Saturday, December 12, 2009

Oh The Stories They Tell...

One of my least favorite parts about having anaphylactic allergies, is listening to stories from people who don't have anaphylactic allergies, talk about people they once knew or stories they heard from other people, about someone dying from an allergic reaction. I am always confused why people tell me these stories. Does it bring them comfort?

No matter what you may have, no one ever wants to hear about stories of someone dying from the same thing they have. In my experience, it only makes me feel worse and more concerned. Of course I listen, but I don't like to. There is a consistent theme with almost every one of these stories: NO EPI-PEN!

Almost every time someone tells me a story about their friend or this person they knew that died from food allergies, I ask, "Did they have their epi-pen?" More often then not the answer is NO. They may not have had a reaction since they were little, or they didn't think they would be eating, and therefore didn't have their epi. As sad and as difficult as these stories are to hear, each time it reinforces to me how important it is to ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS NO MATTER WHAT have my epi-pens with me at all times!

Last weekend I was in Salzburg, Austria. I went with my roommate and another friend of ours. I packed enough food for the entire weekend, just in case I had difficulty finding food. In the car we were all talking, and our friend started telling this story of her friend who had died from food allergies. She said that her friend had gone out camping with a group of people, and hadn't realized that they used peanut oil in something they had made. According to my friend, since the girl hadn't had a reaction since she was four years old, and was always good at avoiding peanuts, she didn't have an epi-pen with her. She ate some of the food, had an anaphylactic reaction, was isolated in the middle of the woods, and had no epi-pen to help save her. This story made me sad. I hate hearing about stories like that. If only she had her epi-pen, she could have been okay.

I went out to dinner last night in the city where I live. I wanted to order a pizza. I gave the server my chef card. She thought that I would be all set, but in our broken Italian we asked her if she could bring it back to the kitchen. A few minutes later a man came over to us and asked if we spoke English. "Si," I said, of course using my basic Italian automatically, instead of just saying, "yes." He said that he was 99.9% sure that the flour should be fine in the pizza, but he wasn't 100% sure, so he wanted me to know that. He asked if I had pizza in the city before, which of course I had many times. He said that it was probably the same flour and fine, but he didn't want to guarantee me. THEN, he went into this story about how when he used to work at a restaurant in London, there was a man who had died from food allergies. Another fun story to hear while I am out to dinner, trying to find something else to order! I ended up having a salad.

I don't think that people think about what they are saying, and how it will make other people feel . Maybe it only seems obvious to me that I wouldn't want to hear about someone that died from food allergies, while I am trying to find something to order out to dinner??? Unfortunately, it seems that too often I am told stories like this.

These stories remind me of my first bee sting. I was six, almost seven years old, and I was going into first grade that coming fall. I was at a day camp where they had horseback riding, arts & crafts, and a lake to swim in. One afternoon we were leaving the lake and walking back up to go change into dry clothes, and I must have stepped near a hive. A bee stung me in the back of the foot. Since everyone knew I had food allergies, they took my first bee sting very seriously. I remember one of the counselors scooping me up and running me over to the infirmary.

I always had my Benedryl and Epi-pens with me, even at that age, so I was all prepared if I did have a problem. The nurse immediately gave me some Benedryl. I sat there in my wet bathing suit on a table, waiting to see if I got any further reaction. The nurse and my counselor were talking about to each other about this girl that had been there the summer before and had an anaphylactic reaction. I remember feeling very nervous as I listened to this. My throat felt dry, and it felt like I couldn't swallow. The nurse saw me reacting to my dry throat from her scary story, thought I was having anaphylaxis, panicked, and gave me three shots of epinephrine! To this day, I am almost 100 percent sure that I did not have an anaphylactic reaction. I was reacting to the story that she was talking about it and it made me panic! This entire situation was not handled well by the nurse. I remember how furious my mom was by the entire thing! There was no reason to administer so much epinephrine, then they drove me to a hospital that was a half hour away, instead of calling an ambulance. They told my mom the wrong location of the hospital. Ugh...what a mess! On top of that, after all of this I then had to get tested at the allergist with a whole group of other people for every type of bee that there is! I may have only been six years old, but I remember all of this!

It is so important as an adult that you are careful about what you say in front of your children. Even though they may be little, they can still hear you, and they can still get scared. When I was little, that is something that I never would have expressed out loud. I never would have said that the story scared me and I panicked. Children will probably not tell you, but they will remember that it scared them!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Cause for Understanding

Tonight I was in the kitchen making dinner with my roommate when she said in the middle of our school focused conversation, "Are you sure you want to know? It will make you mad, and trust me because it made me really mad, so I would imagine it would make you even more mad!"

Of course I was curious about what this madness was about! She told me that a teacher that she teaches with, was planning to do an assembly on peanuts. Apparently this teacher had done an assembly last year on popcorn, so this year she wanted to do one on peanuts (we really aren't sure why these foods are assembly worthy, but that is not really the point, is it?) My roommate told this teacher that was not a good idea because people are allergic to peanuts. The teacher was extremely rude to her and yelled at her saying that they would not stop an assembly because one teacher in the school was allergic to peanuts. My roommate tried to explain to her, but she is a perfect example of someone who truly doesn't get it!

At a staff meeting a few weeks after my roommate told me, she brought it up right to me. She said, "Well, I was going to do the assembly on peanuts, but your allies here stuck up for you about your allergies." She then continued to add rude comments. I tried to explain the seriousness, but she would not listen and did not want to understand. She is one of the many people that make having life-threatening food allergies that much more difficult. Luckily though, there are people like my roommate that are there for me to back me up when I need it!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I May Be in My Twenties, But She is Still My Mom...

"Ugh, I am so full! My stomach hurts," I said, in the car yesterday afternoon on the way to the airport with my parents. My mom made an early dinner that was the size of a mini-Thanksgiving feast, so that I would eat before my trip back to Italy.

For Thanksgiving my mom had made a squash soup that was delicious. I had some of it before we left the house for the airport. When I announced my stomach pains in the car, my mom started to panic, thinking maybe there was something in the soup. I guaranteed her that it was not an allergic reaction, but the consumption of too much tasty food! My mom called my sister at home anyway, to have her double check an ingredient. Of course it was fine, but sometimes there are certainly some scary moments of second-guessing.

Since I don't live at home, my mom doesn't have to be as careful with ingredients as she would be if I did. Very rarely does she second-guess what she puts in something she makes me, but she is human, she is my mom, and it does happen.

I want to share this, so that you moms out there know that even as we allergic reactors get older, it is still natural to second-guess and worry about us and our allergies once in a while. My mom almost never seems worried or concerned about my allergies, but every now and then, something triggers concern. Even though I know my mom is always careful when I am around, I know that sometimes she forgets that I am in my twenties, always double check everything I put in my mouth, and therefore she shouldn't worry! Love you Mom!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last Minute Flight Home, a Day at the Airport, and the Memory of My Uncle

It was this past Friday night around 11 p.m. when I sat down to book a very early morning flight home to the U.S. My uncle passed away suddenly from a massive stroke and I needed to get home to be with my family as soon as possible.

I didn't have time to call the airline ahead of time about my allergies. I decided that I would speak to them when I arrived at the gate. When I asked at the gate, I was told that they did not have bags of nuts, and that I could also inform the flight attendants about my allergies when I got on board. My first flight was only one hour to Rome, where I was supposed to have a two hour layover before heading home. There were no problems on the first flight. It was a 7 a.m. flight. I definitely think that taking early morning flights cuts down on the chances of being served allergic foods.

Once I arrived in Rome, I didn't see the gate for my second flight. I looked at my ticket. It said my flight wasn't taking off until 4:30 p.m. I went and waited in a long line at Alitalia. They said that there were mechanical errors and that there were no flights to get home until the one that left at 4:30 p.m. The woman at Alitalia told me that I could go show them my ticket to get a free lunch at the cafeteria (very helpful when I can't eat anything there). This meant that I had eight hours to spend in the airport without much food. I had packed myself some crackers, but I wasn't anticipating that I would be spending so much time in the airport. This is when I realized I should have 1.) brought my Italian chef card with me in case I wanted to try to buy something to eat and 2.) packed more food to snack on just in case I got stuck at the airport. I never usually eat anything on the airplane, even if I bring my own food. I also didn't have much to eat at my apartment, didn't have time to buy anything, and was certainly not focused on eating with everything else going on.

The eight hours in the airport worked out okay. I probably spent a good three hours reading the back covers and beginnings of every book in the bookstore. I also found some other people who were bumped to the afternoon flight, to talk and play card games with while waiting. It worked out fine in the end. I also realized how Italian I am becoming! Many of the Americans on my flight were so angry about the delay, whereas I was just like, "Okay, I have eight hours to hang out before I can fly home," and shrugged my shoulders. It's funny how things change!

My second flight from Rome to the U.S. was fine. I asked them not to serve any bags of nuts (which they didn't have anyway...I don't think many European airlines do). Of course I didn't eat, and was starving by the time I arrived home, but I was greeted at the airport with food, and it turned out okay.

It is now being home that is the tougher part and facing the loss our family has.

I love you Uncle Howard. You are always in my memory. xo

Thursday, November 19, 2009

People Support in Italia

My first night in Italy was overwhelming. Not only had I just met all of these people, but I was exhausted from traveling, and didn't even know where I was, as I followed a group of other teachers to a welcome dinner for us. On our way, we stopped and stood in this beautiful piazza as the sun was starting to set over the Adriatic. I was excited and happy about this new adventure in my life. It felt like the right place to be.

That night at dinner, is when I first introduced my allergies to the director of my school, along with some other school staff. I had mentioned to one of the teachers I spoke with before coming, but I didn't want to worry anybody, and at my age, it is certainly not a job prerequisite to let people know. I had my chef card in Italian. I took it out to order dinner. I was sitting near an Italian woman who works in the school office, and she looked at my card and helped me order. Pheww...! The meal went well. I did have a lot of attention brought upon me by my allergies, but just out of peoples' surprise by how many I had, and how careful I had to be. I am so used to this kind of attention at every new experience that I embark upon, so I already knew what to expect.

The pizza I had that night, I think is still the best pizza that I have had since living in Italy! I had no problems, and by the end of the night, most people there, had some idea of my allergies.

My first night in Italy with my most favorite pizza!

My roommate, co-teacher, school staff, and friends, have all been really fabulous with my food allergies! I feel so lucky with the amount of kindness, caring, and support, that people have given me here. Right from the beginning, I have had no difficulties with people not taking my food allergies seriously. The school secretary helped me speak to the kitchen staff about my allergies, to make sure I would be able to eat the lunch, and gave them a copy of my Chef card to put in the kitchen.

My co-teacher always makes sure to wash her hands if she eats anything with nuts. My roommate has her own peanut butter knife that she keeps in her kitchen cabinet, and is extremely careful not to use it with the sponges. She also is awesome about washing her hands if we are out somewhere and she eats something I can't have. Peanuts are often served with drinks at a cafe or bar, so that is often where I need to be most careful about people remembering. I am very lucky to have her though! She definitely understands and is amazing about it! My other friends from school are also very sweet about it. Whenever someone has a dinner party, they always ask about my allergies, and try to make sure I can eat what they are making. I have never been around people in a new situation who are so aware about my allergies, and care about making sure I can also eat. It is really extraordinary to feel that included!

The Coop- Grocery Shopping!

My neighborhood grocery store, and a common chain in this area, is called the Coop. My first trip to the grocery store, I had no idea what to expect! I was just hoping I wouldn't spend hours in the store reading every single ingredient! I brought my Italian/English dictionary with me the first few trips. It did take a while to figure out what was okay that was packaged. The labels and warnings on food are different here than in the U.S.

My neighborhood grocery store.

My first allergy-free finds!

For the first month or so, I stuck to very basic foods. I bought mostly fresh foods, so I was going to the store a few times a week. Now that I have been here for a while, and know the Italian ingredients, it takes me much less time to find foods that I haven't tried and that should be safe to eat. I still have yet to find any candy or ice cream that is safe here!

Italian School Lunch

Everyday my school feeds every student and staff member lunch. No one packs their own lunch for school. At first I assumed I probably wouldn't be able to eat anything at school, and would have to pack my own lunch. This was not the case though! School lunch here is very different than in the U.S. They have lots of fresh food. There is salad, fruit, plain pasta, and cheese that are always available. They also make other things each day besides those foods, but I am always able to find at least those foods at school every day.

During our staff orientation week before school started, I went with one of the women who work in the office to talk to the chef and the other people that work in the kitchen. They only speak Italian, so I needed someone to help me communicate. I brought them a copy of my chef card for them to read. I found out that they used to use peanut oil, but stopped last year when one of the students was allergic. Now they only use Olive and Corn oil. They let me take a look at both bottles to make sure they were okay. They also kept my chef card in the kitchen. They were very nice about everything.

Since then, I always feel comfortable eating the basic foods that are always served. Sometimes they make other dishes with many more ingredients that look good, but I am not sure about them, so I don't eat them. Sometimes I double check and ask about a food they are serving, but the language barrier is definitely difficult, and they are so busy at lunch time. If I want to ask them about a food I need to do it before lunch. The kitchen staff is very nice and helpful though, so I feel lucky that it has worked out the way it has, and I am able to eat at school.

I definitely think that having so many allergies is pushing me to work on my Italian. It is hard to have such a language barrier here. No one in this area of Italy speaks English, so dealing with everyday things is tough, but having allergies to deal with on top of that, makes it an even greater challenge!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eating Adventures in Rome!

After being in Paris for a few days, I felt right at home when we traveled back to Rome. Although I am certainly not even conversational in Italian, I can at least get myself through a meal fairly comfortably and understand the gist of many conversations. During the few days that we spent in Rome, I had both positive and negative food experiences.

The first day we arrived, we found our apartment, dropped off our bags, then went in search of pizza! The majority of the time I have been living here, the pizza in Italy has been fine. That afternoon we found a small little pizzeria to sit down and eat some lunch. The guy who was working understood my card, and my "Sono allergica..." broken Italian explanation. The pizza was good, and everything went well!

Pizza in Roma!

That night we went in search of dinner. We dressed up for a nice night out, only to find it pouring rain outside. We tried to find a restaurant in the vicinity of where we were staying. We found one down the street that had a nice rustic charm to it. When I ordered and handed over my card, the waiter I could already tell had an attitude. He went back to the kitchen and came back a few minutes later and told me what I was having. I didn't know what to say. There was no choice given to me. Instead he told me the only dish I could have, which I didn't even want in the first place. We decided it was ridiculous that I had no say in what I could eat, and we got up to leave. The waiter told us he was glad we were leaving because he didn't want to serve us anyway! We were astonished at the way he treated us!

Luckily, we kept walking and found a pub with amazing pizza! They were great with my allergies, and didn't give us a hard time. At least the night ended well!

The following day we continued with our "street pizza" for lunch and our nicer dinners out. We dressed up again and went out, yet again, in the rain to eat at a restaurant that was recommended in one of our travel books. The ingredients were extremely fresh, and they were great about my allergies. A success!
Successful dinner with pizza and salad!

Another pizza lunch day, and the last dress up night before leaving Rome. We went to Campo de' Fiori for a nice outdoor dinner. The restaurant was called Carbonara, so I decided to try their Carbonara pasta dish. They were great about my allergies, and the food was good!

Our trip to Rome worked out well for the most part! Although we dealt with a difficult restaurant situation one night, everything ended up working out in the end!

My Paris Eating Adventures!

This past trip to Paris, I had a much easier time eating. When I went with my family a few years ago, I had so much trouble! No one wanted to serve me at restaurants. It was a bit of a nightmare! This time I stayed in an apartment in Paris instead of a hotel and cooked dinner every night. I used the website, to find apartments to rent for a three night stay in both Paris and Rome. It worked out a lot better because we could go to the grocery store and get ingredients, then make them. I would definitely recommend traveling that way! It is a lot easier to go into a grocery store, find some basics, and then cook something to eat.

Before leaving I brushed up on my French, so understanding the ingredients on the foods in the grocery store weren't too bad. There are also a lot of words that are similar in one of the other romance languages, and since I know about the same amount of each, I was able to manage through the store finding food.

I did also have a chef card in French that I could have used if we had decided to go out to dinner. I really love cooking though, so it was nice to stay in and cook, then go out.

Dinner in the apartment.

For lunch, we would get baguettes with tomato, mozzarella, and basil. I did this the first time I was in Paris and I had no problems. When we went this time, we chose a built in stand where they had all sandwiches. The only kind I saw that I was obviously allergic to was the tuna fish. I gave them my card and explained my allergies. They used a clean knife and were great with my allergies. No problems!

Sandwich with tomato, mozzarella, and basil.

Starbucks hot chocolate!

All in all, we had a fabulous time in Paris! By the end of the trip, I felt a lot more confident about eating there. It definitely helped to stay somewhere with a kitchen. Cooking made the entire experience worry-free, more enjoyable, and much easier!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Touche Bakery- My First Biscotti!!!!

One of the greatest feelings for an allergic reactor, is being able to find safe new foods to try! Last spring Allan Swartz e-mailed me from He had read my blog and thought I would be interested in sampling some of his nut free products. Of course I was interested! A few days later a big box was awaiting me when I came home from work. I looked at the return address. It was from Touche Bakery in Ontario, Canada! I was delighted!

I opened the box to find two assorted boxes filled with many different flavors of biscotti, another box filled with the extra cranberry biscotti (which turned out to be one of my favorites), and a box of Snowball cookies. On each box, it very clearly stated that they were made in a peanut and nut free facility. It was wonderful also to be able to try something I have never been able to try before! It was my first experience with biscotti. They were excellent too! Very fresh ingredients, sweet, crunchy, and very delicious! Although these sweets are more appealing to adults, everything that I tried was wonderful, and certainly worth checking out!

For those of you lucky individuals who are not allergic reactors, this may not seem like such a big deal, but trust me, it's HUGE!! Let me try to put you in an allergic reactors shoes...

Pretend this is you: Day in and day out you go through the day seeing delicious looking treats in bakery windows, coffee shops, the grocery store, and even at friends' houses, but every time, no matter what, you can't try it. Imagine that you can't have your favorite desert! You can see it, but you aren't allowed to taste it. Imagine you are at coffee and you want something to eat to go with your coffee, but there is NOTHING that you can eat.

It is hard to imagine, and I know I am not doing a just explanation of how it feels. I will continue to think of ways to describe the difficulty and frustration at times. I just want my readers to understand how AMAZING it feels to be able to try new foods, and not have to worry about a reaction! It is the best feeling!

Thank you Touche Bakery! I am so lucky!

Finding the H1N1 Immunization

Last night I went to pick up the prescription from the doctor that my school uses, to get the H1N1 vaccine. Luckily, my friend Kate (we teach together and she is also American and has been living here for three years) came with me, since she knew where it was! It was dark and foggy out, there was no sign, no reception desk, and there is no way I ever would have found it without her! We walked up a few floors, and finally came into a reception area. The woman behind the counter only spoke Italian. Kate knows more Italian than I do, and was able to figure out where the doctor's office was. At first they couldn't even figure out who we were asking for!

We finally found the doctor, who does speak English and was ready to write me the prescription to go to get the H1N1 shot. I had to bring in documentation of all my allergy and asthma medications, then she wrote up a letter stating that because I have asthma, I qualify to get the vaccine. It was a bit of a process! She printed a map to show me where I should go to get the actual shot. The only hours I could go were between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. I work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which meant I would have to miss school either way.

I decided to go this morning to get it done. I had no problem taking a different bus than I usually take, getting off at a stop I had never been to, then finding the gated in area where all the medical buildings were. The problem that I did have was trying to find which medical building I was supposed to go to! After roaming around in my big black rain boots, holding an umbrella, trying to keep my map dry from the rain, asking about six different people in Italian where to go, getting pointed in six different directions, then finally navigating it on my own, I found the right building 45 minutes later!

I went inside the building and found a reception desk. I showed the woman my map and asked if I was in the right place. She said yes, and was kind enough to take me to the room that I needed to go to, explain I spoke English, and show my prescription to the woman. They brought me into a room five minutes later. There were three other people in the room, speaking Italian and googling on the computer. My Italian is at a very basic understanding level right now, so I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, until a woman in broken English explained that they needed the consent forms and paperwork to print for me in English. This took a good hour or so! Finally when everything was printed, I was expected to read through it, then sign all the forms.

They asked about my allergies, so I showed them my Medic Alert bracelet. It was the first time I had used it since being here. When they saw that latex was on there, that took another 25 minutes of Italian debate. Unfortunately, I had no idea what they were debating about. Finally they showed me that the syringe that they were planning to use had latex. I tried to explain that I avoid latex as much as I can because I am allergic to banana and kiwi (and there is a link between them and latex, so my allergist told me to avoid it and also have it on my Medic Alert in case of an emergency), but that it would be okay, because I am not allergic (yet, luckily!), but that did not translate, so 2o more minutes went by before they found latex free syringes to use to give me the vaccine. After I was finally given the vaccine, I had to sign some more paperwork, then wait for a half an hour to make sure I didn't get a reaction. I was then finally able to leave!

Even with the long, difficult process I went through, I am glad that I was able to get it! Yay! Victory! I got the vaccine, in Italy, with my bad Italian...somehow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

My First Italian Haircut

I am usually pretty hesitant about trying new places to get my hair cut, but I was having one of those days where I just couldn't wait any longer! I went to the office at my school and had them help me call and set up an appointment at a place they said was good. (I would have tried calling myself, but everyone here only speaks Italian, and my Italian is not good enough yet to make my own appointment!)

The next evening after school, I was on my way to the hair appointment. In preperation for this appointment I had a photo of how I wanted my hair, along with an entire dialogue in Italian to explain. I also packed my own shampoo and conditioner. I know how to say "I am allergic," but I was not sure if they would understand why I couldn't use their shampoo and conditioner. I figured it would be even more complicated to ask to read the ingredients, so the safest and easiest thing to do, was to just bring my own.

The street names here can be confusing, and since all I had was a hand drawn map from another teacher, I did a lot of wandering before finally finding the salon on a windy, cobblestone side road in the older, quainter part of the city. As I was asking two older women sitting outside, "Dove Winter?" I turned around and there it was! I walked into the salon and told the man at the counter my name. Mi chiama Allie.

As he brought me over to wash my hair, I started explaining in my broken Italian that I brought my own shampoo and conditioner. There was one other man working there, and between the two of them, they were able to figure it out! I was so relieved that they understood. I have had a difficult enough time explaining that in English in the U.S., never mind trying to do it in Italian.

The only other point where I had to remind him about my allergies, was when he want to put a product in my hair. He handed me the bottle to look at the ingredients, which were fine. I never usually put anything in my hair, but since the ingredients were okay, I didn't want to confuse him even more.

The experience was really quite hilarious, between my terrible Italian and his barely any English! Thankfully I had a picture to show, so he cut my hair just right! Phewww! Now at least I have a salon I know I can go to! It was quite an adventure though!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My New Chef Card & Medic Alert Bracelet

A few months before I left for Italy, I brought my old chef card from when I went to Italy with my family, to show my Italian tutor. I wanted to make sure it was as accurate as possible, and was updated with anything that may have changed since I made it a few years ago.

When I showed it to her, and explained all of my allergies, there were lots of changes that she wanted to make. We went through everything, adding what was on the Italian allergy website, and adding all of her suggestions of foods she knew contained an allergen. We also rewarded the message, then added a back to it that listed foods that a restaurant could prepare for me, if nothing was on the menu. I felt very confident and relieved about my new chef card!

This is the front of the card with a message to the chef and all of my allergies.

This is the back of the card with the foods that I can eat.

I made copies of my chef card and laminated it. It is bigger than my English card that I use in the U.S., but it can still fit in my purse easily, which is what's important! I also have one in French. I may try to make some more in Spanish, as well as in some of the other languages of places I may travel.

If you need help making a card in a language you don't know, you can also order them from I ordered one in Turkish from them. It is not detailed like the one I made, but if you really need one and have no idea of the language, it can be very helpful! They also put pictures on the card, which I think is definitely useful! There are also a few other ones I have not tried yet,, which is a UK-based company and, which seems to have a more detailed approach.

My Italian Medic Alert bracelet is also working out well. Luckily it hasn't been put into use though! It has all of my anaphylactic allergies and asthma on the inside with the regular Medic Alert symbol on top.

"Piacere" and the handshake

The word 'piacere' in Italian means "nice to meet you." Both here in Italy, as well as at home in the U.S., handshakes are a common way to either greet or say goodbye to someone. Here in Italy they also use kisses on each cheek as a greeting (as well as in many other parts of Europe).

For allergic reactors, greeting people can sometimes to be challenging. There have been numerous times where I have nervously given out my hand to shake, while hoping to not break out into hives. It is hard to awkwardly explain my allergies to someone I am just meeting or don't know well. I don't want to hesitate and not be polite and shake their hand. I also don't want to get hives from peanuts I just saw them eat. It is a fine line between being polite and keeping myself safe!

If I have just seen someone eating something that I am allergic to, I usually just tell them. I am not going to shake their hand whether it was nice to meet them or not! I don't want to take that kind of risk. Most of the time, there really is no way of knowing. I carry wipes with me at all times, but that is really all that I can do!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

International Travel

Travel is a passion of mine and a significant part of my life! It is when I feel most relaxed and at peace. The world has so many spectacular places and amazing sites. I don't want to miss any of them! Of course having anaphylactic food allergies does make this difficult!

I have been lucky enough to have many travel experiences. I have been all over the world! I have ridden camels in the dessert, sailed on boats in the Whitsundays, and rolled down giant sand dunes! I have driven in a huge jeep through the largest sand island in the world, smelled the scent of fresh rosemary while overlooking one of the most spiritual cities, and held a baby kangaroo that had just been rescued. These are just a few of the many incredible adventures that I have been fortunate enough to experience (even with my allergies)!

I never let my food allergies get in the way of where I want to go and what I want to do. I also though, will not go on adventures that make me too nervous so that I can't relax. I don't like feeling on guard all the time, and after putting myself through a few of those experiences, I have realized that since they are too nerve-wrecking, they are not enjoyable, and therefore, not worth it! It took experiences though to realize my comfort level.

Back last spring, there was a lot of controversy about airlines serving nuts on flights (particularly Northwest Airlines). There were irresponsible bloggers sharing their opinions with no knowledge of their writing subject or even any background. There were many angry people who could not understand why "all of a sudden" there were all these children with peanut allergies. Like many things, people who were uninformed and unaffected, were shouting out at all of these allergic reactors for having allergies and ruining their ability to eat peanuts on the airplane.

This truly emphasized to me how important education is, because there are so many people who are completely ignorant to the idea that people can actually be unable to eat certain foods. I have spoken with people who don't understand and don't believe me about my allergies, while I have also spoken to people who have been so understanding and completely amazing with my allergies. You just never know!

There are some airlines that I have had better experience with than others. My international flights I have always had a lot of trouble with. The first time that I flew to Australia, Qantas wanted me to fill out a form saying that they were not responsible when it came to my allergies. Since then, when I have flown to Australia, or even in Australia between cities, I have had pilots tell me not to bother flying. They have told me to "find another way." As if it is so easy to get from one big city to the next in Australia. The United States is the same size as Australia, except that Australia is mostly empty desert, speckled with six main cities spread out through the entire country! I refused to not fly. We already paid for our tickets, and we were going! I remember how frustrated I felt though, and how angry I was that these people could not even try to understand.

Since then I have had many other flights with similar experiences. Last fall I was on my way to Istanbul, Turkey. I was flying Luftansa and requested a nut free flight. At first the man I spoke with gave me a difficult time, and then went to go ask the captain. The captain said that they would still serve nuts (macadamia specifically). When I was told they wouldn't fly nut free, the captain asked me how severe my allergy was, then started to suggest I find another way to travel (riiight, like it is easy to get to Istanbul by other modes of transportation)! I hate when they do that, because then I have to turn the conversation around, so they will still let me fly and not feel like I am a huge liability for them! I remember sitting on the plane I felt a bit uncomfortable when everyone around me was eating dinner.

Airlines are so worried about liability. They don't actually care if you are okay or if they can help. They just don't want to get sued, like many restaurants, so instead of trying to accommodate, they refuse to serve. In an article from the Seattle Times, a spokesperson from Continental Airlines said, "We do not set up a peanut-free zone because it would mislead the customers into thinking the cabin is free of allergens, which the airline cannot guarantee." Although some airlines do have a peanut-free zone I have heard, I have never experienced it on a flight myself. Many airlines are so worried legally, that they are not nice, helpful, or caring in anyway.

Anyway, I DO understand the flying frustration (As I write this I can feel my own frustration as I am pressing the keys harder and faster)! I go with my gut feeling usually though, and have never turned down a flight. Often I won't eat even my own food on flights. I will wait until I get off the plane to eat. I feel more comfortable that way. It is difficult to feel comfortable eating when you know how far away you are from any kind of help! I ALWAYS carry hand wipes with me everywhere too, so I can wipe down my seat and wipe off my hands if I need to touch my face.

In an article I read on March 14, 2009, from Medical News Today, it said, "Families with food allergic individuals make significant lifestyle alterations when it comes to vacation planning." I agree that there are certainly alterations that must be made for us allergic reactors to feel comfortable while traveling.

There were a few surveys in this article. One survey said that 36 percent of the people that were surveyed said that they limited the type of transportation that they take for vacations, with 80 percent avoiding ships and 65 percent avoiding planes. That sounds like some very limiting travel! It is difficult to get anywhere far away for a vacation without either a ship or a plane!

The article also surveyed what people did to typically prepare for travel. There were 67 percent who got extra epinephrine, 94 percent who packed allergy-free food, 53 percent who requested special airplane accommodations and 48 percent who researched where the closest hospital was located. I usually do each of these preparations before traveling!

They also mentioned the least likely locations that people with allergies were likely to visit, which I definitely agreed with. They said Japan, India, China, Africa and beach resorts in foreign countries were were people were least likely to visit. I have yet to visit any of those countries, although I have gone to beach resorts in foreign countries before. Asia is a difficult place to travel with fish and nut allergies. I am not sure what I would eat there! My dad who is also allergic to nuts, has gone to Asia on business before and had trouble, but could eat some fish and plain white rice. I can't imagine how difficult it would be though! At some point though, I will probably try to venture there (probably with a suitcase of dehydrated food to eat!). There are many amazing places to see there, and such a different culture. I am sure I will figure it out, but for now it is not top on my list, knowing it is less allergy friendly for me. I still have plenty of places that I want to travel to that are a lot easier with my allergies.

There was a survey in this article that I found somewhat obvious, but interesting nonetheless. The survey showed that 68 percent limit the type of destination. It also said that 90 percent only vacation in the United States. There was only 0.3 percent that traveled to remote locations. This reminded me of my own remote location travels.

Although remote locations can be scary for allergy reasons, they can also be an exciting adventure that I don't want to miss! It puts me in a game of tug-o-war with myself. The adventurous, free-spirited traveler in me says, "GO! It's an adventure of a lifetime!" While the other rational side of me says, "It's not safe. You will be uncomfortable the entire time. It is not worth the risk." It is a hard game to win. I don't want to miss out on an interesting and exciting adventure, but I also want to feel safe and worry-free. Both sides have won at times...

One example of the adventurous traveler winning over, was when I lived in Australia and went traveling for my spring break from school. My friend Rachel and I went sailing in the Whitsundays for four days, and then to Fraser Island. Both parts of the trip were amazing, but both parts made me uncomfortable. Both trips were in remote locations, where getting help quickly would have been difficult. I brought my own food, and was extremely careful with everything, but it still was not the most relaxing trip! I was glad though that I had these expereinces for a few reasons. One reason is because I became very aware of where my comfort zone lies. Another reason is because I did have incredible experiences at these places that many people never get a chance to have.

There are ways that I have found to make most travel experiences comfortable for me. One way is to make chef cards in the language of the country I will be in. Another way is to pack dehydrated food if I know that there may be times where I won't find something to eat. The good thing about dehydrated food is that all you need is boiling water to heat it up, and then you have a meal. I will not rave about the delicious taste of these meals (because that is not usually true), but when I am hungry and there is nothing else, dehydrated meals don't sound so bad! I used them all the time when I was traveling one summer through Prague, Cyprus and Israel. I don't now what I would have done without them that summer!

There are so many travel experiences to talk about. To me, finding a way to make it happen with my allergies is a priority! The world is an amazing place! I don't want to miss it because of food allergies! That's not a good enough reason!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Living in the dorms & Roommates

Even before college, there were many times I lived with others. Every summer I lived in a bunk at camp with around 15 other girls. I went to sleepovers, traveled and stayed with my friends and their families on vacation, and had many other experiences of sharing living space with others. These experiences are what helped prepare me for when I went off to college.

Although I can say that I certainly had some roommates I enjoyed living with more than others, I can honestly say that every roommate I had was nice about my allergies. I didn't have any real problems with anyone being disrespectful about them. I actually didn't really even worry about roomates when I was in college. Some years I had great ones who turned into best friends, while my freshman year and a few other times, I had roommates I got along with okay, but would not have ever chosen them to live with.

I have heard from some parents who are wondering how it worked to live in the dorms in college with allergies. My freshman year of college I told my roommate about my allergies and what she would need to do. I told her she could eat foods that I was allergic to, but she needed to keep them on her side of the room and make sure to wash her hands. We both had our own mini fridges and microwaves. She was very responsible about it, and so were the other people on my floor.

Before I moved in my freshman year, I spoke to the woman who was in charge of the dining halls. She told me what was safe to eat and what I should avoid. The dining hall was right downstairs in my building, so it was easy enough, and they all knew who I was. Breakfast was always the easiest meal. Every other meal I could certainly find food, but it got pretty redundant after a while.

My sophomore year I transferred to a big state school. I had to go through the process again of sitting down with the head of the dining services staff and asking what foods would be okay, and what I should avoid. Since I was on such a large campus, I never really knew the dining staff, so I rarely asked questions. I often ate the same foods. It worked out well though. I had no problems with my allergies.

The first time that I moved off campus, was when I studied abroad the fall of my senior year in Australia. I lived with four other girls in a small two bedroom apartment with a "study" (a.k.a. enclosed porch with big Venetian blinds). I lived out on the porch. I loved it because I had my own space.

The trickiest part of living with four other girls, was trying to share a very small kitchen! We each shared a shelf in the fridge and a shelf in the cabinets. They were all very aware of my allergies, and did a good job of making me feel safe in our apartment. I bought a set of my own dishes and had my own sponge. We had a dishwasher, which helped a lot! It was difficult finding food to eat in Australia, but living in an apartment with roommates was not!

When I came home from Australia, I needed somewhere off campus to live. I found an apartment with one girl and one guy who wad also coming back from being abroad. It worked out perfectly! The three of us couldn't have gotten along any better! We had such a great time together, and they were both awesome with my allergies! Yet again, no problems!

Since college I have had a year of living in my own studio apartment (by far the easiest living situation as afar as allergies go), as well as living at my parents, traveling, and staying with friends. When I lived in the studio, I didn't have to worry about having foods in my apartment that I couldn't eat. It was amazing, and the first time in my entire life where I could feel completely comfortable with my allergies, because it was my own space!

Now in Italy, I am lucky again to be living with another teacher who is fabulous with my allergies! Abby is by far, the best roommate I have had (especially as far as allergies go)! She is extremely understanding and careful! I never have to really worry about anything, which is so nice! When we first moved in and went grocery shopping she was really patient and helpful while I scoured shelves searching for allergen free foods! She is also wonderful about washing her hands if she eats anything I am allergic to, and is both responsive and responsible about my allergies. Living with her has definitely made the transition abroad with allergies much easier!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Expense of Allergies!!!!

As I left Venice twelve Euros poorer, I realized both my frustration and astonishment by the expense of having allergies! My roommate and I were in Venice for the day and were hungry after roaming around the narrow, windy canals. We stopped at a pizzeria and ordered. We both wanted to get pizza. I showed him my Chef card in Italian. He told me that they used nut oils, and that I would not be able to eat any of the pizza or pasta. I then opted for a salad. I asked for some cheese on the salad, since it was just a plain salad with greens and a few tomatoes. When we got the bill, I was charged five Euro for the salad, and 4.50 Euro for the cheese on top of it! Ridiculous! I could not believe a few pieces of cheese would cost almost as much as my salad!

This is only one of many examples of times when I have spent more because of my food allergies. It can be very frustrating. I can't just go to the grocery store and shop by price. Instead, I have to shop by ingredients. Here in Italy I have very few choices, so whatever brand it is, and however much it costs, I just have to deal with, because that is my only allergy-safe option!

In an article on March 15, 2009, from Medical News Today, it reported from a study done by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. It said that "families of food allergic individuals are more likely to have financial burdens as a result..." In the survey that they did, "families with a food allergic child were more likely to stop working, reduce working or incur financial problems." I am not sure how they figured that out, but I do not believe that it would be necessary to stop working. As a teacher, it makes me extremely frustrated whenever I hear any teachers talking about food allergies in a negative and unresponsive way. With more education now, it seems like there should be more schools and teachers who are responsive to taking care of students with food allergies. I know it is certainly a work in progress though in many areas!

I found another article that was written on U.S. News and World Report written on the same date on this same subject. The article said that food allergies can be a burden financially and for vacation plans. It also mentions how food allergies can have a "wide impact on a family's quality of life." I do agree that for some families, it COULD have an impact on your quality of life, BUT I know that it doesn't NEED to have an impact on your quality of life. I don't feel like my quality of life is impacted by my allergies. I feel lucky for what I have, and that I am healthy, have wonderful family and friends, can go running, have a job, and so many, many other things. Sure, it would be nice to not have to read every ingredient, BUT it does not play a role in my quality of life. Having food allergies can certainly be difficult, but in the grand scheme of things, I feel very lucky with what I have. There are many things that could be a lot worse. We know how to keep ourselves safe from our allergies as much as we can possibly control. Always carrying Epi and Benedryl, bringing a Chef Card to ask ingredients, and trusting yourself is a great way to feel powerful and in charge of food allergies! It can be done! I've done it!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Living Abroad

The first time I lived abroad, I found it challenging, but I realize now that it was an important first experience. I lived in Australia, where they speak English (well, Aussie English...ha). I could order food and understand ingredients, but yet there were still many challenges! Almost everything packaged was labeled with "May Contain..." something that I was allergic to. The only crackers that I could find to eat were Carr's crackers imported from England. Even some wines said that they "May contain traces of nuts." It was impossible to find ice cream that I could eat, or really any chocolate for that matter. Eating wise, it was tough! Living wise, it was amazing and totally worth all the food challenges I faced.

During that time in Australia, I lived with four other girls. There were five of us in a small two bedroom apartment, with a "study," also known as an enclosed porch with big venetian blinds. I lived there. I wanted to make sure that I had my own space. I didn't want to have to worry about my allergies in my bedroom. I already had to be careful in our common space.

The girls were pretty good about my allergies. I had my own sponge and dishes that I used. We had a dishwasher luckily, which definitely helped. I had to be careful, but I felt comfortable there. It was also my first experience living in an apartment and having roommates outside of a dorm setting.

I learned a lot while living there. I learned my different levels of comfort, how to live somewhere unknown, and how to find food, even when challenged! Without this first living abroad experience, I don't think I would have felt as comfortable diving into my second living abroad experience in Italy!

Living abroad here is even more difficult! I don't speak the language. Every ingredient is in Italian. I can't eat gelatto or any chocolate (you know...the really important things in life). In this part of Italy no one speaks English. It isn't touristy at all. It is a big adjustment! I am good at adapting to new places though, and even with these new challenges, I have found enjoyment in this new adventure!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dream in Allergies

As I woke up from a dream yesterday morning, I realized that no matter what, I always still have food allergies in my dreams! I guess my allergies are so ingrained into me that I can't ever imagine not having them!

The other night I had a dream that I was out to dinner and had ordered pasta. When they brought out my dish, it was in a broth with fish swimming around inside of it. Strange, I know! It reminded me though, that even in my dreams, I am aware that I have food allergies somehow. I suppose that when that is all I have ever known, I shouldn't expect much less. It is certainly an interesting realization!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

To Hike or Not to Hike?

Most recently, hiking is what has made me most nervous as far as travel goes. In the past year I have gone hiking twice. Although I love the idea of hiking, in actuality it really scares me! Not only do I have the general fears that anyone might have: "What if I fall and brake my leg? What if I accidentally fall over or slide down the cliff when I climb up the rocks at the end? What if..." My main fear though is: "What if I get an allergic reaction on top of the mountain, with no cell phone reception and no way of getting down except by climbing?"

The thought of being so far and inaccessible can be both exhilarating and frightening for people. For allergic reactors though, this can be very scary! I remember when I was growing up, my parents were always the ones making the decision of where I could go, by their comfort level. Now that I am an adult, it means that I have to decide my own comfort level. I don't have my parents telling me what I should and shouldn't do based on my allergies. Instead I have to make the decision of whether I feel comfortable or not. Sometimes this can be difficult, but I definitely feel like my parents prepared me well, and gave me the tools to assess and make good decisions.

My biggest problem on both hikes was not an allergy issue, but a boot issue. I couldn't find my hiking boots anywhere! I had no idea where they were, and after hiking in my running shoes on the first hike, I knew I wanted my hiking boots for the next one! Of course they were still missing though, and here I went again, hiking in my sneakers! I was slipping and sliding everywhere! This made it much less enjoyable.

I made sure both times to pack: hand wipes, water, lunch, snacks, and a sweatshirt for the top of the mountain.

At the top of the mountain.

Cleaning off my hands before eating, and sharing some wipes with my
friends after their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Having a snack.

The problem with hiking with a big group of friends, is that there are bound to be at least half, if not all of them bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat. Never mind the granola mixes, etc. that all contain nuts. Everyone is very aware of my allergies, so I had no problems, but of course I wasn't completely at ease. I felt much better once I knew we were done eating and on the way back down!

This is what makes the entire hike worthwhile...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Asthma Frustration

It started today when I was outside with the kids at recess. I could see the pollen floating in the air, and felt my lungs tighten while my breathing became mildly constricted. "Ugh..." I thought as I waited impatiently for recess to end.

When I was first diagnosed with asthma, it was only sports induced. It happened my freshman year of high school. I was, and still am a runner. I started having difficulty catching my breath though at cross country practices. That is when I got my first inhaler. Unfortunately, my asthma has only progressed from there.

I am trying to get the flu shot in Italy. Everything takes much longer here! Having asthma scares me. In more recent years, I have had some scary experiences with my asthma, and the thought of getting sick is frightening. Asthma is such an out of control feeling. My albeterol inhaler helps, but I still have scary moments where I feel very uncomfortable and very afraid of the lack of control I have. I take the lowest dose of advair twice a day, Flonase, and Singulair. (I have lots of environmental allergies too.)

Two years ago I came home from grad school to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family for the long weekend. We had our Thanksgiving dinner at our house, and during it I kept feeling more and more restricted. My dad end up having to rush me to the ER when my albeterol inhaler did nothing for me! It really scared me! I had never had that happen before. I was really stressed out at the time and I hadn't spent time at home most of the fall, so I had't been in our house or around our dog, which didn't help! After that they put me on Prednizone for a week, I felt better.

I have a student in my class who has asthma and every time she is having trouble my heart goes out to her because I know that feeling. She has an inhaler, but we have had to call her mom before because she has left it at home. The other day she was playing outside too, and had trouble, took her inhaler, and still didn't feel better. I felt so bad for her! It is such a scary feeling!

There also seems to be a lot of dust where I live in Italy. I am in a brand new apartment, yet the dust accumulates so quickly! I have heard other teachers I work with say the same thing about their apartments! Everyone smokes cigarettes here too! I hate it! Smoking is so gross! It makes me sad to see all these 11 and 12 year old kids already starting to smoke cigarettes. It is such a cultural thing here, that no one seems to be bothered! It is unbelievable to me with all that we know about cigarettes, that it is still such a significant part of the culture here! Yuck!

Hopefully this week I will find the flu shot! Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Traveling to Italy

Although I thought I was all set and ready to go, I spent the last few minutes before we left for the airport throwing things in bags! It is very difficult trying to figure out what to pack when moving to another country for the year. The one thing though that I made sure that I had packed ahead of time was all of my medication, doctor's notes and records, and my Italian Medic Alert bracelet. Those were most important!

I was flying Luftansa and called about my allergies ahead of time. They will not fly nut free though, which I actually remembered when I called from past flight experience. I asked when I got to the terminal to be the first to board, so that I could wipe down my seat. I had to be a bit insistent, but I was in the first group of people boarding. Instead of flying nut free, they were actually handing out bags of nuts...helpful! It did certainly give me some anxiety. I ended up being very lucky though, because I was bumped up to business class, where I had more room then I knew what to do with! I always wipe down the seat when I first get on the plane, so I did that and then got comfortable. I brought my own travel pillow and blanket, so that I didn't have to worry about that either.

The plane flight was va bene (okay)! In business class, they serve all sorts of tasty looking foods and drinks. I didn't have anything though, of course! I barely like eating the food that I pack on the plane. I would never even consider eating anything provided by the airline! The flight went by pretty fast. It was a short flight anyway for me, compared to all my travels back and forth to Australia!

I had a layover in Munich, so I sat at a table in the airport and ate some of the food that I had packed. I felt more comfortable eating it on solid ground, than on an airplane flying over the ocean.

My last flight was on this teeny, tiny, ity, bity, thirty-seater! I am not a huge fan of small planes, so I didn't really enjoy it, but it was short, which made it okay. I asked before the flight if they were serving a snack, and they said that they weren't. I ended up falling asleep, but I did realize that they were passing out a snack, which luckily was not nuts! Phew...

All in all, my travel experience went well. I am used to airlines not being nice or flexible about my allergies, so it is something I am always prepared for. I will have to write about the numerous times I have had them say, "Maybe you shouldn't be flying if your allergies are that severe. You should find another way to get there." Clearly that is an easy solution to places where flying is the only option! I will explain more about this in another blog...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Back from my hiatus- Life in Italy

I am sorry to all of you who follow my blog on a regular basis and have been disappointed by no new or recent updates! I still appreciate your support, and hope that you will continue to read, now that I am back to blogging!

I have been in Italy now for a month. I love it here and feel very lucky for this opportunity! I am teaching 25 fourth graders with Italian accents! They are very sweet and a lot of fun to teach (most of the time)! :)

I definitely have a lot to share about my allergy experiences since I have been here. I have not had any major problems, and have actually had a much easier time than I was anticipating! I will start to share these experiences in the next few blogs! I just wanted to let everyone know that I am back and will be updating on a weekly basis!

Thanks again,
Miss Allergic Reactor

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Summer Trip to the land of Bears and Moose- VERMONT!

My boyfriend is from Vermont, so we planned a trip to go visit his family there. I am a city girl, so I was a bit hesitant of visiting Vermont, but I ended up loving it!

I had never stayed with his family before, so I was a nervous about how it would be in general, never mind with my allergies. Luckily, his parents are amazing, and were so wonderful with my allergies! They double checked all ingredients for our lunches and dinners together, while also making sure that there was plenty of food in the house that I wasn't allergic to, so that I could always find something to eat! They also understood the severity and being careful with cross contamination.

We had some fabulous meals all together, and there were no allergies issues the entire week! It was so nice to be able to feel relaxed, and be aware but not worried about what I ate! The only real concern that I had while I was there, was that the nearest hospital was a good 40 minute drive away. To feel more comfortable I brought plenty of Epi-pens and Benedryl, and stayed aware of what I ate.

My boyfriend and I at the Ben & Jerry's Factory

Since we were in Vermont, we HAD to go to the Ben & Jerry's Factory. I LOVE ice cream! Ben & Jerry's has some of my favorite flavors! We did the tour around the factory. At the end, they give you a complementary scoop of ice cream to sample, which has already been scooped and is ready to eat. They had another flavor option if for some reason you couldn't eat that one. Unfortunately, I couldn't eat either flavor! I went up and asked our guide if I could get a different flavor because I was allergic to both options. Instead, he gave me a coupon to go get a free cone after the tour. I thought that was a nice gesture, and worked out very well! I asked him also about cross-contamination, and how they keep their nut free ice creams separate, and he explained to me their entire process. It was interesting to learn about!

My week away in Vermont was a wonderful escape from the fast paced life I am used to, and a positive allergy-free trip! :)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Trusting babysitters

Trusting anyone with your child, whether they have allergies or not can be difficult. For parents who have children with food allergies, this becomes even more terrifying!

I asked my mom what her experience was when I was little. She told me for the first few years they used my aunt and my grandparents as babysitters. My mom told me that the first babysitter that she left me with, ended up giving me a piece of candy one time that she had with her. Luckily I wasn't allergic, but she didn't check with my mom or anything! My mom said that after that they were even more careful. My parents were lucky because my grandparents and aunt weren't too far away.

Once I started going to nursery school, I used to go over classmates' houses for play dates. My parents always sent me with my own snack and the same snack for my friend. My parents made me responsible at a very early age, so although they could get nervous, they usually felt okay sending me places (remember, I was the only one in any of my schools that had any food allergies, so it was extremely rare). My parents were great about educating everyone who was around me about what they needed to do! My parents were also able to become close with my best friends' parents, so they were all like second families to me. I always felt very safe going to any of their houses.

As I got older we had more babysitters. In my second year of nursery school, my teacher would sometimes babysit me, and she stayed with me when my parents were in Europe for a few weeks.

It really comes down to educating. People are now becoming more and more aware of food allergies. If you can educate them and feel like they "get it," then that is great! It is also very hepful having close family and friends who you trust to care for your children!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dessert? Do You Mean That There Is Something That Comes After Dinner?

"People actually order that?" I asked my friend. Since I never order any desserts when I go out to dinner, I forget that many people actually do! I work at an Italian restaurant once a week, and when people are done with their meal, I have to remind myself to ask them if they want any dessert. I find that I am always shocked when people actually order something.  

My surprise is due to the fact that I never go out to eat and order dessert afterward.  Almost all desserts involve something I am allergic to, and in the rare case that a server tells me otherwise, I would never be willing to take the risk!  Desserts are just something that aren't worth messing with!  It is the same with any bakery items.  Bread is the rare exception I occasionally make. Otherwise, nothing I eat ever comes from a bakery!  There are too many nuts, too much cross contamination, and too many unanswerable questions. 

Recently, I visited a few of my favorite places from childhood.  Each place conjured up a happy memory involving food! The first place I visited was a historical village where I had my birthday party and went to summer camp.  I thought back to the simple foods we were taught to make at camp, and the birthday cake for my birthday.  The food though, that stood out in my mind, was the chocolate chip cookies that we always bought at the general store/bakery. At the time when I was there for camp, they only made fresh batches of chocolate chip cookies, and the ingredients were safe.  I didn't have to worry about cross-contamination, because they didn't make anything with nuts.  Sadly, when I went back for a visit, there were many more options, including peanut butter cookies.  Clearly this was a risk I couldn't take!  My solution: go home and make my own chocolate chip cookies! 

They may not have been the exact same recipe, or taste quite as good as I remember the ones I used to eat tasting, but they were still good! 

Another place that I visited was the old bakery in the town that I went to elementary and middle school in.  My mom became friendly with the owner and staff at the bakery, and they could always tell us every ingredient, and make sure food was cross-contamination free.  It was wonderful, because it was a place that didn't have many foods with nuts, and they were always extremely nice and accommodating.  I could eat focaccias, breads, cup cakes, cookies, and cakes without worrying.  Going there, was always a special treat, because I knew I could eat safely.  It has been years since then, and the ownership has changed.  I couldn't eat anything there anymore.  I'm glad that when I was younger, I was lucky enough to find a place like that!  
My last reminiscent excursion was a visit to the ice cream stand from my childhood.  I would always get a chocolate and vanilla swirl with rainbow sprinkles.  This is the ONLY place I was ever able to have the sprinkles!  They would take sprinkles just for me from a new box that hadn't been used before.  That way, there was no concern for cross-contamination.  It was quite a treat!  

Looking back, I feel lucky to have had all these places that catered to my allergic needs!  It was not a common request, and finding people who were understanding was never easy.  A tip for parents: It is important to find special places like these, where your child can safely enjoy foods that they may not normally be able to take a risk on.  These places are becoming more and more difficult to find, but forming relationships with people will always help! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

School Restrictions

Since I am a teacher and have spent a lot of time in schools, I have noticed how differently each school and district handle food allergies.  Below is a list of some of the guidelines that I have noticed when being in a school.  Does your child have any of these same guidelines?

-Pictures of students on the cafeteria wall with list of allergies
-Specific rules/guidelines in classroom, like everyone wash hands before/after eating
-No food or eating in the hall
-No child can share food with another
-A policy of no food or backpacks brought inside the classroom, and everyone who enters must use a handwipe first. 
-One-on-one classroom aide for the allergic child
-Classrooms with PAL posters on the wall
-Signs outside the classroom that say "Allergy Aware Classroom"
-"Nut-free" lunch tables

How do people feel about these guidelines?  Does it help your child feel safer? Do they feel singled out?  When I was in elementary school, I was the only one in the entire school with any allergies.  My teachers were certainly aware, but it was nothing like the way elementary schools are handling it now.  I have a lot to say on this topic, but I would like to hear what you as parents have to say about it?  I look forward to some comments!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Around the World in Grocery Stores

I was in the grocery store picking up an ingredient for dinner, when I started thinking about all the different grocery stores I had been to. Throughout my travels, grocery stores have always been a place where I have scavenged shelves looking for food with English ingredients. They have been places where I have learned about the city or country I was visiting, just by perusing the scene and food-stocked shelves. The mice I saw scurrying around the grocery store in Paris, or the non-refrigerated eggs sitting on a shelf on one of the regular food aisles in Australia, display aspects that a regular traveler may not ever see.  A grocery store is not a typical tourist excursion, but for those like me, who need to find allergy-friendly foods, they are a must-see destination.

Coles was my grocery store of choice when I lived in Australia. I would buy all of my food there. Everything food related in Australia, encompassed only a few different areas for me. I could eat fresh foods, like fruits, veggies, deli meat, other meats, some cheeses, yogurt, and eggs. The only other foods I could eat were Carr's crackers (which are imported from the U.K.) and some pastas. The only chocolate I could eat there were Twix bars (although I can't eat them in the U.S., but I could eat them in Oz because they were manufactured somewhere else). It was a pretty limiting (and expensive) diet! I went to the grocery store every other day to buy fresh foods. Everything spoiled there quickly! 

When I move to Italy at the end of August, I am curious to know what kind of grocery shopping experience I will have.  Will I find any packages with English ingredients?  How many hours will I spend trying to translate words and decipher any warnings on food packages?  There are so many questions about how it will be to move to a country where I barely speak the language, and don't know anyone, but I am not worried.  I have traveled to many countries where I don't speak the language.  I have lived abroad before, and figured it out.  Finding food is always a challenge, but I am sure that the many hours I will spend in my new Italian grocery store, will only help me to understand the new place I will be calling home. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Don't feed the elephants"

"I was mad because I couldn't eat peanuts and Dumbo could. I wanted to be like Dumbo," my dad stated to me rather matter-of-fact last weekend when we were talking about growing up with peanut allergies. My dad also grew up with a nut allergy. He still is allergic to nuts, but not as severely as when he was a child.

When my dad said this, it reminded me of how it feels to be allergic when you are a child. It is difficult because I remember feeling like I wanted to be able to eat what everyone else could eat. I wanted to feel like I fit in. I usually felt like I stood out though with my allergies. It is difficult not to feel that way when you have to bring your own cupcakes to parties, food to friends houses, and ask questions when you order food out. I also remember sometimes feeling bad because it seemed like a lot of work for other people.

There were plenty of times though where I felt like I could forget about my allergies. When I was with my family when I was little, I never worried about my allergies. When I was with my closest friends and their families, I rarely worried. It was only at birthday parties and summer camps where I felt like it was noticeable, and where people wondered why I couldn't share food or eat what they ate.

Something that I think is helpful for children now, is that they are in company. More likely than not, there is at least a few other kids in their class or grade that have similar allergies. This helps them to not feel alone. In a way, I think that is good that they don't have to feel like the only ones. Of course, I am concerned with how many children are getting food allergies now!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Allergy Disappointments

Just like many things in life, sometimes my allergies can be frustrating and disappointing, too. Most days I don't think twice about them, but when it comes to finding a job, they can often get in the way!

I thought I found a summer job.  I had spoken on the phone with a mother who needed someone to babysit for her three-year-old daughter during the week.  The mother sounded fabulous on the phone, and I was really looking forward to meeting her.  They lived in an ideal location for me, and it sounded like it would be a great job.  Since there was nothing in the advertisement about pets, I didn't think about asking if they had a dog.  When I went over to meet them, I walked in and immediately felt my chest tighten.  A few minutes later the mother mentioned the dog, and I knew it wasn't going to work out.  They had a big, fluffy, furry, long-haired, easily shed-able dog! I was so disappointed, they were so disappointed, and this was a time when I felt extremely frustrated with having allergies!

This experience taught me to always ask if a family has pets!  I usually think about how my food allergies will affect nannying or babysitting for a family, but sometimes I forget that my environmental and pet allergies play a role too!  After this, I won't be forgetting to ask next time!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Being the new kid with food allergies

The first time I was the "new kid," I was in third grade. It was a year of many firsts for me. My first time at public school, my first time at a new school since preschool, etc. Yet again, I was the only student in the entire school system with food allergies. Of course I stuck out. Not only did I have allergies, but I also did school choice, so my dad drove me a half an hour to school every morning, then my mom came to pick me up in the afternoon. For the most part, everyone else lived in the same town that the school was in.

It was also the first school I went to that served food in the cafeteria. Most students bought food. I was one of few students who actually brought their lunch to school from home. On field trips and other school trips, I had to be careful of all the peanut butter sandwiches. At that time it was really important that I was my own greatest advocate, since my parents weren't with me all day, and no one else had allergies. I always carried my epi-pen everywhere and wore my Medic Alert bracelet!

What ended up helping with being the "new kid" was forming new friendships and finding a great group of friends who were always there for me! There is a group of five of us girls from elementary school, who are still good friends, even after so many years. These girls were always watching for me and there when it came to my allergies! I was lucky to find such great friends! I think finding lasting friendships are so important to have, especially for this reason! Helping your children to find friends who will be there for them and help them is a great way to feel a lot better about being the "new kid" with allergies!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Weekend Away Recap

My home away from home is an island off the coast.  I decided to go there and visit some friends for the weekend.  Before I left, there are a few questions that I asked myself:
-Does my friend's house where I am staying have any pets? No. 
-Do I have extra Epi pens, Benadryl, inhalers, and environmental allergy meds? Yes.
-Do I have a copy of my chef card with me (it's always in my purse)? Yes. 
-Is there any food I want to bring with me in case I can't eat? Not on this trip. 

Since I know this destination well, I felt confident that I would find food that I could eat there. That is why I decided that it wasn't necessary to bring food with me.  I was actually looking forward to getting food from all my favorite places on the island.  

When I finally arrived off the ferry, it was already close to lunch time.  My friend picked me up and we drove out to get our favorite sandwiches. There was already a line out the door when we arrived.  My friend Jamie said, "We should have called in our order." I knew for me, it was much easier to order there, and watch how they made my sandwich, instead of having to explain my allergies over the phone.

"Can I please have a turkey sandwich on Portuguese bread (they are known for their bread, hence the reason I cart back a grocery bag full of it for my family each time I go there)? Can you also please make sure the person making it knows I have a peanut and fish allergy, so to make sure to change their gloves.  Also please have them make sure it is put directly onto a plate and not onto the counter, and cut with a clean knife.  Thank you!"  The girl taking my order was great.  She wrote my allergies down and went over and talked to the girls that were making the sandwiches.  They all changed their gloves when it was time to make my sandwich. I was glad they were being so careful.  

It can be difficult sometimes because I feel bad that I have to make such a fuss of asking them to do all these extra things so that I can eat, but if I don't, then I can't eat.  With more and more education in the food and restaurant business, people are becoming much more helpful and understanding about food allergies. I didn't have one problem all weekend with people not being nice about my allergies. It is also an island that is used to tourists and dealing with high maintenance individuals, but I still think that education is starting to get around little by little!

My next food experience was later that afternoon.  Ice cream!!  There is this fabulous ice cream store that is a "must go to at least twice in two days" type of place because it is so good!  When I ordered my ice cream I said, "I have a nut allergy, can you please use a clean scoop and clean the area of the ice cream?"  The guy waiting on me did even better than that. He took the Ben & Jerry's approach, and not only got a sterilized scoop, but also went in back to new ice cream to make mine.  Perfect!  

That night, a group of us went out to dinner. I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. I gave the waitress my chef card (which always seems to be both a surprise and relief to servers, since they don't have to write all my allergies down, and can easily show the chef, but also because many times they haven't seen one before). She went back to the kitchen and told me I was all set. I made sure to specify that I could not have fries or anything else that came on the side besides the lettuce and tomato. When the food came out, mine had fries on the side.  I explained again that potato was one of the allergies I had, and that they couldn't just take the fries off the side. I needed a new sandwich.  The waitress went back to the kitchen.  She came back out a few minutes later apologetic and saying that the chef also apologized and that they were making a new one now.  No worries!  As long as they understood I needed a new one it was okay, which they did.  When I eventually got my food, it was great, and certainly worth waiting for them to make me a new one.  

The next morning we went out for brunch.  I ordered scrambled eggs and toast. I told the waitress my allergies, and had her double check that they just used olive oil and butter. I had been there many times, but no matter what, I always check.  An easy meal with no problems!  

I went back that afternoon for my second ice cream of the weekend! This time I had a high school aged boy, who seemed to be new at the job.  When I ordered and told him about my allergies, he took a spoon and tried to clean off the top layer of ice cream.  Luckily, the other guy that was working took over from there, as I started explaining what had been done yesterday.  He went in back and got my ice cream for me.  Phew...

All in all, it was a fabulous, allergy-free weekend away!  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Star of the Show!

My allergies play a part every day in my life, but they certainly haven't stolen the show! Over the years, I have figured out how to make them have the most minimal role possible.  I don't want them intruding on my spotlight!    

When you have many allergies (food allergies, environmental allergies, pet allergies, and asthma) like I do, it is easier to see how the role they play can take over your life, and intrude on everything from school, to friends, to choices you make.  

There is an option though!  It is up to both the parent and the child to decide: who is the leading lady?  Is it you or is it your allergies?  I chose me! 

I know how to have my allergies play a minor role because I have developed my own comfort zone.  I know what I feel comfortable doing, and what will tie my stomach up in knots. This is something that develops over time.  Hopefully, it is a comfort to know, that the longer the allergies exist, the more comfortable it is to make decisions and understand what needs to be done to stay safe.   

When people find out I have food allergies, there is always a rush of questions.  "How long have you been allergic?  What are you allergic to?  How do you live with out those foods? etc."  This is another part of what I mean about being my own leading lady.  Sometimes I have found that people have a hard time seeing past my allergies.  It becomes a topic of conversation every time food is involved, and even often when it is not.  It is hard to push allergies into the background sometimes, so people see YOU (or your child, the allergic reactor), not your (or your child's) allergies.  Make sure people see YOU (or your child)!

Lately in the news, I have heard parents referring to their child's allergies as a "disease."  Now whether that is scientifically the right word, or not, I think the word "disease" brings a bad connotation along with it.  Yes, allergies are serious, but no, they don't need to consume your child's entire life.  Having parents call their child's food allergies a "disease" in front of them is a mistake, because it makes it sound like something that needs to be a significant part of their every day.  Parents should want their children to live a normal life, and by calling allergies a "disease," they are making it sound like no matter what, their child will never be able to live a normal life.  

Until recently, I had never heard anyone refer to food allergies as a disease. I can honestly say that I have never once thought of my food allergies like that.  The word "disease" makes food allergies sound like something terrible that affects an allergic reactor all the time.  I suppose in a way they do affect me all the time, but not in ways I am still conscious of.  I know what I need to do to protect myself, and that is that!  

Does having severe food allergies condition you to become more fearful about everything in life?

I worry about dieing in a car or freak accident, more than I do about an allergic reaction. Has worry become a significant part of my life? Yes, but not just due to allergies. There are certainly other factors, but by subconsciously knowing that anything I put in my mouth could potentially cause an allergic reaction, definitely does affect me. How could it not? By having life-threatening allergies, I have to think about things that normal people don’t. For example, confusing my water bottle at a sports practice with someone else’s; not knowing what they have eaten. It may sound minor to anybody else, but someone with allergies understands, it’s the small things that can still be a concern.

It is all about finding ways to deal with the small everyday things, that help to make my allergies only perform short acts here and there on a daily basis.  This is what my day usually consists of: 

-Wake up
-Go for a run (I wear a pack with my meds in it. I just grab it and go with no worries)
-Shower (I know all my soaps, etc. are safe because I read the ingredients before buying them) 
-Do some writing
-Eat breakfast (1st time I really think about my allergies for the day--I always scan ingredients before buying and eating, even if I know they were fine the week before)
-Pack my lunch (2nd time, scan ingredients while packing lunch)
-Drive to work
-Work (at work, I think about my allergies more often then I ever used to because I am around kids all day.  They have snack and lunch, and so I find myself washing my hands quite often).
-After work- This varies.  Sometimes I go see friends, sometimes I eat dinner with my family, etc.  Either way, I only situationally think about them, depending on what I am doing. 

All in all, my allergies are like the understudy.  They know the lines, but they don't actually get to play the main role.  I do think about them, but only when I need to protect myself.  They are never a constant thought.  They never stop me from doing what I want to do.  They are there, and I know they are a part of me, but their role is small.  That is the way I want it to stay, because I want to remain the star of the show!