Tales Of A Medicine-Watcher: 1. A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course, Of Course

Tales of a Medicine-Watcher are true stories from 50 years in medicine. Names and dates changed, staff names real (unless otherwise noted). The term Medicine-Watcher is used in The Youngest Science, the autobiography of Lewis Thomas, which I use with respect. 


It didn’t make sense. “Tell me again what happens, Sam”. Sam had come along with her mother. “Every time she comes home from school…”, her mother had said on arrival. So I asked Sam again. She went though it with that sense of world weariness that only a 16 year old girl can impart.

“Well, see, I get home from school, I grab a snack, go into the family room and sit down, and read or watch telly for a bit”. It was 1990, no internet, no streaming. “Then I start to sneeze, get really itchy eyes, bit tight in the chest and I cough, it’s better when we have dinner, sometimes comes back later, but it settles in bed”. Sam was fine on waking in the morning, all day at school, enjoyed competitive Netball without problems, no past history of allergies, her mother had a bit of hay fever. This problem in the evenings had gone on for 9 months. It went away went she spent a week in Bali. There were no pets. The family had lived in the house for 20 years.

I stared at the skin test results. There was a borderline positive to ryegrass, barely positive, she had no spring symptoms. “No, no” said her mother again “no dried flowers, straw, or potpourri in the house”. The only other positive test was a large reaction to horse hair. No other positive tests. “Do you ride horses?”. “No”. “Do you visit horses with friends or on farms or…” “No”. “What about your brother, is he in contact with horses” “No”.

Horse allergy is one of the most potent environmental allergy triggers. Those who are sensitive only require small amounts of horse hair to get symptoms. In the days before motor vehicles, horse allergy was deemed an unavoidable allergy.

I scratched my head and said with a laugh, “Don’t suppose you’ve got a horse’s head on the wall, have you?” It was a throw-away line. A joke to cover up my confusion. Sam and her mother looked at each other, eyes wide open, and mouthed “Oh My God”.

It appeared that about a year earlier Sam’s dad had found a stuffed horse’s head at a garage sale, bought it and hung it in a corner of the family room, where it became forgotten, invisible. They threw out the offending article. Sam was cured.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse of course
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.

– theme from Mr Ed, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans


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