On my deathbed, I will have the nurse bring me the following: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of pecan pie, a 13 ounce jar of Nutella, peanut M&Ms and an ice-cold glass of almond milk. I will savour each new taste, reflecting on the years I spent avoiding these foods, as my lungs deflate and my airways close off.
This time, no one will stab an epipen into the side of my thigh, force me to chug a bottle of benadryl as if I’m a contestant in a drinking contest or run every red light in an effort to get me to the hospital. No – this time I will already be there, reaching for the jar of Nutella as my closest family friends clutch each other, crying into their shirt sleeves.
When I was two years old, in an attempt to shut me up during a long car ride, my sister handed me a peanut M&M. It worked – but not because I enjoyed the chocolaty, peanut butter taste of it. And when my mom turned around from the passenger seat, she discovered, in the worst way possible, that I had a nut allergy.
Nuts are everywhere – hiding in the tiniest, unexpected places. Because of this, I had to give away most of my Halloween candy. I have to ask ice cream servers to use separate scoopers. I have to buy bigger purses to accommodate for my epipen, inhaler and benadryl. I have to politely ask people to not eat their peanut butter sandwiches around me and to wash their hands when they’re finished. I knew how to read labels at the age of six, and I know how to identify nuts just by using my sense of smell – because every time I eat food that I don’t prepare, I am putting my life in someone else’s hands, and it’s a terrifying concept.
Yet there are still ice cream servers who use the same scooper. There are bakers who place chocolate chip cookies on the same plate as peanut butter ones. There are chefs who forget to leave the almonds out of my salad, neighbors who only bought butterfingers for trick-or-treating candy and flight attendants who only offer peanuts as a snack for my three hour flight.
Their ignorance has sent me to aisle 4 of CVS, cracking open a bottle of Benadryl and finishing it before I even get the chance to pay for it. It has led me to the bathroom, puking my guts out because my body can’t digest one accidental bite. After surviving these near death experiences, I am shocked by how many people don’t understand that 90 percent of food allergies are caused by common foods.
My mom pays $200 per epipen to ensure that I am safe when I board an airplane that is serving peanuts, or if I accidentally got one almond in my salad or when people are just forgetful and inconsiderate of my allergy. Because there are people who don’t realize that even the tiniest trace of a peanut or a nut could kill me within minutes of it entering my body.
Granted, there are times when I am loose with my allergy. I take risks. I forget to double check. I share a straw with someone who is eating peanut butter, I still enjoy a Five Guy’s burger while being surrounded by bags of peanuts and I still eat candy bars that were made in the same factories as peanut butter ones. My mom scolds me everytime I tell her it’s embarrassing to carry an inhaler with me everywhere I go. I tell her, “It’s just food. I’m fine, Mom”.
I never understood her concern until over the summer when I stumbled upon an article about how people with nut allergies can cause severe damage to their babies when they’re pregnant if they accidentally eat any trace of a nut or peanut. When I read this, I started crying. Not only do others not understand severities of common food allergies, I didn’t even fully understand mine.
Fourteen years later, I remember the aisles of CVS and the bathroom floors and the hospital walls whenever I order food from a restaurant. I subconsciously smell my food before I eat it, and I cautiously tear off little pieces of my food for my friends to try first, just to be safe. Because there is nothing wrong with having an allergy, or carrying an inhaler or being extra cautious. But for now, I’ll look forward to my ice cold glass of almond milk as I sip on my 2%.