I can’t, for the life of me, eat anything new without suffering the agony of a “possible anaphylactic shock”.
You would think that being 37 years old I have already been exposed to most foods out there, and so the chance of hitting on a new food to which I would be allergic to, would be pretty slim, right? Wrong!
I fear an allergic reaction to most foods that I have not eaten in a while, with the reasoning behind it being that “you can always develop an allergy to any food later on in life“.
And so the torture starts each time I eat “outside of the box”. For example, just yesterday I had a Subway sandwich for lunch. It had turkey, ham, maybe some bacon and cheese in it. Oh yes, and lettuce and tomatoes.
As soon as I bit into it, I started wondering if I could have an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in the sandwich. This is how my thought process starts:
I have ham all the time, I can’t be allergic to that. But the turkey, that could cause a problem, because I never eat turkey, so technically I could be allergic to it and not know it. But I do eat it at Thanksgiving and it has never given me a problem. Hmm. But I haven’t had a Subway sandwich in years, and maybe there is something in their bread, or even on their counters that I could be allergic to…
And the torture starts.
It is worse as soon as I eat whatever it is I am eating, because the anaphylactic shock could hit me right away, and the quicker it hits you the more dangerous it is. So a few minutes after I finish my meal I feel my throat closing in. It never fails. I feel my tongue hitting my back teeth (it always hits them, but in these moments I feel it more, of course) and I wonder if it’s swelling up.
I try to calm myself down, but it never works. It doesn’t work because I can’t completely convince myself that I am not allergic to whatever I have just eaten, because there is that minuscule chance that I could be allergic to it.
It doesn’t matter what kind of food I eat. It doesn’t have to be one of those with higher allergenic problem (peanuts, shellfish, etc…), even if you can bet your house that there is no way I would try and have a peanut these days. No way. And I’ve eaten M&Ms all my life. And I know I am not allergic to them. But considering the state I am in these days, I rather avoid the sure torture I would put myself through if I had one stupid peanut.
The are probably two reasons why this has become such a big problem now (it probably started last August, in Boston): one is because I am so overly sensitized that I only need to worry about something that the panic quickly follows, and two because just like I’ve written about in the What Are You Afraid Of? post, I particularly fear anything that can kill me as quick as possible.
Back in Boston, during a nice vacation, I had the pleasure to visit the Aquarium and then enjoy a nice meal at Legal Seafood right across the street. Let me rephrase that. I enjoyed the meal up until the oysters arrived.
I’ve never been a big oysters fan, but when I was pregnant I had been invited to a birthday celebration at a Legal Seafood restaurant, where my friend had ordered pretty much everything on the menu for us to try and enjoy: lobster, crab, shrimps and all different kind of oysters!
I guess it’s because I was pregnant, but for the first time those oysters looked sooooo good to me, except I couldn’t have any because it’s not safe to eat raw fish while pregnant. So that night I had plenty of crab and lobster, but no oysters, and I promised myself that as soon as the baby popped out of my belly I was going to have an oyster fest at the closest Legal Seafood restaurant I could find!
Fast forward a year or so, and here I am in Boston, drooling while waiting for my oysters order.
As soon as the waiter left us with a dozen of the supposedly succulent mollusks, I grabbed one and even before it touched my mouth, in the fastest thought process I’ve ever had, I heavily pondered on the possibility that I could have an allergic reaction to it. The oyster made it to my mouth, but only half way through, and as I sank my teeth deep in it, I couldn’t bite all the way down. I took the oyster still in the shell out of my mouth. I quickly thought about the fact that I had one oyster years ago, when my dad forced me to try one and all I remember was that I didn’t like it much.
So technically I wasn’t allergic to oysters. Technically. But theoretically I could have developed an allergy later on, or even better, I could have developed some antibodies to that one oyster that I ate back then and now these antibodies could come out and kill me because I was having oysters again.
I put the oyster back down on the plate. I hadn’t eaten any of it, but I had some of it in my mouth for a few seconds, which in my book means I can still get an allergic reaction to it. I immediately started hyperventilating and feeling hot and dizzy. I tried to look normal in front of my family but in my mind I was sure I was about to pass out (and maybe die from the allergic shock).
The time left in that restaurant was all ruined for me. I couldn’t stop anticipating the terrible thing that was about to happen to me and all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel to get on the internet to check on the symptoms and especially on the timeline of an anaphylactic shock.
As soon as we got there, I did just that, and while I was checking on the computer I started discussing the possibility of a reaction with my fiancé, who of course started looking at me as if I had three heads.
To my horror I found out that an allergic reaction could take up to 24 hours to show up. The silver lining was that the quicker you get a reaction, the more dangerous it is. So if for the first few hours you don’t get any reactions, you shouldn’t die from one if you get it later on. Don’t use this as a medical fact, I’m just relating what I got out of the hundreds of sites I consulted that evening of our “relaxing vacation”. After 24 hours I felt I was out of the danger zone, and I was able to enjoy the rest of our vacation (up until when we had lobster up in Maine…)
These days anything and everything can agitate me to no end and put me in an “anaphylactic shock” state of mind: the dentist (the anesthesia), any restaurant, medicines, beauty products, perfumes, vitamins, a spa visit (the oil the use to massage me)… I feel there is no end to the things I could be allergic to.
If you really want to know, I have had allergic reactions in the past. The one that definitely counts as real was an allergic reaction to a medicine. I developed hives on my left arm that then turned into lots of little clusters of itchy and red bumps, that then turned into crusty scabs. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t pleasant either. The funny part is that at that time the episode didn’t even bother or worry me that much.
Today something like that would have had me at the ER in record time.
So on my way to recovery, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I better stick with what I know, even if it means eating the same few foods for a while (and using the same shampoos, the same makeup, etc…), at least this way I won’t promote any more anxiety than I need to. I also have decided to go see an allergist, so that I can ask some questions and clarify any doubts and wrong thinking I might have. I’m also going to ask for a routine test to rule out the more common allergies (and of course you can bet I’ll ask them what happens in case of a reaction, will they give me an epipen to take home with me???) ;)
Hopefully all this will go away soon, because I do love eating out at a restaurant every so often, and with this “condition” enjoying a meal has become very difficult.