2018 was a huge year for me in terms of personal growth and new life experiences. I overcame several obstacles with my allergies this year: managing my allergies at college, while doing weekly baking activities at summer camp, on several day trips, and for two whole weeks in China. And above all of these experiences, I even had the opportunity to speak at the FARECon Teen Summit.
No obstacle of 2018 will compare to my first anaphylactic reaction at college. For months I have thought about how I wanted to post about the incident, but I just didn’t have the courage. It didn’t feel right to talk about this mistake I made with my allergies on a space where I was dedicated to showing how fully you could live your life with being limited by your food allergies. But I realized that it is important to accept that in life, everything will not always be safe. There will come a day when you make a mistake as a person with food allergies. I hope that by sharing this story, others will understand what a moderate reaction looks like and why allergic people must take all the precautions that they do.
August 27th. It was 8:30 on the night before classes started, and I was eating a food that I didn’t read the label of when all the sudden I realized that it was crunchy. I checked the label and saw the word “walnut” in the ingredients list and was freaked out. I hadn’t had a reaction in 9 years and I could feel in my soul that although I only had one bite, I was in for a long night. I immediately went to student health even though I did not show many symptoms at the time. I had no visible skin symptoms but my throat and tongue felt like they were swelling up. They gave me benedryl and prednisone as an attempt to cure my mild reaction and sent me back to my dorm room. At this point it was around 10pm. I tried to go to sleep that night at around 11pm but things just didn’t feel right inside of me. At 1am, I decided to get out of bed because my skin felt like it was on fire and I wasn’t sleeping well. I used my phone flashlight to look at myself and discovered that my normal pale skin was replaced by bright red hives and welts. These symptoms plus the swelling of my throat and tingly lips from earlier caused me to take my roommate back with me to student health. There, they told me that they couldn’t help me and that if I wanted to self-inject my epinephrine, they would call the ambulance. I decided that that route would be the safest. I got to Christiana Hospital at around 2am and then waited in a hospital bed in the hallway for nearly three hours before they finally brought me to a room. As the epinephrine worked its magic, my skin became warm and speckled as the hives faded. They monitored my vitals and told me that I would be fine. By 4:45, I was finally moved to my own room. They kept me for another hour to ensure that I was safe for a total of 4 hours after receiving the epinephrine. I was discharged at 6am and walked into the lobby where I saw another UD student who had been discharged 30 minutes ago and was told that the UD police should have been there to pick us up . After waiting for 30 minutes for the UD Police escort back to campus, my roommate called an Uber for us to get back, since that would be more reliable. We got back on campus at 7am and I made it to my 8am class on time despite the wildest all-nighter I could have ever imagined. Throughout the rest of the day, the buzz from the epinephrine diminished and eventually my lack of sleep caught up with me. I made it through all of my classes and I fell asleep directly after my 8pm choir call-back that night, and I got more sleep than I would get for the rest of my busy semester.
Allergic reactions are one of the scariest things you can endure. Their impact changes you both physically and mentally. If you’ve ever taken a “True Colors” personality test, you’d know that “Gold” people like having control and being organized. As someone who fits this “Gold” personality, I had the worst time with the idea that I couldn’t control what was going on in my body. Sure I took care of myself as soon as I recognized my mistakes. But I didn’t know that my reaction would be bi-phasic and that I would get worse in two hours. Sure I self-injected my Auvi-Q, but as I laid there on the bed at student health waiting for the ambulance to arrive and my symptoms got worse and worse, my fear of impending doom took my emotions on a trip. I had done all that I could but it was not enough. It is incredibly taxing to be stuck hoping that your symptoms would end and not being able to control what was going to happen to you. The lack of control and predictability is something that I never thought about when I thought about having allergic reactions. I am so lucky that I was able to be stabilized by the epinephrine auto-injector and that I did not need to be hospitalized with IV fluids, but it was still a serious and scary way to start my semester. After I got back into my normal routine, eating became scarier than it had ever been. Getting myself to trust that other people would be able to keep me safe and give me allergen-free food was really stressful. What if they made a mistake? What if I made another mistake? I had to learn to look past these anxious worries and bring myself back to the mindset that I was going to be served safe food.
Looking into 2019, I hope that this year brings me more opportunities to grow. With my new year’s resolution of being more positive and intentional about everything I do, I hope to avoid as many risky situations for my allergies while still giving myself opportunities to challenge myself in other aspects of life. While I am home for Winter Break, I also hope to create more content for my YouTube channel and stay more active on my blog. Good luck to all of you for the upcoming year!