By Bryan Sih, Muse Staff Writer
I hand in my Charles River Bread Company form, checked off with delicious ingredients (Asiago Focaccia bread, grilled chicken, bacon, lettuce, caramelized onions, mozzarella cheese, basil—you have to try this sandwich) and at the top I scrawl “ALLERGIC TO TREE NUTS.”
I hide behind the GSU pillar and observe the sandwich lady reading my order. She looks around as if someone has just left a burning bag of poop on her doorstep, sighs, and then walks over to change her gloves as if this were a difficult task.
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the gesture, but this isn’t the most efficient way to prevent cross-contamination. Cross-contamination can occur anywhere: on the shelves where my bread rests alongside bread with walnuts, on the staging area where all sandwiches are placed, or on the griddle where my sandwich will get all warm and toasty but perhaps also deadly.
Food allergies are a terrible inhibitor to enjoying the full palette of food, but the repercussions resonate deeper. Consider this: If I were living in a pre-civilized society, I would probably eat a nut while gathering food and die somewhere in the bushes from anaphylactic shock. A food allergy makes you feel like a biological misfit, an accident of the species, especially when you eat out: waiters give you strange looks, your friends eat food you could only dream of tasting, and dessert might as well be a bomb on a plate.
One time at lunch in middle school, my mom packed me chocolate chip cookies from the local Costco. Unfortunately, one of the cookies had a nut in it. Even more unfortunate: this was the day I had planned to ask a girl to the Snowball Dance. I ate the cookie and immediately felt myself having a reaction, but there was no way I was going to this dance without a date.
A reaction, however, feels like your body trying to expel the allergen by any means possible, even if that means sending it through your skin. A reaction feels like a hornet’s nest has been set off in your stomach, and the hornets sting your throat, your skin, anywhere else they can crawl. Your lips feel as though they’ve been punched and swell to strange proportions. Hives break out on your skin, everywhere, as if you were a walking, bubbling volcano.
In this very state I approached her. Through my short breath – my throat was slowly closing up from anaphylactic shock – I said, “Sarah, I’m dying, but if I make it through this, will you go to snowball with me?”
She was understandably concerned but acquiesced.
Upon confirmation, I ran to the nurse, who called an ambulance and gave me a shot of epinephrine, which consists of pure adrenaline. Movies sometimes portray adrenaline as entering the head or heart (Pulp Fiction anyone?) but this is simply not the case. The thigh has the fatty buffer worthy of the faint-inducing needle that comes out of the EpiPen. The adrenaline rush is like an instant cure for the flu. Think of the most sick you’ve ever felt, and then imagine all your symptoms disappearing with one pinching shot.
Food allergies are a curse, but there have been improvements: better labeling, better awareness in restaurants. Furthermore, we can all benefit from the suffering of others. Next time you eat a pecan pie or pistachio ice cream, think of all those who have never experienced the bliss your mouth is currently reveling in and smile. You would survive as a hunter and gatherer.