My six-year-old son learned at an early age to order for himself at restaurants, and wait staff often remark on his good manners. He looks them in the eye, says “please” and states his request clearly. Everything goes swimmingly until I speak the words that freeze the smiles on our servers’ faces:
“He’s allergic to eggs. I’m allergic to nuts. May we check the ingredients with your chef, please?”
Sometimes my son jumps the gun in his excitement, and jumbles up his words. Consequently, the server hears, “Do-your-hamburger-buns-have-eggs-I-have-an-egg-allergy-and-can’t-eat-them-and-my-mom’s-allergic-to-nuts-and-can-you-please-check-the-mac-and-cheese-and-the-pizza-too?”
My favorite responses, by far, are “We have a gluten-free menu!” or “Well, the bun/bread/pizza has dairy in it, so I guess he can’t eat it.” When I tell them that eggs are not the same as dairy, they shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Same diff.” It isn’t easy.
I’ve learned to prepare for the worst and carry not one, but two sets of EpiPens everywhere I go with my son. He has sets at school and in his backpack, and spares at home. In 2015, when I went to the pharmacy to refill our prescriptions, I discovered that none of the EpiPens were covered by our insurance. It would have cost upwards of $700 for both of us, so I waited an extra month or two, until a new year started and the new plan paid for the prescriptions. Now we’re stockpiling again in case of a Great Anaphylactic Episode.
I’ve educated my good friends, loosely, on EpiPen protocol, but I can see on their faces that they would rather perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation than stab me in the leg with a rather large needle. Maybe I shouldn’t have told them the stories about the people who accidentally activated the device upside-down and injected themselves with epinephrine through a painful hole in their thumbs. Prevention is the best medicine, I say.
And with that in mind, for many years, I have taken precautions. That means that if I’m eyeing a delectable-looking chocolate dessert at an event, but I can’t tell if a hazelnut filling is hiding in the middle, I skip it. For every country I have visited overseas, I have learned how to say, “I’m allergic to nuts” in that language. So far, that includes Greek, Czech, Spanish, Arabic and French.
In France I discovered that you pretty much have to list every nut, or when you return your salad containing pecans, it will be brought back to you with almonds instead (“Aucun amandes, soit, s’il vous plait!”). I always lost weight on those European trips, because I didn’t take too many chances and often ended up with just an orange and some green beans on my plate. Then I went back to my hotel room and ate the Nutri-Grain bars I had stuffed into my suitcase.
It’s no joke. Believe me, I know. When I’m at a new restaurant, I fear I’m going to have a reaction and various scenarios flash in front of my eyes: What if I can’t get to the EpiPen in time? Who will watch my son if they have to take me away in an ambulance? Am I going to be as embarrassed as I was the day I choked on chicken a la king in college and someone had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on me in the freshman dorm cafeteria? Also, if I need this thing, will it really work?
At least we have them. I’ll keep carting these things around until someone invents something smaller, or we can eradicate anaphylactic reactions. Or maybe I’ll create a fashionable EpiPen necklace or special pocket on the inside of a boot. Then again, that sounds like an accidental injection waiting to happen.
For a woman, carrying an EpiPen or two in a purse is no big deal. That generally means, though, that I can’t carry a cute little clutch or wristlet purse unless I want to rubber-band the EpiPens to the outside, completely negating the fashion impact of the tiny purse. I have no idea what guys do. Strap an EpiPen to the back elastic of their boxer shorts? Hide it inside the sleeve of a shirt? I pray that my son outgrows this allergy before we have to figure that out.
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