For the most part, I have always been extremely careful with my food allergies. So careful, that up through high school, I never had an anaphylactic reaction. So when I was in college, I questioned things a little. I asked my mom, "how do we really know I’m THAT allergic? Don’t you think I can try that 'may contain' and probably be fine?"
It’s probably these questions that keep college allergy moms up at night.
Well, I learned my allergy lesson my sophomore year of college. I was trying a new place and asked all of my usual questions. Looking at the menu, everything seemed safe for me. I did takeout and about fifteen minutes after I ate my first french fry, I knew something was wrong. The first sign was weird stomach pain, different than anything I’d ever felt. I called my parents and kept them on the phone with me while I administered my Auvi-Q to myself for the first time and through my arrival at the ER. Many hours and a whole lot of questions later, it was revealed that the restaurant staff would occasionally fry Snickers bars in the oil the french fries were fried in. An item that wasn’t on the menu, that they just did for fun.
It was like a huge wake up call to me, trust no one.
After that, I pretty much stopped eating. I no longer trusted my safe foods, any restaurants I had previously been to, or my dining hall. Whenever I took a bite of food, I would start my internal clock, counting down fifteen minutes and looking for signs of another anaphylactic reaction. I would often ask my friends I was eating with, "do I look okay? Are there hives on my face?" Because I couldn’t tell if the weird stomach pain I had was from an allergen or the fact that I was absolutely terrified.
Sitting down to eat was a terrible experience that I dreaded everyday.
For about four months, I limited my eating. If I ate all my food once a day, there would only be one countdown period and then I wouldn’t have to fear food anymore until the next day. I kept this up until I arrived home for summer vacation. Once I was home, my parents could see how different things were. I grilled them on every ingredient in any meal they prepared and felt I no longer had to hide my fifteen minute panic.
We then started a new routine.
As soon as I was finished eating, we would move on and out of the kitchen. It was like “Operation: Distract Sarah.” We would do something like watch a movie, play a game, or go shopping, and slowly I started to stop my fifteen minute clock.
The biggest thing that I often still need to tell myself is I don’t have to sit around waiting for an allergic reaction. If it’s going to happen, nothing's going to stop it and it will push through. I’m in tune with my body, and I will notice and follow all of the correct steps.
Since then, I have not had another anaphylactic allergic reaction. I have gotten even more careful, and no longer eat any fried foods out, as I have found it just isn't worth it. When I eat something I am unsure of, I immediately revert to my fifteen minute countdown.
After all, I would rather eat a salad than take part in a round of Fear Factor: Food Allergy Edition.