As a teenager, I almost died when my throat swelled nearly shut; testing later showed that I was allergic to 35 of 36 airborne allergens the doctor evaluated (such as pine trees and ragweed), and I started getting allergy shots.
I had a complicated regimen. I got as many as seven different shots each week, in differing doses. The dose of each allergen was intended to increase each time, to build my tolerance. However, if any shot resulted in a bigger-than-expected welt, then the dose of that allergen stayed the same the next time.
When I went away to college, the student health center was expected to give me the shots.
In letters to my parents, I listed problems that arose:
- The student health center miscalculated how many shots I was to get in a given week.
- They failed, the first three weeks in a row, to increase the doses for any of the shots, even though I hadn’t had any bigger-than-expected welts. These mistakes only came to light when I pointed them out after reading my chart over the nurse’s shoulder.
- They yelled at me for looking at my chart.
- Shortly afterwards, I was hospitalized with breathing problems; the doctor prohibited allergy shots for three weeks. When I returned to the student health center to start up again, the head nurse was furious with me. Three weeks earlier, after I had objected to the multiple errors, she had chosen to calculate the expected doses for each shot each week for the rest of the semester and to document in my chart – in advance – that these treatments had been given. Now, every entry for three months was wrong. Also, because I sometimes had reactions severe enough that a dose couldn’t be increased the next time, her later entries for some allergens would have been incorrect even if I hadn’t missed any weeks. (Recording treatments as delivered before they have been given is a major violation of rules for keeping medical records.)
Additionally, the student health center gave someone else in my dorm an allergy shot with about ten times the intended dose; he nearly stopped breathing. My parents decided to pay for me to get all my care elsewhere.
More than 40 years later, I am once again getting allergy shots. Recently, my allergist asked if I had any problems getting the shots at my regular doctor’s office. I said no, later realizing that my answer wasn’t quite accurate. Minor problems have arisen but no harm has been done, because before I was out of my teens, I understood very clearly that my life might depend on my paying attention and asking questions in the doctor’s office.