brings me.

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