Thank you to everyone who participated in the Mast Cell Research Team Taylor/Mast Cell Awareness Tank & Mast Cell Story Giveaway!’ We are excited to announce that our winner, chosen at random, is Karen Smith- Will! Karen’s story ‘Twenty Minutes’ is shared below.

“I coughed before the first song. That doesn’t bode well. Not surprising, but it serves as a premonition, a sign of what to expect during this hour. I take a sip of coffee, then cough. A rib under my right breast hurts in punctuation with each cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough.

When the last strains of the prelude end, I slide onto the black, slick bench of the grand piano and play.

I’ve just stopped playing Giardini’s majestic, “Come, Thou Almighty King,” a 1750s Italian hymn. Next is “Spirit of the Living God”—a gentler “contemporary” chorus written in 1935.

I slide from the bench to a still-highly-visible red chair beside the bench and slightly behind the piano. It has great lumbar support.

I’m not supposed to have a beverage in this space. On the other hand, subbing for someone else means accepting my quirks & tics & loud coughing & coffee. I take a sip.

Someone coughs. I notice every cough—I don’t want them to have to cough, but I appreciate the foil for my interruptions.

The scripture is read. I return to the bench, to play Crosby’s “Near the Cross.” Somehow, I manage to play the entire song without coughing or itching.

I slide back to the chair while coughing the cough I’d managed to hold back. I had held it, because you’re not supposed to cough without covering your mouth. My hands had been playing.

I mentally prepare to sit still, in full view, for 20 minutes.

A sneeze is coming; I mentally wonder when the last time this piano was dusted.

Shoo! I feel better. And wonder-upon-wonders, just 1 sneeze.

A dry scratch in my throat. I take another sip of coffee.

My right calf is itching. There’s a privacy wall, so no one will see me scratch that.

An itch behind my left ear. Yeesh, I’ve already raised my hand above the wall, and we’re just 1 minute in.

Itch on right earlobe.

Back middle by spine.

Ache in back. This chair is about the best I could be in, but even so, my sciatica or sacroiliac rears its head.

Itch just behind left hip.

Nose. How many ways can you itch your nose without it being wrong? Trust me, I’ve tried hard to figure this one out.

Under my bra.

Right leg behind calf.

Right above ear in hairline. I can masquerade this one as pulling strands of hair behind my right ear. Right inside of hairline.

Calves feel achy…how can I get them comfortable?

Left cheek near mouth.

Left shin…hey, that’s an insect bite. Could that be what kicked off the wandering pruritus?

Achy left foot…stretch. Flex, stretch, flex, stretch.

On left shin.

Right behind ear.

The back of my right thigh aches.

Shallow breath…let’s test…ok, good, I take a full breath.

Ahhh, time for the presyncope. It starts in a tightening, or added weight outside my upper arms. Here comes the light nausea feeling.

I pump my calves, pump my calves.

I start my deep, rhythmic breathing.

I’m sitting very tall. No, of course my legs aren’t crossed.

Right eyelid corner itch. It takes 6 rubs with the tip of my finger to get it to feel okay enough to ignore it. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink.

Itch nose right crease.


Throat closed feeling—it is the angina or do I have a lesion?

I heave one dry cough. Sip of coffee.

Left arm forearm spasm.

I feel teary. Nothing is wrong, so I start progressive relaxation. Tighten the muscles in the left leg. Release. Muscles in the right arm…and so on.

Started fidgeting; right hand using my thumb to pinch each of my fingers in turn, on the fingernail. Pointer, middle, ring, pinkie. I ball up my fist.

The back of the smooth, linen-blend skirt hem is irritating the side of my knee. I adjust it.

My left foot is aching, tingling. I move my left foot against chair leg, propping it up so my toes press into the ground. That works.

Left cheekbone itch.

Deep rhythmic breathing.

Left outer cheek.

Right outside waist.

Top right of head under hair.

Right under leg.

Right back under hair. Which is in a bun so no hairs touch my face and kick off the flushing. Nose right outer nostril. Use my fist to rub, under & up.

Hair touching right ear.

Bad, bad itching on right cheekbone and left + left insect leg shin.

Right ear center.

Left hip.

Right knee—oh no, this itch is bad, bad, like a screaming itch I can’t ignore.

Under left foot. This are the worst…but I can slide my shoe off and itch it with the other foot. Left temple hair above ear.


Right neck.

Left eyebrow.

Back above hip.

Left of eye under glasses.

Left crease nose.

Top crown left. Oh, that one is bad, bad. “Let’s pray.”

Think that was hard to read? imagine living it.

50 years of this.

A 7-year-old who can’t manage to sit still.

A 20-something who is trying to draw no attention to herself on a professional stage for a whole concert. Don’t pity me;

I’ve been sick my whole life, and I’m sort of accustomed to it.

But please, just imagine. Consider a world where mast cells—or something—within fights battles that don’t need to be fought.

I’ve had specialists all my life. Most believe everything about this trial. Some, take a while longer. I’d like to be healed of this.

But sometimes people aren’t healed. They live with their conditions…their coughing, their itching, their muscle aches, their fainting spells, their bone aches, their embarrassment, their _ [fill in the blank].

And sometimes, they slide from the blue chair over to the black bench, to play Scott’s “Open My Eyes, That I May See” for the invitation.

All the while hoping that, for once, others’ eyes could be opened.”

Copyright Valutivity LLC ©2017 Karen Smith-Will