Welcome to My World

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Jolene likes to sit in the kitchen sink.

Every day I leave my house, I never know if I am going to come home. I could have an allergic reaction while in the community and end up in the hospital. Back in 2014 when I was still teaching, one of my students spilled milk in my lap. I have a severe dairy allergy and went into anaphylactic shock once the milk absorbed into my skin. I was intubated, and then spent several months in ICU on a ventilator along with kidney and liver failure.

This is how I live every day. If you think my dairy reaction is bad, my nut reaction is worse. It has now been over 10 years since I have had an allergic reaction due to something I have ate. All of my reactions have been from touch.

For example, if someone has been eating handfuls of almonds, then gets in an elevator and pushes a button, they have transferred nut oils to that elevator button. If the button is not properly cleaned, the nut oil will live on that button for up to 21 days before the protein breaks down.

If at some point in that 21 days, I get in the same elevator and push the button, I will have a nut reaction. How severe my reaction is depends on how much of the nut oil I absorb through my skin.

I always have what I call “allergy spots” on my skin from touch reactions. These are open wounds that sometimes bleed, sometimes leak clear fluid, and take several months to a year to heal. If I absorb enough of my allergen through my skin, I have the whole stop breathing and need an epi pen reaction that sends me to the hospital.

Every single day I leave my home, I don’t know if I’m going to touch something that is going to cause that reaction or not.

With current events, COVID-19 is operating on a similar basis. We have learned we can catch the coronavirus from surfaces. We can catch the coronavirus from asymptomatic carriers. Every day we leave our house, we don’t know if we are going to be exposed to the coronavirus or not because it is every where and it is invisible.

Welcome to my world with severe food allergies.

The world we are living in right now that involves masks, cleaning supplies and gloves is the world I live in every single day. Except instead of trying to kill coronavirus, I try to avoid nut oils and dairy that have the potential to kill me.

I was talking to one of my friends this week who made the comment to me that they can finally empathize with my disability of having several severe food allergies that react by touch. There is not much difference for me dealing between dealing with the coronavirus and my food allergies. Both are invisible things that yield the same result: intubation, a ventilator, and possibly death.

If my food allergies had an 80%+ chance of killing me before this started, I now have a 90%+ probability of death if I have a reaction during the coronavirus. 

While the coronavirus situation is not easy for anybody, I am hoping that the experience will give people a little bit of insight as to what life is like for people with severe food allergies every single day. 

This is a horrible way for people to empathize with what we live through, but here it is.

So the next time you complain about having to wear a mask and gloves when you go out, think of people who live with this concern every day. People with severe food allergies like mine go to work, school, and stores every day of our lives not knowing if today is the day we are going to touch something that causes a reaction that will send us to the hospital.

Hopefully the good hygiene habits of wiping down surfaces and washing hands will continue once the pandemic is over. It is not just COVID-19 that kills people, but things like nut oils too. You may enjoy that peanut butter sandwich, but to someone else it is lethal.

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