An unexpected Hospital visit

The last thing I expected to find myself doing on a Saturday night was sitting in the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The thing is, I’m not even from St. John’s. I’m here for a month long summer program at Memorial University, where my day is planned to the minute and this was definitely not scheduled! So what happened?

It was Indian food night (my favourite!) I LOVE spicy food but I’m always very careful when ordering it to avoid menu items with nuts, since I’m allergic. I also make a point of letting the staff know about the severity of my allergies. This time however, it wasn’t me doing the ordering. The food had been catered, and I checked with the program staff to ensure nothing contained nuts, which they assured me was indeed the case.

There were no labels on any of the foods so I had no idea what I actually ate, apart from lots of Naan bread. Something didn’t agree with me and I felt it immediately. My throat felt thick and weird, but I just attributed that to the effect of the spices in the food. I tried to calm myself down because I was assured there weren’t any nuts in the food and I trusted the word of the program staff.

When I got back to my room a little while later, I didn’t feel any better. In fact, I felt worse: nauseous and bloated. After telling one of the program assistants how I was feeling, I took an anti-histamine and decided to lie down. After about an hour, I began to feel itchy and realized I was developing hives. At this point, I still had not given myself my auto-injector because the reaction wasn’t one I was prepared for. I have always been told to be aware of an itchy tongue and swelling of the lips, but I didn’t have either of these symptoms, which threw me off. Eventually, one of my friends came to check on me and told the program assistants that I did not look good. They quickly took me to the hospital across the street where it turns out I was, in fact, having an allergic reaction. To what? Who knows! The doctors in the emergency room gave me an IV of anti-histamine, a steroid, and a medication to calm the nausea. I felt better almost immediately and watched as my hives slowly disappeared. The doctor said that in retrospect, I should have given myself my auto-injector because by the time I would have felt like I was actually having an allergic reaction, it may have been too late for me to do it myself.

I learned a lot from this experience, even though I thought I knew everything there was for a teen to know about her allergies. The truth is, every reaction is different, and some take hours to progress – like mine that night. On top of that, they don’t always have the same symptoms. I’ve always had an itchy tongue when having an allergic reaction, but not that night. What I know now is that it is absolutely vital to ALWAYS carry your auto-injector with you, and to ALWAYS wear your MedicAlert bracelet. More importantly, ALWAYS go to the hospital if you don’t feel right, especially after eating a suspicious food. And don’t worry – I felt no pain from my treatment at the hospital, only relief, so there is no need to be scared of what will happen to you there. The medical professionals will save your life, which is a feeling that is incomparable!

As for Indian food, I’ll probably stay away from it for a while, but I don’t want this incident to stop me from living a full life. It just reminds me to always be alert for my allergens, and to listen to my body when it’s telling me something isn’t right. I still enjoy Indian food, but now I know that it is a possible trigger for me and I must be extra careful when ordering it.

I hope that by sharing my experience it will remind you to always take your allergies seriously and get to the hospital when necessary. I stayed calm through the entire experience and tried to think rationally – this can really help when you’re unsure about whether you’re having a reaction or not. Never let anyone tell you that you’re just being panicky either – if YOU think you’re having an allergic reaction, then you need to get to the hospital, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Stay safe everyone!

Hannah L.

Taking Control of Your Own Allergies

As a teenager or a young adult, taking control of your allergies can be tough. You have to do all the things your parents did for you when you were younger. This ranges from calling a restaurant in advance to booking your own doctor appointments. Inevitably, this involves a lot of talking to people, sometimes arguing with them, inconveniencing them, and standing up for yourself.

One of the hardest parts of taking control is communicating with other people. These people can be your friends, a restaurant waiter, or a flight stewardess, and they all need to be informed of your allergies. If you’re shy or introverted, this can be especially difficult. It’s scary to wonder if that person will judge you, roll their eyes, laugh at you, etc. It’s really best to get used to this anxiety while you’re young, because you’ll have to deal with people’s reactions for the rest of your life. I tried a bunch of different communication strategies before finding one that worked for me. Scaring people by telling them they could kill you tends to freak them out, but down-playing the severity of your allergies can lead to situations which put you in danger.

Asking for accommodations can be scary as well. It sucks to have to ask a group of people to rearrange their plans so you can go to a restaurant with them, but if they’re really your friends they probably want you to join them and be safe. Personally, I find talking to waiters to be the hardest. Most waiters are accommodating, but sometimes if they’re really busy they might brush you off or dismiss you. If you don’t feel like they’re taking you seriously, ask for another waiter. There’s nothing more important than your safety. You’re the only one who is responsible for your health, so if you feel like the waiters are wishy-washy, ask to speak to a manager or the chef.

One of the more uncomfortable conversations you’ll have to have will be with your girlfriend/boyfriend. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person and probably kissing them, it’s important that they know all about your allergies and how to handle them. They might have to watch what they eat if they’ll be seeing you that day, or brush their teeth and waiting an extended period of time before coming over. The unfortunate truth is that some people are not willing to do this. These are not the people you want to date, no matter how cute they are. Stand up for yourself, and if they don’t care about your health, move on.

Finally, be okay with messing up sometimes. You might forget your auto-injector at home one day and have to run back and get it, or forget to renew a prescription and have to run to the pharmacy at midnight. These things happen, and they’re part of the process of growing up and taking control. The important thing is to learn from these mistakes so you don’t make them again.