Thursday, September 13, 2012

Of Allergies and Medical Care


You've probably heard of—or know someone with—horrific allergies to latex, some involving seizures. It's like peanuts: Some folks are insanely sensitive. (I know someone who has an unusually bad reaction to both, actually, among other things.)

There are entire medical facilities, now, that are latex-free. That's due to people who can't even handle trace amounts of latex in the air, like I react to strawberries. (And the protein that people usually react to in strawberries is also found in latex and other things, but evidently that's not what I react to in strawberries.)

What do those latex-free facilities use? Nitrile. Unless they're one of the extremely rare facilities where 1. a nurse has developed an allergy and 2. the administration believes the nurse about that allergy (which is uncommon, because folks dislike admitting that fixing one problem has only caused another).

Problem #1: Most medical practitioners don't even know that the gloves they're using are nitrile.

Problem #2: Nitrile gloves are now following the pattern of latex ones, wherein first some nurses started developing allergies; then with the common usage, medical personnel started claiming the gloves harmed them; then the administrators insisted the allergy was due to the powder in the gloves—complicated by the detail that the administrators were sometimes correct; and gradually the genuinely allergic medical personnel proved that no, they weren't idiots.

Problem #3: That pattern probably has a good decade or more before it plays out, as far as nitrile is concerned.

Problem #4: The other alternative, vinyl, will doubtless follow the same pattern when it gets popular.

Problem #5: A patient carrying his or her own gloves for medical personnel to use is a risk, both for the personnel—who can't be sure the gloves are medical grade—and for fellow patients—who could have a hypersensitivity to the rubber the glove-carrier has.

Okay, so I carry a mini box (unopened) of medical-grade vinyl gloves in my purse, marked on all sides with "ICE", with my allergy also listed in my phone. But I'm well aware that, in case of an emergency that renders me unconscious, I'll probably wake up after medical personnel are wondering what's making my skin flake off like dried glue.

I haven't heard of anyone yet with a hypersensitivity to vinyl, though I'm sure they exist. I just pray I don't meet that person.

People allergic to cleaners and soaps also have issues with medical care. After those issues I mentioned that I have with standard, over-the-counter soap, imagine what happens when I encounter that tough antibacterial soap that's in every hospitals (which was a stupid move, biologically speaking—they at least should have switched out antibacterial types every month or week to keep them effective, rather than killing off all the bacteria they worked on so only the resistant strains remained to breed).

Yeah. Not fun.

Then there's the other type of allergies, probably the most common type: allergies to medicines. I'm allergic to acetaminophen. My mother has to avoid aspirin (and might be allergic to acetaminophen, too). My brother's allergic to penicillin and sulfa and all related medications. One of my friends can't have ibuprofen.

Someone once told me about a time when she went to the doctor for pain. She had symptoms of an allergy to the acetaminophen-based medicine they gave her, so they gave her yet another acetaminophen-based medicine—not once, but twice!

Seriously. I can't help but wonder what those medical personnel were thinking. "Hey, she's evidently allergic to this one, so let's give her a related medicine!" (What…the…[expletive deleted].)

I mean, I'm careful to track down my painkiller herbs to see what medicines they're related to, and I clearly mark that on my bag. I will never give my mother white willow bark or meadowsweet root, because both contain a chemical that's in aspirin. If she wants to try it on her own, fine. But I won't hand it to her.

I'll even ask if someone's allergic to fish before I hand 'em something with GMO corn, though it's highly unlikely that someone allergic to fish will be allergic to the specific plasmid that was taken from a fish and put into corn. Just in case.

But that's the weird thing about hospitals. It's frightening how often I have to repeat my allergies to medical personnel who are supposed to know to take these things seriously. I've been patronized, all but called a hypochondriac, asked how I know I'm allergic to something (in a disbelieving way, not a curious one)…

My mother once happened to be me once to witness a nurse's passive-aggressive, "I have to open these expensive surgical gloves." Mom was appalled, more so when I shrugged and found the comment mild.

To be fair, I do know doctors and nurses who actually listen and like my scientific approach to my symptoms and their causes. (Not uncommon: Walking into the doctor's office with a list of symptoms to hand the doctor, including potential causes for problems I already know I'm having.) And those folks are often appalled themselves when I thank them for not being condescending.

And I must admit that one of the two times I was poisoned after a surgery seems to have been caused by the hospital mixing up my prescription with someone else's. (The other case was an example of Murphy's Law. I can only guess that the surgeon was having a bad few months, because I've been told by nurses who've worked with him that he's very competent in surgery, he was a bit snappish when his one nurse displayed potential incompetence in front of him—and she also screwed up my allergy list on my medical file. Correcting that took a good five minutes of arguing.)

Allergies to medicines can effect people (and characters) in interesting ways. Did you know penicillin is bread mold? Imagine how that affects people who are hungry and only have moldy bread to eat. Eat the bread and suffer from the allergy—which can be debilitating or life-threatening—or not eat it and starve—which can also be life-threatening?

But food allergies—and how long I think I'd last in case of an apocalypse—are a topic for another day.

Do you have any allergies that affect your medical care? Have you known anyone with severe medical allergies? Have you read or written any characters with medical allergies?


Popular Posts
(of the last month)