An Ounce of Prevention…

Life with food allergies or intolerances is never easy. We all know what an allergy is: the physical symptoms combined with immune cells trying to fight off the invader that is really not so bad. An intolerance is an allergy minus the immune cells; you get all of the reactions like an allergy, plus the joy of figuring it out on your own because your immune cells no longer react but your body does.

My nemesis is mushrooms in all their edible forms. I am so sensitive a drop of the stuff can send me wheezing and clutching my chest and gulping for air. Wisely, I carry injectable epinephrine and Benadryl to continue to enjoy life. It’s not that I willingly seek mushrooms; it’s more like I sometimes can’t avoid exposure because people don’t seem to get the level of sensitivity I experience.

I used to use the name-brand injector. It was beautiful in a garish sort of way. It was large and construction zone orange and yellow. It was wide at the top and tapered to the end where the needle pops out. The device was so wide the label listed the necessary usage steps in large pictures that anyone could use. It came two devices to a box with a practice device. And I did practice…ten times a day when I first got it. I actually used one (manufacturer didn’t clean machinery so well); the other aged out. You can actually practice to the point your hand knows what to do so you don’t have to think much.

When I replaced it, I had to get a generic device. I never really got them out of the box. The containers were sleek. There was no practice injector, and the containers didn’t seem to move easily. I guess I was afraid of opening them and wasting an injection due to breaking a seal of some kind. (Do you smell a story coming?)

Well, Tuesday this week was one of those odd days. Things didn’t go quite right. I got tired and stressed. My hubby, ever the sweetheart, offered to take me out to eat. Usually, I’m gung-ho for a dinner out, but we didn’t have enough time to get to a chain restaurant. I’ve learned chains are most accommodating of food issues and have enough knowledge to help their patrons avoid food issues. That said, I was too tired to argue.

So, we went to a mom-and-pop local business. We truly like local businesses; we prefer to support local businesses. However, local restaurants tend not to understand food issues. Reusing oil on food helps save money; they don’t understand the issue of cross-contaminating my French fries with breaded mushroom particles or how a tablespoon of mushroom juice in a big stuffing batch could do any harm.

And the one we picked was okay. It had a good atmosphere. We perused the menus and picked items. I was so hungry for fries and stuffed shrimp. I did my due diligence and asked about my issues. The waitress was short (probably the end of a long day) and assured me I wouldn’t have any food issues. I could see mushrooms on the menu and my gut was nagging, but I took her word for it.

The French fries were so good. They were the ones you dump into the oil frozen so they get all crunchy. The shrimp were good, but the stuffing was lousy. We paid and left (yes, I left a tip–wish it would have been instructions instead of cash).

About 10 minutes into the car ride, I felt that slight tightening. Of course, I told myself it was in my head and I should just ignore it. Within another five, I was gulping for air and rooting for my magic pocketbook–the one with the injector and Benadryl. Unfortunately, I’d left it at home from my weekend getaway with my hubby. My hubby did have Benadryl; I took those and laid back, focusing on my breathing.

Ten minutes from home, I started to feel dizzy and my face felt warm and hot. These were new symptoms, but I’m still cool–that injector is at the house.

I tore into the house and back to my bedroom (I couldn’t even unlock the door and the tearing was more a rapid-gaited stumble). I’m getting more dizzy, and my hands are shaking as I rip open the box for the generic devices. I fumbled the container open…and I stopped.

These devices were not user friendly! Everything was all about the same width. I picked what I thought was the end to inject and put my hand with my thumb on the other end. I took a deep breath, preparing to count to 10, and jammed the device against my thigh.

Time stopped.

I felt a sting in my thumb. I pulled my hand away. There was nothing on my thigh. The needle dangled from my thumb and swung off. I was stunned. Even my husband was stunned into silence.

So, I had to call 9-1-1. The operator was good, or at least he didn’t laugh outright at me. I laid on the couch with a stream of blood from my thumb. I was dazed and confused. Did I get any med? How much? What if I didn’t get any? What if I hit a blood vessel and straight injected instead of the whole muscle thing?

Well, I got my first ambulance ride of the year and spent hours in the ER. The needle was bent at almost a 90 degree angle. The staff were more worried that my thumb might be in danger. It was swollen and cold with no sensation. The injection site was black with a white ring. The bruising was spreading to other parts of the thumb where it could be felt. When the staff were sure that the damage was contained and would not cost me my thumb, I was sent home.

My dad taught me that no bad situation was wasted as long as I learned something and tried to stay out of the situation in the future. So, what did I learn?

Penny wise and pound foolish is just that: foolish… It may cost me 10 times more to have the name-brand injector, but my life is probably worth more to my husband and kids than the cost of the injector.

When you assume, you make a donkey’s butt out of yourself… I never dreamed the generic injectors would work so differently from the name-brand. I just assumed that everything would be the same. As a result, I made an error that could have really complicated my life. That said, the generic injectors are inexpensive. I could have just popped open the container and really investigated the device. I also could have used the trick a friend of mine with diabetes used. When she was learning to inject herself with insulin, she used an orange. I should have experimented with the generic injector and an old fruit or vegetable so that I knew how it would behave.

Opposable thumbs are beautiful things… I’d forgotten just how much I use my thumb to do things. My husband was happy to have me alive, but not so happy that I’m practically throwing a water bottle because I couldn’t get it open at 4 am. I also found texting difficult, as I was reduced to hunting and pecking with a pointer finger.

Knowledge is power… I can be more vocal in advocating for those with severe allergies. I was too stunned by the rapidity and bluntness of the waitresses answer to reply with the usual listing of consequences. In the future, I can do more to try to help people understand that it’s not about preferences or personal tastes, but it’s about how bodies function and how some foods, no matter how healthy, can be devastating for certain individuals. I can also contact the maker of the generic device; they may not change the design of the device, but they might be able to make the labeling more obvious. I’m sure if I panicked, others will too; a better design might prevent unnecessary negative consequences.

Life is precious and sweet… It’s funny. On the ambulance ride, as I focused on each breath, forcing my chest to expand and slowing my breathing rate, I wasn’t worried about the shabby state of my yard or how the month’s bills would get done or the chores at the house on my to-do list. I was thinking about whether I’d lived well enough that I would be well remembered; I was worrying about how my kids would feel if something didn’t go right; I was sorry I hadn’t hugged them when I left for work that morning; I was wishing my husband was with me instead of getting the kids placed and following behind. Life isn’t about the things; it about the people we love and the places we go with them and the life we experience we them. And maybe… it was time for me to have that balancing reminder.



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