Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bike Commuting with Ralph

Every one in DC has allergies. I defy you to find someone who isn't suffering for a significant portion of the year.  I lived allergy free for most of my young life. While living in Providence I noticed that I would get a headache every spring, but thought nothing of it.

Then I moved to DC. On a periodic basis my head would feel like a lead weight, I'd get nauseous, and I'd cough up bizarre looking gunk.  I had allergies. A few times I even thought I had the flu. As it turned out these episodes were sinus infections.

Why do we in DC get allergies? Because nobody in DC is from DC. If the eastern United States were a Venn diagram, DC would be at the cross over between northern allegens, southern allergens, and Allegheny allergens. Yes, folks we have them all. If you grew up in Vermont, you were never exposed to the plants of the south. Surprise! You are screwed. Same goes for you folks from Georgia who moved here. You will get sick. It's only a matter of time.

My doctor, who has since left the practice to open up a boutique wellness practice (I am not making this up), advised me some time ago, after my umpteenth sinus infection visit, to go on a daily routine for allergies. This includes a 24-hour non-drowsy antihistamine and a nasal steroid spray. I was already on a daily baby aspirin, a statin, an asthma inhaler, and 24-hour asthma pill,  plus I a fish oil pill. This regimen was starting to get tedious. I stopped taking the statin a couple of years ago because the nerves in my feet went haywire. That still left 5 daily medications. 

At one point Doctor Wellness advised me that the asthma medications might be too much. He invited me to experiment. I found that the Singulair pill was unnecessary so I stopped taking it. My tolerance for nincompoops at work increased dramatically. (It turns out that Singulair makes some people impatient and grumpy.) The inhaler was stayed.

This week I decided to drop the allergy medicine to see how I'd do without them. Short answer: not well.

I went off the allergy medications on Tuesday, rode my bike to work in absolutely glorious weather, and, by Tuesday night, had a stuffy head and a headache.  I used a saline rinse to clear my head and took some ibuprofen and felt fine on Wednesday morning. I rode to work. It was another perfect day for a ride.  I felt fine until about 10 a.m. when I had the urge to throw up.  I walked to the bathroom and called Ralph on the big white phone.

That should make me feel better, I thought. I walked back to my office. In no time Ralph was calling me back. I trudged to the bathroom and Ralph and I had another brief but less productive conversation.

Back at the office the words on my monitor seemed to be saying: RALPH WANTS YOU! I made a valiant effort to keep working but Ralph was winning the battle. I sent an email to my boss and the office time keeper and left for home. The time keeper offered to drive me home but I declined. The last thing I needed was to ride shotgun in a car.  I could have called Mrs. Rootchopper who works a short distance away but she was going to have the first radiology appointment for cancer treatment later that day. My family knows how to party.

After changing into my biking clothes and stopping at the bathroom to check in with Ralph one more time, I took the elevator to the garage. I got off the elevator and bump into the number two person in our agency. Lovely, she probably thinks I am cutting out early to enjoy a ride in the beautiful weather. She got it half right.

I left the garage on Little Nellie only to hit a big traffic jam in front of my office. The electric company was doing some work underground and had closed off the bike lane.  I sat in traffic waiting for the upstream traffic light to turn green. When it did, I wobbled and took out one of the utility's orange traffic cones with my pannier.  There was no where to stop to raise the cone and, if I did, who's telling what Ralph would have said, so I pedalled on. I made the next three traffic lights and was soon coasting down the hill to the Mount Vernon Trail.

As I plodded along into a moderate headwind, the warmth of the sun felt like a full body hug. The rhythm of my pedaling kept Ralph at bay.  Every so often I'd feel a wave a nausea but it would quickly fade. As long as I kept my effort moderate I was doing okay, except for the fact that my head was hanging like a lead weight. I made it to Old Town Alexandria where two wide bodied women walking side by side took up 2/3rds of the path. I waited for an approaching cyclist to pass and started to pass the walkers myself. I looked up and saw another cyclist approaching. I figured I had loads of time to finish my pass but I was moving unusually slowly and he was moving much faster than I thought. I had to veer to get out of his way. "Sorry!" I said. I would have told him I was riding with a passenger named Ralph but he was long gone.

I made it through Old Town and passed the Wilson Bridge. I caught the green light at the two street crossings and was back on the MVT proper with little problem.  About  3 1/2 miles from home the MVT starts a slow climb for about a mile to the Stone Bridge. Ralph was not much help here. My head hung low. I plodded along and made it all the way to the traffic light one mile from my house. It was red. Hang down your head and cry. Ralph didn't like the wait, but he kept quiet. A car approaching from the other side of the intersection tripped the sensor and the light turn green.

Sorry, Ralph. No time to dawdle.  Soon we were home. Ralph had kept quiet for the entire 15 mile trip. It took about an hour and a half but we made it. 

After putting Little Nellie away, I took a long hot shower, put on some shorts and a hoodie and went to sleep in a chair on my deck.

After several hours of misery I conceded defeat and took a benedryl-like antihistamine. It knocked me out. I woke up late feeling lousy but I could at least hold down some food.  I slept for 4 more hours.  I woke up with a craving for chicken soup. I took a 24-hour antihistamine and inhaled some Campbells Jewish Penicillin.

Sometime in the night, Ralph had departed.

I am still a little groggy but feeling much better.

Tomorrow, pills in hand, I should be good to go for 2012 bike commuter number 104, and a visit to the Friday Coffee Club. I hope Ralph doesn't come.


  1. Ha! That was a great post!! :) You and Ralph!! ha! :) Really sorry you felt so bad - -guess you have to stick with the medicines. By the way, I am a native Washingtonian who doesn't have any allergies (knock on wood!!). I wonder though, with all my grass cutting now, whether I will develop anything... I hope not!

  2. Hope you feel better soon! I'm no doctor, but it does seem like a lot of allergies medications you're taking. I only take 2- a steroid nasal spray and an inhaler, and I seem to get by okay, as long as I catch the symptoms early and I am consistent in taking them.

    1. I'm feeling much better by the hour. I even made it to Friday Coffee Club. Quite a crowd today.