As a kid I struggled with asthma. Back then not every doctor was hip to the newest treatments. My Mom brought me to an allergy specialist who I’ll refer to as Dr. Mean. I disliked him immediately. He talked to my mother, not to me. I sat and listened as he talked about me, even though I was sitting 3 feet away. The first step, he announced, was to give me a “scratch test.” I didn’t know what that meant but instinctively my body stiffened. I had to lay face down on the examining table as the doctor put droplets containing various allergens on my back—ragweed, dust, cat hair, dog hair; there were 30 or 40 different ones in all. He then took what looked like a long pin and scratched the surface of my back. A scratch for every droplet. Needless to say, I was not happy and my initial impression of Dr. Mean only worsened. Whenever I’d let out an “Ow!” he would make some kind of disapproving sound or scold “it’s not that bad.”
After waiting to see which scratches “blew up,” thus determining what I was allergic to, Dr. Mean levied the final blow: “Your daughter is allergic to chocolate.” He said it with a little too much enthusiasm. I was slightly overweight and was acutely aware that he had a healthy disdain for kids with weight problems. I don’t remember what else he said after that. Allergic to chocolate? But how can that be? I don’t eat chocolate every day so how can that be causing my asthma? It made no sense to me. I felt with everything in me that he had made it up. Nevertheless, I had my marching orders: 2 new medications and a warning not to eat chocolate. Mind you, neither medication worked—not even in the slightest. He didn’t even give me an inhaler. Basically, he treated me for some mild allergies, fat shamed me, but did nothing to treat my asthma. Way to go, Doctor Mean.
The news of my allergy to chocolate traveled through my family and circle of friends. It traveled because I told everyone. I delivered the news as if I had just been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. “Yup, he told me I can never eat chocolate again” I would say with just the right amount of gravitas. My friends were sufficiently upset for me. Except for my Nana, nobody in my family seemed to give a shit. “You don’t need more sweets anyway,” said my mother. My sister, 7 or 8 at the time just laughed. “This sucks,” I thought.
When Easter rolled around, I was excited to see what I would get in my Easter basket. That was until I realized I couldn’t have a chocolate bunny or chocolate eggs. My Nana had sent me a special basket with what looked like chocolate eggs wrapped in foil. Her note explained that these were carob eggs. What the heck is carob? I wasn’t too concerned. I removed the foil from one of the eggs and thought, “it looks like chocolate!” I was so excited. Then I put it in my mouth. NOPE. This is NOT chocolate. For those of you who like carob, no offense, but it was FOUL. I watched as my sister popped Hershey’s eggs into her mouth. Life wasn’t fair.
When school ended, per usual, my sister and I went to Long Island to spend it with our Dad, Step-Mom and our Nana. Summers were full of fun and good food. But this summer, no chocolate ice cream after miniature golf, no Entenmann’s chocolate cake. You see, when you’re a kid with weight issues, those are the things that make a good summer, great. A summer with carob was not great.
Within the first few days of arriving, my Nana took me to a small store in town to “get some treats.” Turns out this little store has an entire section of carob horrors. Carob parading as candy bars in various sizes and flavors filled brightly colored baskets. “Ugh, gross,” I said under my breath. But I didn’t want to hurt my Nana’s feelings. She was going out of her way to make sure I had some “treats.” She told me to pick what I wanted. “None of it,” I thought, but grabbed a few “candy” bars. We had a few more of these trips over the course of the summer. Each time I’d pick out carob bars that I knew I’d never eat. The no chocolate rule lasted about a year. Eventually I saw another doctor who looked at me matter-of-factly and said “You’re not allergic to chocolate. Who told you that?” Son of a bitch!
Years later Deb and I were chatting in her living room when we discovered that we had both gone to see Dr. Mean as kids. Deb had the same experience. Although he didn’t tell her she was allergic to chocolate, he said things to her about her weight, implying that being overweight caused her asthma. He didn’t help with her asthma either. He was the worst.
I’m guessing Dr. Mean is long gone now. I’d like to believe that on his deathbed he tried to right all the wrongs he’d done in his career. One wrong in particular had gnawed at him for years: “I’m sorry I told that little chubby girl that she was allergic to chocolate.” I forgive you Dr. Mean.