It’s hard to make friends with mast cell disease. Sometimes, work is the only place I get social interaction all week, and even then, I spend most workdays alone in a HEPA filtered office with no windows.
Of course, my personality and service dog are magnetic, so I’ve managed to forge a few relationships on the way to the bathroom. These colleagues have always taken a genuine interest in learning about my illness and disabilities. They make me feel welcomed and supported.
So naturally, I decided to prank them.
My colleagues were blindsided by my trickery, because I told them I was strictly off-limits on April Fool’s Day. My body does not handle pranks well. Any strong emotion, positive or negative, can trigger my mast cells and send me into an allergic tailspin. I declared this publicly last year on March 31, and then went home to craft my prank.
On April 1 at 2 p.m, when brains and tummies begin grumble, I skipped down the hallway, inviting them to my office for a treat.
“I made brownies!” is what they heard. “Gluten free!” I shouted to my co-worker, who can relate to my food sensitivities.
One by one, they followed me to my office, salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. Their eyes immediately located the brownie pan on my desk covered in aluminum foil.
“Help yourself,” I urged them. They eagerly peeled back the foil, revealing a piece of paper on the bottom of the pan lined with brown letter Es.
“Brown Es!” I cackled, as their bellies gurgled with disappointment. Turns out, my colleagues were really hungry that afternoon. For the rest of the day, every time I emerged from my office, I was greeted with a groan. But every groan felt like a gold star.
Later that evening, I had trouble swallowing. My throat had been bugging me all day. It swells and itches frequently from mast cell reactions, so as long as it’s not life-threatening, I try to ignore it. However, if it persists for more than a few hours, I begin to worry it’s a virus.
Eventually, I went to my bathroom mirror and aimed my iPhone flashlight into my mouth, expecting redness and inflammation. On the right side of my throat, there was a glaring white mass partially blocking my airway. I gasped while trying to keep my mouth open.
I have cancer! This whole time I’ve been blaming my mast cells and now I’m dying of cancer! Nobody is going to believe me. What are the chances! How the hell did this go unnoticed?
I began to mentally get my affairs in order. Who will take the poodles? Is it too late to plan their estate? Will I have time to burn my diaries? I turned off the flashlight on my phone and google “white mass throat cancer.”
For the first time in the history of the universe, Google assured me I did not have cancer.
Through hundreds of disturbing photos, Google taught me about another bodily horror: tonsil stones. As if kidney stones and gallstones aren’t enough. Google was less certain whether tonsil stones could be removed at home or not. However, the idea of setting up another appointment with doctor unfamiliar with mast cell disease persuaded me to give it a shot.
I thought the biggest challenge would be avoiding infection. No, the biggest challenge is most definitely not throwing up. I was certain I had eliminated my gag reflex after countless gallons of colonoscopy prep and oral contrast, but every time I tried to gently nudge the stone with the end of a sanitized toothbrush, I gagged. As my tonsil finally released the stone, my stomach released my dinner.
I wish I could say this was a classic case of karma, but my body pranks me almost every day. My mast cells’ favorites include stroke-like migraines, temporary deafness, and the occasional shart. In fact, I even blame my mast cells for the stone through inflammation. (My CSF leak was pretty close to my right tonsil.)
Today, I’m happy to be isolated at home, a safe distance from my co-workers. The Internet says April Fools’ Day is canceled out of respect for the COVID-19 pandemic. I couldn’t agree more. I just hope my mast cells got the memo.