Sneezing

One evening captures the mood of many. Standing in the bathroom of the farmhouse, I took a flannel, soaked it with cold water and placed it, blindfold-like, over my eyes. There were a few moments of relief, a coolness in my cheeks and forehead. Taking the flannel from my face, my eyes were bloodshot and swollen. Feeling better, I rinsed out the flannel, hung it up and stepped back outside into the evening sunshine. Within minutes, the sneezing had resumed.

For someone with multiple allergies, a farmyard in warm weather was not a good place to be. Haymaking time brought on fits of irritation and sneezing and would often trigger bouts of asthma. There would be similar reactions to the cats that were kept to rid the farm of vermin; to the chaff generated by the machinery at threshing time; to the chickens that kept the family supplied with fresh eggs; to the dust that rose when sheds were cleaned, to random other things that might have only been encountered for the first time.

An uncle had suffered worst allergies. Eczema had afflicted him as well as asthma. In his early years, the irritation was so great that he would take off his clothes and lie in the bath of cold water outside the milking parlour in which the churns of milk were placed to keep them cool in summer time. The chill of the water would reduce the inflammation and the itching.

Even had farming been my vocation, it would not have been possible, everyday there would have been a reaction to some new irritant. Contact with animals, contact with fertilisers, contact with chemicals, contact with fumes, the list of things to avoid would have made an agricultural career an impossible choice.

Piriton was the breakthrough medication. Although there would never be a time when the experience of haymaking did not induce sneezing and wheezing or when feathers and cats did not produce an adverse reaction, but the availability of a single tablet made spring and summer at least tolerable.

The small, round, red and white plastic container containing the tablets became a symbol of security, together with the Spincap inhaler it meant that allergies and asthma would not become the chief determinants of how I lived my life.

Years later, when I reflected on two boys from the small school I attended dying of asthma in the summer of 1974, I realised how much those medications had meant.

 

 

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