My Story …part 3

Click here for part 1 of my allergic history, birth to age 4.
Click here for part 2 of my allergic history, up to age 6.

So by age 6, I’d actually been tested for allergies, and my allergies and asthma were coming under better control.

Time went on, and we muddled through.  At some point, the responsibility of carrying of my inhaler and EpiPen (which I now had) was passed on to me.  I remember wearing a fanny pack daily in 5thgrade, so that might have been when we transitioned.  I definitely remember keeping the EpiPen in my backpack by high school, and I particularly remember the flimsy plastic case it used to come in being crushed by the weight of all my books.  I wondered whether it was sterile enough for use if it was unprotected in my bag, picking up all the lint and grit that backpacks gather.
The use of my daily asthma meds was relegated to me as well.  I was diligent, until sometime during my teens, when my mother asked if I was still using my inhalers.  “Sometimes” was my answer.  She rebuked me for that, telling me that they have a cumulative effect and using them once in a while wouldn’t do me any good.  If I wasn’t having problems despite not using the medications properly, then maybe we ought to stop using them altogether.  My asthma did seem to have entered a “honeymoon period,” and so we stopped the daily medication.
In fact, I stopped seeing an allergist altogether for a while (and I’d never been tested yearly like my kids are.)  I continued to get EpiPen, albuterol, and daily antihistamine prescriptions from my primary doctor, but I had food avoidance routines down by that point, my asthma only bothered me when I was sick or sometimes exercising, and I never had any questions.  I saw no need for a specialist.
I continued to have the occasional slip-up in the food allergy department into adulthood.  It took a couple emergency trips to the drug store to buy Benadryl before I finally remembered to always keep some with me.  But still, by the time I was on my own I felt confident in my ability to navigate the grocery store, restaurants, parties, and life in general.
One thing I figured out, probably in my teen years (and something that will certainly make some people shudder), was that I could do a “taste test” for foods I was uncertain of.  If there was a food I wanted to eat, but I couldn’t find a label or the person who made it, I would break off the tiniest crumb of the food and place it on the tip of my tongue.  Then I would wait.  If I felt nothing, I would repeat the process with a slightly larger crumb, and again a few times until I’d eaten a whole bite safely.  If I made it that far, I would eat the food, confident that it did not contain any nuts.  No foods that passed this taste test ever gave me trouble in larger doses.
If, on the other hand, I started to feel the telltale tingly itch of an allergic reaction, I would spit out the crumb, rinse out my mouth, wash my hands, and move on.  Generally if this happened, it happened on the first crumb.  And generally, that was as far as it would go.  Although there was once, while I was babysitting, no less, that a taste-test reaction got a little more severe.  The cookie probably had walnuts in it, which has always been my worst nemesis.  But was that enough to stop a teenager from repeating the process?  Of course not.  (Warning to parents:  Allergic teenagers are scary.  The time between taking responsibility for their own care and full maturity can be fraught with bad decisions.  I’d never thought of it that way until recently, but when analyzing my own behavior, I had to admit that some of it was reckless.  In fact, I’d forgotten about the babysitting incident until I sat down to write this post.)
As I did become an adult, there wasn’t much to report.  Every now and then something would slip under my radar, but the incidents were few and far between.  I took charge of buying my own food, but knew how to read labels and fortunately, tree nuts aren’t as common as some other allergens.  In 2002 I introduced a new family to the complexities of food allergies when I met my husband.  As we got engaged and then married, he and his family got to learn more and more about my corner of the world.
I’ve never asked my husband to completely remove nuts from his diet or our house.  What I do expect is that he thoroughly clean up after himself.  And to know when he can and can’t kiss me.  I had to educate him on what all that meant at the beginning, and I give the occasional reminder even now.  Even though he knows what I’m reminding him of, he manages not to sound impatient when he responds to my reminders.  He knows that this makes me nervous.
Having children was an adventure, as it is for everyone, but especially in the food allergy department.  I’ll give my children their own introductions, but I will say that having kids made me reevaluate how I handle my own allergies.  I’d become lax in some areas, but I can’t teach my kids proper safety if I don’t model responsible behavior.  I can’t check their restaurant choices for allergens while assuming a food is free of mine, even when it has been in the past.  After all, you never know when someone is going to do something wacky, like put walnuts in an egg roll.  And I have a responsibility to be there for my kids.

 

I started seeing an allergist again myself.  I had new questions I’d never before considered, like whether it’s safe to breastfeed after an allergic reaction.  I wasn’t wondering about the drugs so much as whether I might pass anti-walnut antibodies on to my children, thereby giving them my same allergies.  It was a whole new world–a time that causes many people to reevaluate their priorities–and it galvanized me to be safer and to help make the world safer for my children.

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