What is my condition? In short, I sneeze--suddenly, violently, frighteningly--when exposed to bright sunlight.
Do not laugh at my affliction, commonly known as A.C.H.O.O. syndrome, or Autosomal-dominant Compelling Helio-Opthalmic Outburst Syndrome. (Read here for details.)
My suffering has been lifelong, yet my journey towards understanding and acceptance began in the relatively recent past while in medical school in Arizona. There, I would spend many long hours in our quiet, darkened library with my head bent over my textbooks, drooling onto the pages in peaceful slumber. In rare intervening moments of lucidity, the assorted medical minutiae would flutter in and out of my droopy eyes like cactus wrens at dusk. Then, my jejunum would emit borborygmi and I would awaken, knowing that it was time to go home and partake of some delectable morsel, such as Top Ramen, Mac and Cheese, or perhaps an Oreo cookie.
I would stuff my books into my tattered backpack, and I would step out of the dark library into the brilliant afternoon Arizona sunlight. Then, as reliably as flipping on a switch, my nose and head would suddenly explode into sneezing, always three distinct and uncontrollable sneezes. Then, having purged the demons, I would experience a somewhat pleasant feeling of catharsis.
For over a year, I assumed that these sneezing fits were induced by pollen allergies due to the flowering bougainvillea that surrounded the library's entrance. But in our second year, while studying neuroanatomy one day, my professor digressed in his lecture on the cranial nerves. He discussed A.C.H.O.O syndrome, a genetic condition in which a strong, sudden light stimulus triggers constriction of the pupil, which overstimulates of the optic nerve. This overstimulation--in certain people--causes an inadvertent cross-stimulation of the trigeminal nerve, the nerve which controls sneezing. Light-->pupillary constriction-->SNEEZE!
There was no cure, he intoned, only diagnosis. But with that, there came understanding, and thus a measure of peace.
I knew it was true. I was living proof. He asked if anyone in our class who suffered from these symptoms. About 20% of us raised our hands, and I no longer felt so alone.
My brother, Jeff, suffers from this same condition, as do my two sons, though it is not a gender-linked trait. I have a friend whose parent's both have A.C.H.O.O. syndrome, as do all eight of their children. Imagine their trips to the beach.
The Spanish word for "to sneeze" is "destornudar." In Portuguese, it is "espirrar." These are evocative, slightly onomatopoetic words, and they are wholly immaterial to our present discussion. Yet I include them here anyway for your enlightenment, and to highlight the fact that I, in likely contrast to you, am tri-lingual.
I suppose we all have our crosses to bear. A.C.H.O.O. Syndrome is mine. I am currently filing for disability; Uncle Sam will hopefully have compassion, concur with my self-assessment of total medical debilitation, and thus send me a large monthly check. You, American taxpayer, can support me in my disease.
Failing that, I plan on opening a posh medical clinic dedicated to supporting those who are similarly indisposed, where I will educate them on the nature of our disease, commiserating with them for the low price of $125 per fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes of seeking solace and you get a ten percent discount. Or perhaps I will provide "concierge" medical services: $5000 per year, and you have me at your beck and call, providing year-round, expert, and individualized consolation. Perhaps I will take the liberty of prescribing you an antihistamine, which could dampen the sneeze reflex ever-so-slightly. Never mind that similar medications are readily available over-the-counter: this will be a hand-written prescription, and thus will carry presumptively stronger therapeutic power.
In this way, I hope to turn my medical misfortune into an opportunistic source of either free or scandalously cynical income.
So do not weep for me.
Rather, dear friends, sneeze away.