The last few years have been pretty good, allergy-wise: only a couple screwups with meals eaten at McDonalds. To be fair to McD the screw-ups were mine: Apparently cross contamination is quite possible if you forget to mention your allergies at 1 AM. Also… tartar sauce has relish (and therefore cucumbers)! Who knew?!?
Last fall I began to suspect I might have added bell peppers to my list for OAS, but it was nothing serious so I just sidestepped them when possible.
Then came Boxing Day. I finished work earlier than anticipated and was suddenly able to join my family for fondue at my brother’s. My brother has many of the same allergens as me, except he can eat them cooked and they’re not serious at all. We’re pretty sure some of the kids’ applesauce probably ended up in the same fondue pot I was using. OOOPS. I started noticing symptoms near the end of the meal, went to lie down for a bit on the couch. The two almost-3yr olds clamoured over me, looking for cuddles and asking me to read a story. At this point I started having trouble breathing, but I didn’t want to alarm the kids. They were unfortunately too young to understand that my directive to “go get daddy NOW” was important enough to be allowed to interrupt a conversation… Eventually I did get my brother’s attention, and some ventolin. We tried Benadryl as well, but no luck. I should mention here: I’m under specific orders to try that first from my allergist because I have so many mild allergens… Otherwise “epi at first symptoms” would land me in the ER every couple days…
Long story short I did take epi- and it was the first time any of my family members had seen me having a serious reaction. From my perspective that was a positive step, because it felt like my siblings (and the kids!) started to really understand that this was serious. I also got to visit the Queensway Carleton ER, and thus have visited every ER in Ottawa.
In the weeks that followed, I started having major reactions every few days. The neighbours (a lot of whom are medical professionals!) texted us frequently to check if I was ok… And a few things quickly became clear:
- I had developed a new allergen, and we had NO CLUE what it was
- Most of the time, I don’t think straight when reactions get serious. Relying on me to make a decision is a BAD idea. So we made an emergency protocol sheet, complete with a section to circle the symptoms, write the times and log the foods recently eaten!
- My allergist isn’t very good at getting back to me.
A bunch of people started joking that perhaps I was collecting Frequent Flyer Miles at the hospital… It certainly felt that way when I started recognizing the registration staff, the nurses, the paramedics… I was even put in the same bed three times! It got quite embarrassing, being recognized by everyone- especially as I was trying SO hard to be careful what I ate, and didn’t know the culprits. Any of you with allergies will know that feeling of helplessness, trying to balance the time required to play food detective and the time required to cook said food in such a way as to hope it won’t kill you.
Finally, by the end of January we were up to 8 visits to hospital (sadly only one did not involve epi) and I finally had my diagnosis. Peppers, both bell and black, tested positive. But generally my skin test wasn’t that reactive so my allergist suspected sulphite sensitivity as well.
So far that’s been super helpful- the more I avoid sulphites it seems the less reactive I am! I’ve still been having a major reaction once a month or so, but considering I share my cooking spaces and eating spaces with all of my allergens this is perhaps unsurprising.
It also means I can basically no longer eat anything I didn’t prepare myself- sulphites are both naturally occurring in some foods AND added. The easiest way so far to convince people that no, I really can’t trust their kitchen has been to explain that I am allergic to salt and pepper. Sulphites are often added to both as an anti-clumping agent. For pepper it’s a double whammy as I am both allergic to the pepper itself as well as the added sulphites. 😤 In some ways, it’s actually easier than before, as I no longer have to obsessively quiz my generous friends about the ingredients in things… But I miss processed food. A lot.