It's quite simple, really.
- step 1: when dining out, tell the waiter/waitress about allergies.
- step 2: carry all medications.
- step 3: make sure said medications are current (not expired).
I met some friends last night at one of my favorite restaurants. There are a few things on the menu that I've never ordered because my go-to standbys are so utterly delicious, it's always hard to veer from them. Last night I changed my mind. Had a hankering for something from the sea. I'm allergic to fish, but not shellfish so I ordered the octopus salad with dandelion greens. One of my dinner companions ordered the same thing - but had her dressing altered to olive oil and lemon juice. It would have been wise for me to have followed suit.
As I learned five hours after the fact, my dressing was made with anchovy fillet. I didn't feel better hours after taking benadryl and finally Googled the recipe. I only have myself to blame. Step 1: ALWAYS tell the waiter/waitress about any allergies.
During an allergy attack, my heart thumps. My fingers and hands shake from the medicine. I feel a strange sort of speedy buzz pulsing through my body from the inhaler, which competes with the utter exhaustion that comes from the benadryl. The reaction to my allergy medicine is sometimes just as intense as the reaction to the allergen itself. Anchovy, as it turns out, tasted quite yummy in that dressing. But I couldn't finish my dish at dinner. I felt a few hives around my mouth and one on my lip. And a golf ball sensation in my esophagus. I know that golf ball sensation. I've known it all too well for a long time. But for some reason last night, I chalked it up to indigestion and to a cross contamination allergy. My allergies to fish (and nuts) are so sensitive that I can get hives if my food is touched by the same utensil that is used to for nuts and fish. Anchovy isn't one of the more powerful or oily fish so the reaction isn't as severe. I would have known after one bite if there was salmon in that dish. And I would have known what to do. You'd think after so many years of handling my allergies I'd be smarter about things and know how to distinguish a reaction to something I've eaten from something that's touched something I've eaten but I never quite feel like I'm in my right mind when an attack comes on. I have trouble thinking clearly.
I left my house last night without my allergy medication. Don't ask me why. I'd certainly get a lecture from my parents for that one - even now as a grown adult with children of my own. And from my husband who, until midnight was on a cross country flight back home after traveling this week for work. When I have an allergic reaction, I've got the internal struggle of feeling completely afraid and helpless and at the same time feeling ultimate pressure to take proper care of myself, by myself. Maybe that's why it's so hard to think clearly. Step 2: ALWAYS carry ALL medications.
I've been to this restaurant a million times, I figured. I wanted to take a small purse. I didn't have room for allergy medicine. I realize how stupid that must sound. Believe me, I'm berating myself worse than any family member of mine could do. By the time I got home, I raced to take two benadryl. Benadryl has been my savior on countless occasions. I'm familiar with the hazy exhaustion it brings. But it's been so long since I had any kind of allergic incident. I'm usually so careful. I'm embarrassed to admit that the benadryl all over my house carried an expiration date of February 2011. Step 3: ALWAYS keep allergy medicines current.
My old boss used to say that expiration dates were things to be ignored. "Marketing tools to buy more product," he'd say. I stayed up until the benadryl's sleepy effects took over, even though I didn't feel the relief I usually feel with a contact allergy. Unusual. It had been an uneasy, uncomfortable 2 hours. I finally googled the recipe for the dish and discovered the underlying reason: the anchovy. No wonder. It wasn't a contact allergy at all. It was a real allergy. I.ate.fish. What an idiot. After some internal debate (and back and forth texts with my husband who landed late and had trouble finding a taxi thanks to last night's storm) I took another benadryl and a dose of the inhaler. The golf ball feeling went away after 10 minutes. My body felt relief.
I had a conversation with my mom just the other day about the terror a parent feels when his or her child has anaphylaxis. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, each of my children has a 7 in 10 chance of having some sort of allergy because my husband and I both have them. "Challenging as it is, you learn to deal with the terror when they are little. You find ways to control situations as much as possible so that you avoid allergens. You get the help you need for them when that fails," she said. "But then there's a whole new level of terror that you feel as a parent when they grow up and you hope that you've done what needs to be done so that they take care of themselves."
Shame on me for not telling the waitress about my allergies. And for not carrying my benadryl with me always. And for not having current supply in stock. I'm okay now. It's just going to be a long, tired day.
People: if you have allergies, please don't be a jackass. I say that in the nicest way possible. Take care of yourself, in the way that you know you have to do for your own best interest.