It started simply enough—a slight itching in the palm of my right hand that appeared during a SKYPE call from a friend in the United States whom we had not heard from in months. Elyn noticed it first. “Why are you scratching your hand?” she asked. “I don’t know, it just itches.” Thinking no more of it, I went to bed. Then I noticed that itching was appearing on my arms and legs. I was soon covered with hives. When my tongue began to swell, I realized that I was in a potential medical emergency. At that point we set off to the nearest emergency room.
At the hospital they inserted an IV in my arm and began pumping in cortisone. After about two hours, my tongue was back to nearly normal and I was resting as comfortably as one can in an emergency room.
They put me in an observation ward over night and asked if I wanted my wife to stay with me, spending the night on a recliner next to my gurney. Of course. I didn’t want to go through this without Elyn’s support, and I reasoned that she wouldn’t be able to rest at home anyway, so we made the best of a bad situation. (What a blessing to have a loving partner on this sometimes-bumpy journey through life.)
They released me in the morning with two prescriptions and a referral to an allergist. They warned me that the symptoms might return and they were right. I continued having the allergic symptoms for the next week, although my tongue didn’t swell.
I don't know whether it was food, drink, or something I breathed or came in contact with that set me over the threshold to hypersensitivity. I will deal with or avoid the cause, whatever it is. That will be the story, and it will be true.
However, there is a different story that it is equally true. This is a story of allergy viewed from a different perspective. This body, which I sometimes, but not always, see as “me” encounters something that it sees as “not me.” That is usually OK. My body says, “I can use that.” Or it says, “No, I won’t take that in.” Or it says “Whoa, I thought that was OK, but it isn’t.” At that point, an internal battle begins. My body’s wonderful defense system goes into alarm mode, and the troops are sent out to reject and fend off the aggressor.
The problem with an allergy is that if the body makes a mistake, it begins to fight everything it encounters. “Whoa, what’s that pressure on the leg? Must be the enemy!" Hives rise up on my skin; the troops send additional fluids to tissues that then begin to swell, and so on. I am in full-fledged allergic response, and what is usually there for my protection becomes dangerous. Medical science can turn off the defense system with drugs, but that will, in the long run, leave me vulnerable to the next real enemy force that invades. In other words, drugs weaken my immune system.
Told from this perspective the story provides a life lesson to be learned. The problem arises when I draw an inaccurate boundary between the “me” and the “not me.” This becomes self-destructive.
We humans are social animals. We like to run in groups. We feel out-of-sorts and lonely if we are too much alone. We expand the “me” to include an “us” and, inevitably, another group comes into being that is “not us“—it’s “them.”
If “they” are coming at “us” with spears and arrows, we can bring out our defenses and hold them off. It will be a battle, and the cause is just: self protection. But what if “they” really mean us no harm? We’ve brought out the big guns and there is no one to fight. Here is where the analogy with the allergic response kicks in. What to do? My suspicion is that we either kill them off anyway or start fighting among ourselves, or even both. In any case, the result will be destructive and needlessly so.
The lesson for me in all this is that, while drawing boundaries is necessary, I need to be very careful where I put them, because misplaced boundaries are an invitation to disaster. As is a lack of boundaries—a life lived on cortisone is dangerous.
We need our boundaries, but we need to be very wise and careful in placing them—and even more so, in deciding when to defend them.
I sadden myself very much as I see what is presently going on in my native country, the USA. On one side I see the former “liberals” who are taking “political correctness” to ever-more ridiculous extremes, with concepts such as “micro aggression” and “trigger words” now being rigidly enforced. An example, which may or may not be apocryphal, is a law class where the word “violation” is prohibited because it may be a trigger word for some student. Imagine a class studying the law without the word “violation” in its vocabulary. That, to me, seems very much like an “allergic reaction” to a word.
On another side, I see Christian fundamentalists who seem to believe that there is an “us” who will be saved and a “them” who are condemned to the eternal fires of hell. And, since we are in the “end times,” we can go ahead full speed with the destruction of the planet because “we Christians” will be saved by the “rapture.”
We appear to be placing boundaries of exclusion on all sides that are destructive to the general welfare.
Now we appear to be toying with the idea of putting an egomaniac in charge of our government. He is a person whose attraction seems to be that he boldly states every low prejudice and bias that anyone carries and that he has acquired a great deal of money. Has he shut down our collective immune system and created a “free for all” where anything goes?
I shudder to think of Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear trigger. Will he be mad enough to press it and send this lovely planet into an extinction of all the “higher” forms of life, leaving the cockroaches to begin that long, slow evolutionary spiral that has taken us millions of years to accomplish? Well, Nature is patient and I’m sure the evolutionary spiral will continue.
So here is my final analogy: Allergic reaction is a “self-limiting” phenomenon. It will end when the body that is reacting either wises up or dies. Will the collective “we” wise up or will we die? The jury is out on that question.