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! 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Trust Yourself (For the Allergic Reactors)!

(This blog is for the allergic reactors especially)! 

There have been numerous times I have saved myself from having an allergic reaction. I get a feeling in my gut, a big red flashing NO sign in my mind, and I know not to eat. This gut feeling is momentous! It is a clear sign to you that if you feel uncomfortable eating something, you should not be eating it. It does not matter how good it looks, or how comfortable your family or friends or the people at the restaurant are that it is okay. If you aren’t comfortable eating it, don’t. No one is forcing you. That is why you need to be comfortable with yourself enough to say no to it.

There have been a few situations that stick out in my mind, where I needed to be able to trust myself.

When I was ten, I went on vacation to Cape Cod with one of my best friend's, Ariel, and her family.  We went out to dinner one of the nights we were there.  I ordered a burger, because it seemed to be the safest food on the menu.  The waiter said that he would make sure it wasn't cooked near any fish.  I asked him also to check the ingredients in the rolls.  When our food came out, I asked if the roll was okay.  He said there were no ingredients on the package, but he was "sure" that it was fine.  I wasn't "sure" that it was fine though, and wouldn't eat my meal.  I felt bad that I was wasting food, but more importantly, I felt confident that I was making the right choice!
When I was a freshman in high school I went to Disney world during February vacation with my best friend Sara, and her family. We went to the Italian restaurant in the Italy section in Epcot. We ordered, and I told the server about my allergies. He had the manager come over, who explained that I should not eat any of the olive oil because it was infused with a nut oil. The manager was extremely helpful and we were able to figure out what I could safely eat.

In April that same year my family decided to stop at Disney on our way to another part of Florida. We went to the same Italian restaurant in Epcot. When I ordered I asked the waiter about the oil. He said it was fine and insisted there were no nuts in the oil. My parents agreed it was fine, even after explaining to both about my experience there in February. I decided I didn’t believe my parents or the waiter, and refused to eat. I said we needed to ask the manager, and insisted the manager come over. I just knew. I felt this knot of anxiety in my throat. It turned out I was right! The manager was glad I had brought it to his attention. After this experience I think my parents became even more aware of my strong sense of independence, responsibility, and confidence in myself. I took control of the situation. I made my own decision. I saved my own life. "Phew..." is more of what I thought! Close call number one thousand...!