I've never thought of my allergies as a big deal. Sure, my peanut allergy has caused an emergency room visit here and there, and my dad used to pick me up from sleepovers because of my emphysema-like wheezing around cats. No big thing, right? But a few years back it seemed about time I went to see an allergy specialist and get a comprehensive list of the things my body hates.
I found myself shirtless, laying on my stomach in the doctor's exam room with twenty pricks in my back (which isn't nearly as scandalous as it sounds). A constant tingle ran through my body, but all I could think about was how comically small the exam room table appeared under my enormous body. I am most certainly not allergic to pizza and beer.
To administer an allergy test a nurse needs to prick your back with an assortment of allergens. Different types of trees, animal dander, molds and grasses were all made to come into contact with my delicate, nature-hating skin. After the pricks, it's a waiting game to see if your torso turns into a red, puffy Braille haiku.
About twenty minutes later the nurse knocked on the door. I couldn't see the expression on her face, given my vulnerable position facing the corner like the bad kid being punished. But her inflection said it all.
"Oh myyy!" the nurse said in that heavy Minnesota accent most Minnesotans don't think they have. "Well," she said with a pause, "you're allergic to everything!"
"Everything?" I ask, worried less about the consequences of allergies and more about the cocky "told you so" attitude my girlfriend at the time was sure to have upon hearing the news.
"Well, maybe not the... yes, yes, you're allergic to grass too."
I kind of guessed that one. My parents love to tell the story of when I was a kid and had just started to crawl. My dad spent a summer building a deck behind our house and he was able to leave me relatively unsupervised, as long as I was surrounded by grass. Sitting on a pastel pink blanket, I was content as all get-out not to traverse that sea of green, spiky irritants laid out before me. I've always been confused when someone appears pleasant while barefoot. I guess that's why I sometimes empathize with the wide-eyed technological visions of the 1950s. Their promise was one of control, of harnessing nature rather than being one with it. Domed cities, meal pills --science will have the answers.
And science did have the answers in the 1982 kids book World of Tomorrow: Health and Medicine by Neil Ardley. Ardley's book is filled with predictions about the future of health care, with an emphasis on self-assessement via computer. If WebMD and the rise of home genetic testing kits count, I'd say that this was a pretty accurate vision of the future.
Well, at least it was more accurate than the people who imagined hospitals in space.
By checking the genetic codes of parents and by caring for unborn babies, the children of tomorrow should be born in perfect health. A long life is lkely to lie ahead of them. But to remain healthy, everyone will have to look after themselves. As now, this will mean taking exercise, keeping clean and behaving sensibly to avoid danger. However, the world of tomorrow will bring other ways in which you can help to prevent yourself from getting ill.
Many people fall ill because they have an allergy. Something they eat or drink disagrees with them, or perhaps something in the air upsets them. Tiny particles of pollen blown by the wind give some people hay fever, for example. Others cannot eat food made from flour or shellfish without feeling ill. Often these people suffer for years before they find out what is wrong.
In the future you will be able to go to the doctor or a health complex to prepare yourself for a healthy life. Machines will take samples such as blood, saliva, hair and body wastes. They will measure them to find out exactly how your body reacts to food and drink and to substances in air and water. Then a computer will take the measurements and work out which things are likely to cause problems for you. It will produce a personal list of things to do and to avoid if you want to stay healthy and feel alert and full of energy. It is certain, for example to insist that you should never smoke. It may even recommend certain rules for making the best of your memory and intelligence. Following a list of rules might seem to make life a lot less fun. However, it would probably be no more trouble than taking care when crossing the road, for example.