Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t have an eating disorder or a fear of getting fat or anything like that. I have a fear of my throat swelling shut and not being able to breathe. I am one of many who suffer from developed food allergies. Unlike some allergies, you cannot build up an immunity by exposing yourself to small amounts. Every exposure often makes your reaction worse than the time before.
The last time I went to the hospital, it was because I ate food that had been cooked in the same pan as a dish containing a few shrimp. One bite was enough to make my lips break out in hives, my skin start itching, and my throat to start swelling shut. After being rushed to the ER and immediately taken back (nothing says ‘you in trouble’ like being put in a bed in the hallway by the triage nurse) and pumped full of drugs that made me feel absolutely horrible, I now carry an Epi Pen with me wherever I go.
Every time I eat at a restaurant that serves shellfish, I’m terrified. There are health codes to protect people with allergies, but all it takes is one person not paying attention in the kitchen and I’m screwed. Sushi and hibachi places are particularly scary. Food preparation surfaces that are not cleaned between each set of food can send me to the hospital. There are also many items that I am not allergic to, but can no longer eat, like fish. Many fish are prepared and packaged in the same facilities that process shellfish. I bought salmon once and while preparing it, my hands and arms broke into hives. So no more fish. Even if someone near me orders a shellfish dish, my skin starts to itch.
It was scary before, but I dealt with it. Now that I am alone with Evelyn often, I’m terrified.
I don’t trust food I didn’t make myself. When I eat at restaurants that serve shellfish in any of their dishes, I will take a small bite and wait fifteen minutes before I eat anymore, just in case.
I find myself commonly thinking about where the nearest hospital is. This might seem excessive, but I now have a new fear. I am developing more allergies. I can’t eat bananas anymore. I get hives on my tongue. I feel like eating is dangerous for me.
Some ask what the benefits of making my own baby food are. The truth is, I am trying to make sure she isn’t exposed to foods that are common allergens or things I have problems with until after she is one year old. Some studies suggest this may help, others say it doesn’t make a significant difference, but I will do ANYTHING I possibly can if it MIGHT help Evelyn avoid allergies, even if it just prolongs the development of some of them.
Maybe one day they will come up with a permanent cure or treatment for food allergies. Until then, I will have to continue missing out on dinners with friends and family who go to sushi restaurants or seafood dominant eateries. I will continue to read every ingredient list on every package of food I buy. I will continue to be afraid of eating at new places.
As far as food allergies go, shellfish and bananas are nothing. They are relatively easy to avoid. There are people who have far more dangerous and scary allergies than I do (milk, wheat, soy, peanut oil, etc) and I feel for them. I have only experienced the feeling of having my airway constrict and knowing it will keep me from breathing if I don’t get help fast twice and it is haunting. I can’t imagine those who experience it more frequently, or the fear the parents of children with food allergies must have.
I just hope Evelyn lucked out and my random food allergy genes will leave her untouched.