The One Time I Did Not Ask About Nuts In a Restaurant

My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts. Recently I was hosting an event that I was planning on presenting at, but my time to speak was preceded by a trip to the emergency room.

I have never had an anaphylactic reaction but I do know my allergy to nuts is severe enough that ingesting small amounts of the allergen may trigger a life-threatening reaction. The event I hosted included a variety of food options that at first glance contained no nuts of any sort. On the tables there were vegetarian and non-vegetarian pizzas as well as meat and cheese trays.

Leading up to the presentation, I was somewhat nervous and wasvery focused on what I was going to say. I was somewhat hungry but I avoided food, not because of the risk of allergens, because I was very focused on my presentation. One of the people working with me handed me a slice of vegetarian pizza. I would normally ask a server, manager or owner about nuts but instead I quickly ate it and continued to work on the points I wanted to hit in my presentation. This may have been the first time I have ever forgot to ask about nuts because I was so focused on something else. Pizza, especially in a restaurant compared to a fast food chain, is a dish that one must always be careful with because of the potential for there to be nuts in pesto.

NewYorkSlice

Within a minute of finishing the pizza I felt tingling in the sides of my mouth, throat and lips. The feeling was very similar to what one would feel when they are getting their mouth frozen at the dentist. The cause quickly dawned on me. There must have been pesto on the pizza. I quickly told one of my fellow organizers that I was sure I was having a reaction and would likely have to leave for the hospital. I then found theowner to ask about nuts. The owner confirmed that therewere nuts in the pesto that was on the pizza I ate but a very minute amount. Although the reaction was not progressing very fast, I quickly had one of my co-workers drive me to the hospital emergency room because this is an experience that I have never had and did not want to take any chances.

Emergency

On my way I called my family to tell them where I was going and they said they would meet me there. Once I arrived at the hospital, I told the emergency staff of the situation and they assessed my status. I did not need immediate assistance but it was important that if I did, I was in a place that would be able to handle the reaction quickly. I had my auto-injector with me and I was ready to use it, but luckily it was not needed. The reaction did not progress any further than the minor swelling which eventually subsided after being given an antihistamine. I was grateful of my co-worker for getting me there quickly, as well as my family for coming to make sure that I was okay.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: it is critical to always ask the staff about the food you are eating at their restaurant. This is a priority above all else.

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How to Save a Life

Dylan and Jason 2 (1)My brother, who also has a peanut allergy, recently got married and the wedding was a huge success! However, a week before the wedding, we had his bachelor party up at a friend’s cottage in Muskoka. It was a guest cabin, completely “decked” out with a kitchen and everything you would need for a rainy October weekend!

At midnight on the second night (sounds cliché but I’m not kidding), our group was sitting around the kitchen table playing Cards Against Humanity when my brother suddenly says, “hey guys, I don’t want to alarm anyone but is this bad?” He pulled up his shirt and his chest was covered in hives. Seeing as how we had all been drinking for some time, we initially thought to rationalize the reaction. He had a previous allergic reaction two years ago so I was trying to remember what symptoms he had. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the hives were something he had never experienced before and we hadn’t eaten anything that even “may contained” nuts, so we were confused to say the least. After asking if he felt several other common symptoms, I asked him to lift up his shirt to see his back. When he lifted, his entire back was COVERED in hives! So that’s when we all got up, realized it was serious, and headed to the main cabin to see if the owner could drive us to a hospital. He told us that he had a few beers in his system also and the nearest hospital was an hour away! (Insert internal panic now.) My brother called 9-1-1 and they said, “An ambulance is 30 minutes away so do what you can for now and if you have your auto-injector, you should use it.”

Ambulance

So once my brother got off the phone, he looked at me and asked if I had the Allerject™ on me that I had been bragging about getting before him. I nodded my head and held it out to him. He’s afraid of needles and told me I had to do it! I shook my head and insisted he do it but he very sternly told me he wouldn’t, then got down on one knee. I think the voice of the Allerject™ was what helped calm me the most because once I pulled it out, and in my opinion, the process was nearly impossible to have messed it up. It even counted for me, which was amazing. After the injection, we went inside the cottage to stay warm and as we waited, the hives slowly went away. When the ambulance arrived, I went with my brother to the closest hospital. On a side note, sitting in the front seat of an ambulance was pretty cool!

Anyway, I chatted with the driving paramedic and he told me that we were lucky to have the auto-injector and smart to have used it. There’s no telling when or how a reaction will play out and it seems that the epinephrine did its job well. The reaction had died down so much, in fact, that we were just going to the hospital for the “monitoring” phase to make sure nothing further happened.

We are still trying to find out what caused the reaction and think it may have been a case of cross-contamination at the cottage. I like to think of this story not as the day that potentially ruined a bachelor party, but the day that I saved my brother’s life for his wedding the next weekend!

Lessons Learned from an Allergic Reaction

Emergency

I am Mathew and I am allergic to all nuts. This blog post is about a close friend of mine who recently suffered an anaphylactic reaction.

On September 17, my friend left class to grab lunch. She ordered a chicken gyro from a new Greek restaurant on campus. She took the meal to go and got on a bus to commute home. When she was half way through her meal, she started experiencing symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Her face was swelling, her throat was itchy and she was experiencing chest and stomach pain. She did not have an auto-injector with her because she left it in her gym bag and forgot to put it in her school bag. She decided to get off the bus to find a cab. The cab driver took her to the hospital. Once she got into the emergency room, the hospital staff quickly identified that she was experiencing anaphylaxis and gave her a shot of epinephrine. She was placed in a hospital bed, hooked up to intravenous and was monitored for 8 hours before being released from the hospital. It took two days for the effects of the reaction to leave her system.

Although the story is very simple, there are three valuable lessons to be learned from this person’s experience:

1. Always ask about allergens when ordering food. As you may have noticed, she did not ask the restaurant about how they do, or do not accommodate allergies. Although what caused the reaction is not clear, it is highly likely that cross-contamination may have occurred. One can only speculate as to how the allergen got into the food but it is possible that the cross-contamination issues could have been identified if she had asked about the food before ordering it.

2. Always carry an auto-injector. As I stated above, she did not have her auto-injector with her. One must always have it with them because you never know when a reaction will occur. Kudos to her for taking it to the gym because 57% of people do not carry their auto-injector with them at the gym(1). She could have treated herself on the bus if she had the auto-injector with her.

3. Always call 911 if experiencing a reaction. It’s important you do not try to drive yourself to a hospital during a reaction. An ambulance stocks life-saving medicine and can provide timely treatment on the way to a hospital.

(1) Sampson MA, Muñoz-Furlong A, Sicherer SH: Risk-taking and coping strategies of adolescents and young adults with food allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2006, 117:1440-1445.

My Summer in Whistler

When I first started to write this blog entry, I just wanted to share with you how I have spent my summer. Ironically, since that evening a few days ago, I experienced an allergic reaction. So, now, I have a slightly different story to tell.

First off, my name is Karen, and I’m allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. I am currently working in Whistler, British Columbia this summer at a hotel. This is the first time I’ve worked away from home for a longer period of time. Whistler is an amazing place, especially during the summer. You can hike, zipline, bungee jump, canoe, go white water rafting, ski and snowboard, or go swimming at the lake. I have been here for just over 2 months, enjoying every minute of it.

I live with a roommate, and we have our own kitchen, where I cook a lot of meals, instead of going out. She arrived a few days earlier than I did, and so, did her own grocery shopping ahead of time. The first night I got here, I found a jar of peanut butter sitting in our cupboard. I quickly explained my allergies to her, and now the jar, plate, and knife that she used are sitting in a separate corner of the kitchen, and has not been touched for the past couple months.

Since I am still in Canada, communicating with others about my allergies at new restaurants is not very difficult, considering there is no language barrier, and that many people are familiar with food allergies. So, luckily for me, I’ve been able to try new foods, and enjoy new restaurants, with the help of friendly waiters and chefs.

At work, I have met some of the most incredible and friendliest people who I never want to leave behind, as I go back to school in September. Everyone is really kind and open, so sharing with them that I have allergies was really easy.

In the hotel, as staff, we have our own kitchen where we receive a hot meal every day. The very first day of work, I spoke with the head chef about my food allergies, and was assured that they did not cook with nuts in the kitchen. I decided to stay away from the baked goods though, because they came from a different bakery.

So, as of a few days ago, I had been reaction-free for at least a year, maybe two. Unfortunately, I had a reaction while at work. I had just eaten lunch, and I didn’t think about asking questions because I trusted that everything was allergen free, considering I had been eating the same meals every week. As I was upstairs in the hotel, doing my job, I started feeling nauseous, blaming the fact that my food just was not settling well. Several minutes went by, and I noticed that my hands were getting tingly and turning very red. That was when I started to question what was happening.

I proceeded downstairs to the manager’s office, and explained that I may be having an allergic reaction, but was unsure yet because nothing else had progressed. I grabbed both of my auto-injectors, and took a seat, cautious of what may be happening. People came in and out of the office, concerned about me, because I apparently looked worse than I felt. I had not noticed how red my face had gotten, but when I finally took a look in the mirror, clearly my reaction had escalated. Minutes later, I was wheezing and had a few hives, so I used my auto-injector and was driven to the emergency clinic (in the hotel’s valet car, which was so cool!). I know I should have used my auto-injector right away, but I did not feel  the way I looked, if that makes sense. I was admitted immediately, and then placed under observation.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I learned that my being outspoken about my allergies has been in my favour. My co-workers were all supportive, and concerned, and thankfully, understood what was going on. Those that were with me knew what to do in the event of a bigger emergency, they were trained on how to use an auto-injector, and they remained calm, which really helped me out.

While I was sitting in the office, I learned about other co-workers allergies, and their experiences of having work-related reactions. I also spoke to a hotel guest, who thought I was just holding my auto-injector for no reason, who offered some information about it because he had one too. Additionally, I learned that people really do understand that carrying epinephrine is so important for someone with anaphylaxis.

In case you are wondering, my supervisor and I followed up with the chef, but we are still in the process of pinpointing what may have triggered my reaction. I am more cautious now when I eat at work, but that paranoia will likely disappear, especially now that I am asking more questions. I am grateful for all the people who I was surrounded by, and as I spend my last month here in BC, I am confident that I can enjoy the rest of my summer, regardless of this allergic reaction.ziplining photo

Pool Party Gone Wrong

This is a reposting of a blog article written by Sydney H. from her blog http://ataleofanaphylaxis.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/pool-party-gone-wrong/. We are happy that she is okay!

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So It happened again… I spent today in the ER after an anaphylactic reaction. This afternoon I went to an end of school year pool party with some of my girlfriends. I finished my last exam this morning and was pumped to start summer vacation. The afternoon was going perfectly! We went swimming, had lunch (perfectly allergen free), and were having so much fun! I was playing with my friends dog and throwing its toy around when the dog brought back a weed by accident. It turns out the plant was stinging nettle and its tiny thorns cut my leg and finger. Within seconds of the plant touching me my leg began to swell with welty hives, as well did my finger. My body flushed with heat and I instantly felt faint and nauseous. I took a benadryl figuring it was nothing serious. I ran to the washroom as I thought I was going to be sick and my friends followed. I told them I needed my Epipen and they were fabulous. I knew I needed it because I could feel my lips swelling and my throat closing. I remember thinking “This cant be happening on the first day of summer!!”. I administered the epipen by myself and I can honestly say I don’t remember doing that or even feeling the pain. I was so sick and faint it is all a blur. My friends immediately called 911 and my parents, as we were home alone. I have never been so proud to call these girls my friends! They handled themselves so well and were so calm. Two of them decided to wait in the driveway for the ambulance, one made phone calls, one gathered my things and my two best friends held my hands and made sure I stayed with them. They wiped my tears and were so mature and comforting.Thankfully they put some clothes on me so I wasn’t laying around in my bikini when the fire chief and paramedics arrived. I am sure we looked like a couple of wing nuts. Me laying on a bathroom floor and them running around in bikinis! Sadly the paramedics weren’t super hunky but my friends said they were keeping an eye out! Luckily they let my mom ride in the front of the ambulance as last time I had a traumatic experience by myself. The Epipen and Benadryl worked their magic and the rash disappeared and the swelling went down. As per usual I spent 4 hours in the ER to make sure my vitals were improving. They prescribed some steroids to help heal from the swelling and such. Of course I will be on alert for a secoundarry reaction, but I’m doing okay.

I am so thankful that I was surrounded by amazing people and that I am doing better. These situations are crazy scary but they make me stronger. The next couple days will probably be rough but hey im alive!!

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A friend’s experience

Hi! My name is Mathew, and I’m allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and milk. I have never had an allergic reaction that was severe enough for me to be hospitalized, but a friend of mine who has a severe nut allergy was recently hospitalized twice in two days. I wanted to share her experience.

Youth raising their arms at a music festivalAfter a weekend out at the VELD music festival, she arrived home late on a Sunday night.  Tired from 48 hours of dancing, drinking, and not sleeping, she lay down in her bed to get much needed rest.  After a few hours of sleep, during which she did not eat or apply any cosmetic products, she began to feel the symptoms of an allergic reaction.  She eventually decided to take some antihistamines.  She then went to her parents, because the symptoms were slowly becoming more severe.  Her parents did not feel that she needed to be taken to the hospital – but she found that speaking and breathing were slowly becoming more troublesome, so she called a cab to take her there.

The dashboard of a taxi cabUpon arrival at the hospital, she saw the triage nurse and was shifted from waiting room to waiting room.  Eventually she mentioned that her throat felt very tiny, but it may just be her asthma.  She was immediately rushed to the emergency room where she was hooked into an IV and given an epinephrine injection.  She was held in the hospital to be monitored until she was eventually sent home with some medication.  A few hours after she arrived home, the hives re-appeared. She took antihistamines again and went to sleep.

An ambulanceShe woke up from her sleep with trouble breathing.  Thinking that it was her asthma, she took her puffer.  Her troubled breathing persisted.  She called 911, went outside and passed out.  She woke up in the hospital being treated for her reaction.  She says that the process the second time around was very similar to the first time.

She knows that what happened was an allergic reaction, but she has no idea what caused it.