Imagine if Picasso had been allergic to paint. If Fellini had been allergic to film. If Bevis had been allergic to Butt-head.
Who knows how warped modern culture might be.
While you're pondering that, consider this: Spencer Miller, a Marina High swimmer and water polo player, is allergic to chlorine.
While that might not play havoc with world events, it certainly causes Miller a bit of concern. Especially because he spends four or more hours in the pool each day.
It all started during his freshman year. Miller developed a painful, itchy rash on his back during water polo season. Doctors diagnosed the problem as \o7 folliculitis\f7 , a blockage of the hair follicles that causes the skin intense irritation. Miller tried medicated creams but the problem only seemed to get worse. He tried different pools, but the results were the same: blotchy, itchy, burning skin.
By the spring swim season, the problems were increasing. The fumes from the chlorine, Miller says, were making it tough to breathe. There were times he had to swim to the side to catch his breath or quit practice altogether.
At first, Marina Coach John Wright didn't know what to think. He'd heard some good excuses in his day, but a chlorine allergy? It didn't help, Wright says, that the doctor who made the initial diagnosis was Miller's uncle. But once Wright realized the extent of Miller's struggle--and after a second doctor confirmed the diagnosis--Wright became more understanding.
Miller's teammates were another matter. They teased him relentlessly, insinuating that he was a wimp. Complaining about the chlorine levels in the pool--something most of the players did from time to time--became known as the "Miller syndrome." And the allergy? Many of his teammates figured it was merely another chapter in his ever-imaginative lifestyle.
This was, after all, the same Spencer Miller who once woke up in the middle of a forest--after sleepwalking a mile from his family's campsite. This was the same Spencer Miller who (despite being the last person on Earth to need a sugar or caffeine buzz) once guzzled two bottles of Jolt Cola just for fun.
Miller kept his sense of humor, even though his sensitivity to chlorine gradually became worse. Last year, he had so much trouble breathing, he twice had to be helped out of the pool.
Although there are times--this week, for example--when the rash suddenly subsides, sometimes it itches so much he can't even sleep. (Imagine lying in a bed filled with ants and spiders and you get the picture.)
Miller's uncle, Palos Verdes pediatrician and allergist Larry Sher, said it's the worse case he has ever seen. "Most swimmers get mild reactions to chlorine from time to time," says Sher, who swam and played water polo for Marina in the late 1970s. "But this is severe. The only way to get rid of it, in reality, is to stay out of the pool."
Which leads to the natural question: Why doesn't Miller--an A student who scored 1,360 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test--get smart and find another sport? (Apart from diving or synchronized swimming, that is).
Actually, Miller says, he hoped to play football in high school, but his parents nixed that idea from the get-go.
"My mom's like 'Ms. Statistic,' " Miller says. "She's always saying, 'Well, don't you know 85% of the people who play football in high school or college wind up with a back or neck injury . . . ' My mom has a statistic for everything."
So why not try a sport other than that? Well, Miller says, he happens to enjoy the aquatic pursuits. He was a Southern Section qualifier in the 500-yard freestyle last spring. He's one of the Sunset League's better defensive players in water polo this fall. And despite the chiding he takes from his teammates, he likes hanging out with them, too.
Besides, rash or no rash, he can take it, he says.
"Sometimes this thing is torture," Miller says, reaching over his shoulder to scratch his back. "But right now, I'm fine."
But a water polo player allergic to chlorine? Miller shrugs and smiles.
"Actually," he says, "the whole thing's pretty funny when you think about it."
But more often than not, life's an itch.