RSS Feed

Tag Archives: allergies

Blurry Vision

One of the many signs that Cricket is aging (she will be fourteen this summer) is the blueing of her eyes from cataracts. It takes her longer to recognize people at a distance, which has made her even more anxious about strangers than before, and prone to long bouts of barking at nothing. She can still see well enough for most of her tasks of daily living, but she has handed over the squirrel chasing to Ellie, content to sniff the grass and wait for larger prey of the human kind, or, you know, shadows. But really, she doesn’t seem to have any angst about it. I don’t think she’s even noticed the change in her vision. She’s pretty sure that it’s the rest of us who’ve changed while she’s stayed the same.

“I’m exactly the same. Always.”

            And then there’s me. I tend to assume that everything is my fault and I’m not trying hard enough to fix it. So when I noticed almost a year ago that my distance vision was blurrier than usual, though only on occasion, I figured I had to have it checked out. I thought, maybe, that allergies could be the cause, though I wasn’t sure why they would have worsened so much, or for so long. And since I have a number of autoimmune disorders, and a lot of extra symptoms that don’t coalesce into a diagnosis, I thought I should check with an ophthalmologist just in case this was a new symptom to worry about.

            But I kept putting it off. Because, Covid, and because I hate going to doctors, especially new ones. Except that the blurry vision was coming up more often and becoming more disruptive, so, finally, when it seemed as if New York had passed the dangerous stage of the winter Covid resurgence, I decided to call and make an appointment (or rather, to ask Mom to crowd source a good ophthalmologist among her friends and then call to make an appointment for me). I wasn’t able to get an appointment until late in May (by which time I was fully vaccinated, so, cool), because everyone else had the same idea about getting back to doctor visits after Covid.

            I have a history of eye problems, and a concomitant history of hating visits to the eye doctor and the dreaded eye drops that sting and then the dreaded eye drops that dilate and make me feel blind. Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive myself home after the visit, and because I was nervous, Mom came with me, but she was asked to sit outside on a bench, because only patients were allowed to sit in the waiting room, so I waited out on the bench with her until it was my turn to go in for my appointment.

“That’s anti-Grandma prejudice!”

            The first part of the visit was the most involved, with a tech taking my history and checking my vision and putting in the dreaded drops. Almost as soon as the drops hit my eyes I felt like I was ten years old again. I had Iritis as a kid and they treated it with steroid drops which I had to take twice a day, and I never got used to them. But there were also endless tests to see what may have caused the Iritis, with all kinds of drops and bright lights in my eyes and then needles shoved under my skin, and security guards holding me down so I wouldn’t run, and what seemed like gallons of vials of blood squeezed from my arms. It all came rushing back.

            After the first part of my ophthalmologist visit was done, the tech guided me down a hallway to wait in a chair for the next tech who would be photographing my eyes for their records, or something. The world was a fuzzy place and I couldn’t really see my phone well enough to distract myself, so I just had to sit there feeling vulnerable and worried. When it was my turn in front of the camera, though, the burning bright lights only lasted a few seconds for each eye, and then I was sent to another exam room to wait for the doctor, and read all of her diplomas on the walls (it’s lucky they use such big type on those things).

            The visit with the doctor was the quickest part of the day – with a look-see at my eyes and at my history and at the results of the previous tests and the photographs. She told me that my eyes were fine, with no sign of Iritis or any other disease, and there was no change in my vision. She suggested a brand of over the counter eye drops to clear up my seemingly allergy-induced blurry vision and sent me on my way.

            I had to put a sort of rolled up version of sunglasses under my regular glasses in order to tolerate the sun, and it took hours for the dilation and sensitivity to pass, but I was relieved that it was over and that I didn’t have a new disease, and didn’t need new glasses (which is just a pain in the ass); but I was also frustrated that I’d forced myself through the whole ordeal of the visit and had learned nothing new about my myriad weird symptoms.

            We stopped off at CVS on the way home, though I couldn’t see much even with the partial sunglass thingies, and they didn’t have the eye drops the doctor had recommended, so I went home and ordered them online. I was hopeful that at least I’d found an answer to the blurry vision, after all that, but when the drops arrived they didn’t help at all. So, my vision is still occasionally blurry and I get annoyed and impatient, but at least there’s no underlying problem to worry about. Maybe.         

“They have chicken treats at CVS, don’t they?”

            Even before I had the Iritis, I had ordinary vision problems. I remember distinctly being in second grade and feeling like an idiot when I couldn’t figure out what the teacher had written on the board. Some part of me understood that my eyes were to blame, but more of me was convinced that it was my brain; that I had become unteachable over the summer and suddenly I was falling behind and struggling to understand what everyone else seemed to pick up easily.

            The relief I felt when a pair of glasses actually fixed the problem was huge, but the realization that my vision could be taken away so easily remained, especially because I kept needing new prescriptions and had to wear my glasses more and more often.

            The metaphor of blurry vision has always resonated for me, though, because I so often feel like I’m not seeing things as clearly as I want to, and have to move slowly out of fear of missing a hole in the ground or a wall coming up out of nowhere. I’ve collected a lot of metaphorical injuries over the years, and a healthy dose of anxiety about all of the hidden dangers along my path. But each time I find my vision clearing on an issue, so that something that used to be fuzzy starts to seem clear, I feel such a sense of relief and calm, even if it took five, ten, or twenty years to get to that clarity. And then, of course, the blurriness comes back, on the same issue and on new ones, and I have to find my way back; it’s a lifelong task.

So I’m jealous of Cricket and her ability to see herself as the center of the universe and let everything else go blurry. She may not be able to see the monsters out in the forest, but she also doesn’t have to worry about them ahead of time. She only has to worry about the monsters right up close, like the mean humans who don’t share their French toast and that other dog who tries to steal all of the attention. That’s more than enough to think about on a daily basis, really. Just ask Cricket.


If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Onset of Air Conditioner Season


The onset of air conditioner season, and allergy season, seemed to merge this year, at least, here on Long Island. I’m used to sneezing, and having itchy eyes, despite daily allergy medication, and I knew the heat would be a problem for me, because it’s a problem every year, but this year it all added up to more than the sum of its parts, as a kind of conflagration under my skin. The allergies were worse. The heat, even the tiniest bit of it, made it hard for me to breathe. And then there was the pain, in too many places at once. Still in my neck and left shoulder, still in my lower back, right hip, knees and ankles, but also in my right shoulder, right forearm, and breast bone, making it hard to move around much, or breathe deeply, or rest comfortably.


“Huh, we’re pretty comfortable.”


At first I thought it was all caused by depression, that I was having a somatic response to the stress of the job search. There’s always been a disturbing fluidity between my physical and psychological symptoms, making it hard to identify what’s going on, or what kind of treatment might help. But I noticed that I felt significantly better later in the day, as the air cooled and the inflammation receded, somewhat.

The flare, if that’s what it was, lasted about two weeks, and then I woke up one morning and I was able to breathe, and exercise, and even shave my legs! The dogs barely noticed the changes in the weather, or in me, and they seemed to enjoy chasing all of the allergens drifting in the air that were knocking me out like baseballs to the head.


“Yummy, yummy allergens!”

In the end, I went back to my normal level of disability, and was even able to focus enough to send a long essay to a few literary magazines. In the process of choosing where to send that piece, I looked through my list of submissions over the past few years, including the queries I sent to 78 agents, over a two year period, for a single novel. I didn’t realize how persistent I’d been in trying to get that novel out into the world. I thought I’d given up too easily. I keep thinking I’m giving up too soon, being too meek, and lazy, but it turns out that I haven’t been giving myself enough credit. The novel that was rejected by 78 agents is still sitting in my computer, waiting for the next revision, for which I already have substantial notes. And Yeshiva Girl, which spent a year or two looking for an agent, and then six years looking for a publisher, still found her way out into the world, because I persisted.

YG with Cricket

“What, this tasty paper thing?”


The pain, fatigue, and depression are bad, sometimes, but they pass, and I manage to push myself back on track, every time. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve never given up, and there’s no reason to start now, even if, for a little while, the best thing to do is just to rest next to my air conditioner, with some soft pillows, and feel whatever I feel.

The dogs don’t seem to mind the company.


If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Heat

I’m dreading the summer. I don’t do well in hot weather. I start to wilt, and I get nauseous and dizzy, and then I get extra self-conscious about how I look, and smell. Cricket doesn’t mind the heat at all. She loves the extra vibrancy of smells during the summer, especially any rotting carcasses she can find, by the side of the road, or up in the woods behind our building.


“I didn’t roll in anything, yet!”

Most of the summer I end up wearing a jacket outdoors, to keep my arms from going up in smoke, and I still have to put sun block on my arms in case my jacket is too weak to protect me. Every once in a while I forget what the sun can do to me, and end up with sun poisoning on the backs of my hands, because I washed off the sun block by mistake before getting into the car to drive.

And then there are my allergies, which seem to have super powers, and see my allergy medication as a puny little enemy to be ignored. For months at a time it feels like I swallowed fly paper, through my nose.

I really do love all of the colors of late spring, and all of the flowers and trees I can’t identify, like the pink one, and the red one, and the purple one, etc, but each blossom tries to fly up my nose, and every blade of grass, as soon as it meets the lawn mower, lands in my eye. My Mom, who has similar allergies to mine, has more fortitude, and manages to pretend that she can still see and breathe while she digs and plants and weeds to her heart’s content in the heat of the day; meanwhile I’m resting like an invalid in front of my air conditioner.


Cricket stole my spot in front of the air-conditioner.

Summer is obviously not my season. I end up feeling like a steamed dumpling, even indoors, because of the humidity. Cricket still begs for long walks, and really, it makes sense; I can’t even imagine how much more fragrant the bird poop must be when it hits 100 degrees Fahrenheit.


“Where’s the poop?”

Cricket has no wardrobe changes as the seasons change. Her coat seems to keep her cool enough in summer, and warm enough in winter, so that any attempt on my part to try to dress her up is met with a hardy “fnuh!” That’s Cricket’s favorite curse word. I can’t even begin to translate it from dog into human, because I don’t have enough of the right kind of words in my vocabulary to do it justice.

I tend to wear the same basic clothes in June as I wear in January, just with shorter sleeves. People seem to think I should be willing to wear shorts in public as the weather warms up, but I refuse. I stick with my jeans and trousers and if anyone has a problem with that, all I can say to that is, Fnuh!

pix from eos 088


The Parabola

I am the .1 percent that makes the parabola possible. I am that weirdo.

My doctor saw my blood pressure rising precipitously over a couple of months this fall and decided to put me on a blood pressure medication. I was too tired to argue. I’d hoped to avoid new medication trials, and new doctors, until the end of graduate school, but clearly the emergency lights were flashing, so I took the medication and a referral to a cardiologist.

At first I just felt dizzy and even more tired than usual and kind of nauseous, but my blood pressure was going down (I had to check it at home twice a day). I went to the cardiologist for a work up anyway, like the good obedient girl I am, and suffered through lots of tests, and history taking, and quizzical looks about my long term lack of a diagnosis for such a crazy list of odd and debilitating symptoms. Each test and appointment was physically exhausting, and then the cardiologist decided that I would need to see another pulmonologist, and another rheumatologist, and consider changing this or that medication that could be the culprit for my rising blood pressure (high dose NSAIDs in particular can raise blood pressure and I’ve been on one for years now).


“I’m exhausted just thinking about it.”

I wish I could act like Cricket does at her doctor visits, and bite and scratch and hide under tables, but it doesn’t go over as well with the doctors for humans. So I accepted the needles and the stickers and the probes and the treadmills, with all of the inherent humiliation of being treated like a science experiment, and I smiled and kept my mouth shut so I could get out as quickly as possible, limping down the hallway after one more person told me I seemed fine.


“No one can make me go to the doctor!”

And then, one morning, my lips were swollen to three times their normal size. They were itching and hurting and I thought there must be a secret hive of bees under my pillow, but no, it was an allergic reaction to the blood pressure medication. It’s a well-known reaction, though not well known to me, because doctors think that if they warn me about possible side effects I will decide to have all of them. The doctor took me off the medication and said we’d wait for the reaction to wear off before trying something else, with no advice on how to make the swelling go down, or a time frame for how long this would be going on. I sat in front of the TV with ice on my lips for hours so that I could be moderately presentable for a few hours at my internship, and then I came home and watched my lips blow up again. I took Benadryl at night, and daytime allergy meds during the day, but the swelling kept rising and falling unpredictably.

A week after the original allergic reaction, my lips blew up even bigger than before. We called the pharmacy and they said to go to an urgent care center and get an epi pen, to which I said Nooooooooooo, mostly because I didn’t want to have to get dressed and deal with people. We called the doctor, and he said to take Benadryl four times a day, which meant that I would be mostly unconscious until the allergic reaction wore out. So I did that. It took another week for my lips to resemble their previous selves, though they are still not quite back to normal. For quite a while there, I’m pretty sure people assumed I was getting collagen shots.

No one believes me when I tell them that I tend to have all of the side effects and few of the positive effects of medication, and have a habit of getting paradoxical responses to medication (biological medication meant to resolve psoriasis led to the skin flaying off of my fingers, seriously). No one believes me when I tell them that I am the patient that makes the bell curve possible. But I am that person.

Cricket paid no attention to any of it. She is immune to changes in how I look. She only notices when I change my clothes, because that’s what’s important to her. Pajamas are good, work clothes are evil, sneakers and jeans could be either/or.


“Mommy can’t go anywhere without this.”

I have doctors’ appointments scheduled for the foreseeable future, and most likely more medication trials, and more exhaustion, and more people who think I’m being melodramatic until they realize that I’m just bizarre. None of this is normal. I’m not supposed to be exhausted and in pain all the time. I’m not supposed to have all kinds of weird auto immune reactions and connective tissue disorders. I’m not supposed to need so much pain medication that it leads to even more health problems that bring on even more medications. People my age are supposed to work full-time, raise children, and have social lives, not work their asses off just to make it through part time hours, with no energy left to do the food shopping.

Cricket thinks the problem is that I don’t spend enough time scratching her, and walking her, and if I devoted myself solely to those activities at least one of us would be happy.


“When I’m happy, everyone is happy.”

I feel like I’m holding the parabola in place single handed lately, and there’s no Olympic medal for that. For every one who is safely in the middle of the parabola, with normal reactions to medications, and diseases that can be accurately diagnosed, you’re welcome.

The Sounds of Spring


Allergy season has been blinding me. I go outside into a fog of loose green flying things, and the dogs take advantage and drag me where they will.


Cricket is very proud of herself.

But it’s made me more sensitive to the noises all around me. For example, there is a woodpecker somewhere in the backyard who sounds like he’s using a jackhammer to knock down all of the trees, at seven o’clock in the morning! The woodpecker’s name seems small for the sound he makes. His job is to peck at the wood to find bugs to eat, but I wonder, sometimes, if he’s got a megaphone attached to the side of his beak, to make himself sound more impressive, or maybe woodpeckers really have started to use power tools, just to mess with our minds.

My nose hurts in sympathy whenever I hear that woodpecker, but I’ve never seen him. My idea of a woodpecker is probably distorted, though, because I’ve only ever seen one animated in cartoons, so I may have seen him without realizing it.

woody woodpecker

I have not seen anyone looking like this.

Butterfly loves to stand still and listen to the noises all around her. She’s equally intrigued by a beautiful bird song, the sound of the wind through the trees, and an airplane flying way too low over our heads. The only sound she specifically dislikes is the bus that stops on our corner, and the mechanized female voice that announces each location.


Butterfly in listening pose.

There are some odd creatures out in the woods. I don’t know which animal makes the strangled baby noise, but the first time I heard it, I thought it was actually a baby, being strangled, and I looked everywhere to try and find it. There’s also an animal out there with a smoker’s cough, though that could actually be one of my neighbors hiding in the woods, choking to death. I can’t be sure.

I like the swish of the wind and the traditional birdsong, a little tweet here, a little twitter there, but the variety certainly does keep things interesting.

And then there are the two feral cats, Hershey and Gimpy (named by the human residents, not by themselves) who take up zones at opposite ends of the yard and avoid each other religiously. Hershey likes to climb the retaining wall and look down on her fiefdom. Gimpy likes to hide in the manicured bushes and climb through hollowed out trees.


Hershey, on guard.

One day I saw Gimpy leaning against my mom’s temporary green house (like a pup tent, but for plants) trying to steal some warmth on a chilly day.

The girls have been taking advantage of my frequent need to stop and sneeze. Cricket has been eating extra grass and sniffing extra smells, and Butterfly has been doing her sound meditations, letting the wind curve the sound around her ears in a new way each time.

pix from eos 012

Butterfly listening from another direction.

But at least they don’t seem to mind that I use their poopie bags to collect my used tissues, so that I don’t have to stuff them back into my jacket pocket after use. Maybe they remember that day, early in the season, when I had forgotten to fill my pockets with fresh tissues and had to sneeze into my t-shirt. Cricket looked at me funny when that happened, which is rich, given that she actually eats tissues filled with snot. Harrumph.


“I can hear you, Mommy.”


The Tissue Thief


Cricket is a tissue thief. Cricket used to stalk a tissue like it was a wild beast. She’d lower herself into a bow, like she was about to play a very serious game of twister. Then she’d grab the tissue with her teeth and run to a safe place to dismantle it. She could have been sleeping when the sound of a tissue being pulled from the box woke her up. And if she couldn’t get the tissue directly from my hand, she’d jump off the bed and try to get the tissue on its way to the garbage can.

The thing is, it has to be a used tissue, and I have allergies, so Cricket has a lot of used tissues to choose from. Sometimes I am lazy and leave a couple of tissues on my bedside table before forcing myself to sit up and throw them all away in a clump. Cricket can’t reach the top of the bedside table, but she can leap off the bed, walk slowly between the bed and the table and gradually rise up on her toes to see where the tissues went and calculate whether she can reach them with her teeth before she loses her balance.

In my room, the garbage can is two feet tall and elevated on a file box another foot in the air, so that Cricket can’t shove her paws through the top and remove stray tissues. But it doesn’t stop her from trying.

The garbage can in the living room even has a locking mechanism on it.

Some time in Cricket’s first year, after I’d been thinking that for sure she was devouring the tissues whole, we discovered her stash behind the TV. There wasn’t just a tissue or two back there. There were dozens, maybe a hundred tissues, piled together where I couldn’t see them as I walked past. And yes, I’m sure I should have been a better housekeeper, pulling the TV center forward to dust behind it more than once a year, but I didn’t, and Cricket was skinny enough to squeeze herself back there and secrete her treasures there for later use.

It’s the same way she buries crackers or bones or pieces of cheese in various corners of chairs and couches and under beds, certain she’ll find a use for them later.

Cricket is a hoarder, that’s what I’m trying to say.

My mother is stubborn. She has kept her two short, open-topped, garbage cans, one plastic and one wicker, in her bedroom. Predictably, any time a tissue is used and dropped into either garbage can, Cricket jumps off the bed, pushes her nose inside and pulls out the tissue with her teeth. Then she’ll either jump back onto the bed with her treasure, or slink under the bed to her “apartment” where no human can disturb her.

There are times, not many, when it is safe to blow my nose. These are the times when she is too exhausted to even lift her head, and she closes her eyes and just dreams of the all the tissues she’d like to eat. I can only imagine the magical tower of tissue boxes she climbs in her dreams. She is a very happy puppy.

The Scratchy Glutton

Cricket requires pretty significant scratching sessions every day. She jumps onto my chest while I’m sleeping or reading, and stands tall on all four legs, and if I don’t get the message quickly enough, she paws or noses my face or my hand to get things started.

Usually, just because I think I’ve been thorough does not mean the session is over. And she lets me know I’ve been precipitate by scratching at my hand or face again, climbing off my chest to find the errant hand if necessary. She seems to know that extra scratchies make her brain feel better and make her whole self more relaxed.

She makes a point of moving around to make different points available. First, her face itches. She has allergies, so under her eyes and around her nose and near her ears all need extensive scratching. Then the top of her head and around her neck. Then she’ll lie back and lift one arm so her chest is available to be scratched. She does not like her feet touched. This is an important rule.  Her back and sides need scratching next. Then I stretch her ears and rotate them a bit. I stretch her arms up and do some hamstring and quad stretches. She can go forty five minutes, at last count, though it’s been a while since I’ve had the patience to do such a thorough job. If she’s standing on her own four feet, she tends to walk forward, about an inch at a time, like she’s walking though a car wash to make sure every inch gets thoroughly scratched.

Cricket would be a perfect candidate for a full on massage session, with candles and oils and soft music, as long as no one goes near her toes or her ears or tries to remove poop or eye goop.

I worry that Cricket is especially itchy. She gets a runny nose during allergy season and scratches her head on my sheets while making a kind of desperate foghorn sort of noise. It’s almost as if she’s sneezing and barking and crying all at once, and I can hear her paws scratching fiendishly. I’m surprised my sheets have lasted so well, really, with all the time she spends trying to dig through to the mattress.

I never had a dog who sat on my lap and asked for scratchies this much. Sometimes I think she’s very attached to her people, and in need of a lot of love and affection from us, but then other times, I think she’s just damned itchy and looking for some relief.