My worst Easter

Growing up, my parents were pretty sloppy about their holidays lies. Mostly, they enjoyed sleeping more than I did. When I was six, I discovered my mom hiding Easter eggs in the backyard just before breakfast. Instead of confronting my parents, I quietly watched from my bedroom window, memorizing each of her hiding spots. I didn’t want to ruin the Easter Bunny for my younger brother, but I also didn’t want him to get any of the eggs.

So, when I mom shook me awake on Easter morning at age 7, I was surprised and suspicious.

“Wake up! Wake up! Come look out the window!” she said, pulling back my covers. At first, it sounded like a trap, but then I remembered it was a holiday and there may be gifts involved. I followed my mom and my brother to the dining room window.

The sun had just started to rise behind the tall evergreens in our backyard.

“Look!” she said. I searched the greenery for the neon eggs I’d been trained to find. “Under the tree!”

A giant white mass stirred under the pine tree. It bounced towards the window and stood up: a seven-foot-tall creature topped with a bulbous head and two wonky ears. It waved at us with its white mitten. My brother and I gasped, but for different reasons. The oversized rabbit slowly turned, without moving its neck, and hopped in a circle with great effort.

The tallest person I knew was my dad. It must be dad, I reassured myself.

Just as I was about to take a deep breath, my dad entered the room and exclaimed, “The Easter Bunny is in our yard!”

My stomach dropped.

“WHO IS THAT?!” I demanded, as my heart pounded. The white monster was facing the window again and waving. Its big, blank eyes followed me as I shrunk behind my mom.

“It’s the Easter bunny!” my parents shouted with pride. My brother grinned and waved back.

“WHO IS THAT?!” I shouted. Grandma and grandpa were too old to play dress up. I couldn’t think of anyone else. The backyard had always been my safe haven.

“It’s the Easter bunny! It’s just hopping through the neighborhood,” my parents said.

“TELL ME!” I shouted with tears welling in my eyes.

This where my parents made their second mistake.

“We don’t know who it is!” they said, finally acknowledging that I was too old to believe in the Easter Bunny. Unfortunately, they did not acknowledge the trauma of being ambushed by a seven foot rabbit regardless of age.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW?!” I screamed.

Several hours later, after it was clear no amount of chocolate could justify the monster strolling through the backyard, my dad confessed the bunny was his co-worker. He definitely thought that would lessen my fears, but here I am, writing about it at age 33. Plus, have you seen Donnie Darko?!

*****

This year, people around the world are spending Easter in isolation due to the pandemic. To be honest, I’m grateful. This is my fifth Easter in isolation due to mast cell disease and I’m tired  of inciting pity and discomfort when I tell friends and co-workers that I spent a holiday alone. People assume spending holidays alone is the worst. It’s certainly not my first choice, but I also appreciate my holiday autonomy. I focus on activities I can enjoy, and abandon any traditions I don’t. Most importantly, I am safe from the Easter Bunny. (I shut my shades just in case.)

*****

A few years after the Easter Bunny incident, my parents went out of town. They let me sleep over at a friend’s house. She loved animals as much as I did, but my parents wouldn’t let me have a pet.

When my parents came home from their trip, I met them at the front door with a large hat and wand in my hands.

“I learned a new magic trick while you were gone!” I gleamed. “Abracadabra!”

I waved my wand, reached into the hat, and pulled out a black and white mini lop.

“Isn’t that an awesome magic trick?” I asked my stunned parents. “He’s mine now!”

The karma of bunny magic.

Please stop calling MCAS rare

Maybe it’s the pain and prednisone, but I’ve been really peeved by the eagerness to raise awareness for mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) on Rare Disease Day.

First of all, why wasn’t the MCAS community half as engaged on Mast Cell Disease Awareness Day?

Second, there is growing evidence that MCAS is not rare. Some researchers believe more than 5% of people have MCAS! Yes, some organizations currently categorize MCAS as rare, but only because that is the default categorization for newly-recognized diseases. For example, AIDS used to be categorized as a rare disease. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that conditions like fibromyalgia, which affects 3-6% of people, are symptoms of MCAS.

Calling MCAS rare is not only unfounded, but it hurts diagnosed and undiagnosed MCAS patients. It signals to doctors that they do not need to learn about the disease. It signals to drug companies that there is not enough of a demand for new, lower cost treatments, like ketotifen in the U.S. It delays the development of accessible diagnostics. It signals to policy makers, who often vote based on numbers, that they do not need to listen to us.

Worst of all, calling MCAS rare discourages undiagnosed patients from getting tested and learning about MCAS, because they believe it is improbable.

That being said, please support Rare Disease Day. At this time, MCAS patients experience many of the same struggles associated with rare disease. Furthermore, mastocytosis continues to be classified as a rare disease through evidence-based research and we definitely should support fellow mast cell disease patients. After all, mastocytosis provides the foundation for understanding MCAS. Finally, you don’t have to have a rare disease to support Rare Disease Day.

MCAS is rarely diagnosed and rarely researched, but please stop calling MCAS rare. Instead, start planning for Mast Cell Disease Awareness Day on October 20. I know I am.

Learn more about Rare Disease Day at http://www.rarediseaseday.org.

Why viruses are scarier with mast cell disease

While the new year promised a fresh start, my mast cells were still reacting to what happened in 2019.

Around Thanksgiving, I caught a virus. I dragged my feverish body to urgent care and asked for a flu test. I needed to know if I should pack my hospital bag, which should not be confused with my emergency room bag. My ER bag is always ready and with me.

“Good news, it’s not the flu,” the doctor said.

“How long do you think this virus will last?” I asked.

“Generally, about 5-7 days and then you should be fine,” he said.

“I’m not worried about the virus,” I said. “I’m worried about my mast cells’ reaction to the virus.”

He sputtered a bit and tried to use “degranulate” in a sentence.

“I have prednisone at home,” I said, as I grabbed my coat.

Most people are used to hearing the dangers of the flu and other viruses for people with weak or suppressed immune systems. The flu is just as dangerous for me, but not because I’m immunocompromised. In fact, just the opposite.

My mast cells fight wars they’ve already won. They swiftly kill the virus, and then proceed to kill me. My immune system doesn’t know when to stop.

After seven days, the fevers waned, but I did not feel better. I attempted to go back to work, but the floor started bouncing. Benadryl every four hours wasn’t enough. I worried the pressure in my head would cause another CSF leak. So, I dug out my favorite poison: prednisone.

Maybe Ebenezer Scrooge just needed some prednisone, because within two days, I was buzzing with the Christmas spirit. As the prednisone tamed my mast cells, I shopped, wrapped, and decorated like one of Santa’s elves. Usually the holidays are a nightmare of unrealistic expectations, but this year I crushed my to-do list with energy to spare, confusing everyone. Don’t get used to it; you’re all getting unscented deodorant and a “bah humbug” next year.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s, when no one needs a calendar or real pants, is the perfect time to taper prednisone. For me, tapering prednisone means laying on the couch and staring at the wall, as optimism drains from my soul. I aimed to get it over with before the new year, because I wanted to start the year off on the right foot. Or left. At least standing.

Within a few days of coming off prednisone, my ear tubes began to ache. My mast cells were still reacting to the virus they killed a month and a half ago. I ignored it, hoping they would calm down, but the congestion in my head continued to build.

One night, after hours of painsomnia, I dreamed I went on a girls’ trip. The five of us innertubed from northern Italy to California (via the Mississippi River, obviously). The water must have been pretty rough, because I woke up with a subluxated jaw. The inflammation in my ear had gotten so bad that my jaw slipped out of the socket. I tried to ignore that pain too, but a spoonful of rice left me crying for another round of prednisone.

So instead of starting the new year motivated, I medicated. Luckily, this was just a cold. In 2016, I caught the flu and needed an ambulance and hospitalization.

I wish my mast cells had a reset button. I wish people kept their germs to themselves. I wish I could take prednisone for the rest of my life and become the most productive person in the history of the universe. Instead, I’ll embrace my solitary confinement and remind you not to kill me.