A Life-Saving Gut Feeling

My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all nuts. I recently experienced a close call where a gut feeling played a major role in stopping me from consuming pine nuts in an Asian cuisine restaurant.

A few weeks ago I went for lunch to what most Canadian’s would consider to be an authentic Asian restaurant with my parents and a friend of mine from overseas. The restaurant was lavished in gold colour decor, the service was quick and friendly, although somewhat rushed, the food was very fresh and, unfortunately for me, English was the second language of every staff member with whom I spoke.

The facts that I was trying out a new type of food, that English was the second language of all of the staff who I spoke with, and that the staff were in a rush made this situation notably risky since I am allergic to nuts.Roastporkpastries

Fortunately, I have been in this situation in the past and my friend was fluent in the language of the staff so I instructed him to inform the staff of my concerns. I watched the conversation and the staff’s non-vocal cues to try and identify the staff’s understanding of the situation. I read the English on the menu to try and make sensible selections. Unfortunately, this was not enough. We ordered a pork filled pastry but I had a random gut feeling to carefully cut it open and ask my mom, an expert in identifying allergens, to look at the filling. The pastry was, although not clear to the untrained eye, filled with pine nuts and eating it would have caused me to have an allergic reaction. Below I summarize the main issues I encountered with this incident and some safety measures for similar cases in the future.

Issues

  • English was the second language of the staff which means that there was a risk that the staff would have trouble understanding my concerns.
  • The staff were rushed which means that there was a risk that the staff would not take note of my concerns in an attempt to make the service quicker.
  • I am not accustomed to eating this particular culture’s food and I am therefore not familiar with what ingredients and preparation methods are typically utilized.
  • The staff were not accustomed to dealing with food allergies.

Although I was careful, I skipped a couple of safety measures that I could have taken, and will take in the future. These include:

  • Asking to speak with a staff member who is fluent in English
  • Be as serious as possible when telling the staff that this is a life-threatening allergy
  • Avoid anything that includes filling and focus on ordering simpler foods such as grilled meats and steamed vegetables. This will also include a more thorough explanation of cross-contamination safety precautions to ensure the simpler foods remain simple and safe.

My Wake-up Call

Since developing my food allergies at thirteen I have had to use an auto-injector several times, but there is one reaction that sticks out in my memory the most. I was in grade eleven at the time and was going out for lunch with friends during a typical school day. Sometimes with food allergies, you don’t want to be different than your peers and want to feel like you can do everything that they can.

chinese foodMy friends wanted to go out for Chinese food and I completely went ahead with the plans without even thinking about possible allergens or the precautions I needed to take. It was completely irresponsible and one of my biggest mistakes. For the most part, I was responsible with my food allergies, but I never realized how serious they actually were. I devoured my delicious Chinese food with my girlfriends not even knowing what was about to happen. By the time we arrived back at the school I began to feel the familiar feelings of anaphylaxis that I knew too well. Before I knew it my teacher was administering my auto-injector, followed by a second dose as symptoms worsened. As the ambulance raced down the highway they gave me a third dose and I knew things were bad.

As I lay on the stretcher regret and guilt came over me. I had put my life at risk all for one meal with friends because I didn’t want to be different and worry about my allergies. Thankfully, once I arrived at the emergency room my symptoms slowly subsided. It was really a close call where I learned many valuable lessons.

I really don’t mean to scare people with this story, but the fact is, it scared me and want others to know that situations like this are preventable. Anaphylaxis is very serious, but with a little bit of effort and initiative you can do everything that your peers can, safely and effectively. This reaction was my wake up call. Since then I have checked labels, informed restaurant staff, planned ahead, and been responsible for my health and safety. Less than a month after this reaction, I became involved with Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) and have learned a lot about allergies and myself since then. Being able to share my experiences and help others has been an amazing experience. To conclude, use this story as a wakeup call, don’t wait for a life-threatening situation to occur to realize the severity. Stand up, be responsible and be safe!