My Quarantine Life: Week 24

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Jolene, my work from home supervisor.

Decision Fatigue. I am definitely feeling it. Prior to the pandemic, I had most of my life on a schedule designed to operate on cruise control. This made me more efficient so that I could focus on what matters most. 

For example, having a minimalist wardrobe reduces decision fatigue. When you only have 4 pairs of pants to throw around the room, you are less likely to feel frustrated with what you have to wear. Admit it. We all have times when we have been getting dressed in the morning, and some article of clothing gets removed and thrown around the room because it doesn’t fit right, feel right, look right, etc. When you have a minimalist wardrobe, you minimize decision fatigue. Every item you own is a favorite, so you are more likely to be happy with the first outfit you put on for the day.

In quarantine, I am running into decision fatigue with food. Yes, I do like to be creative. However, it is now downright absolutely exhausting having to be creative with food every single day. Due to the food shortages, many of my go-to items are unavailable. I have to get creative with what I do have. 

There is no longer the option to make something up quick in 30 minutes or less. I am often spending more than an hour cooking every single day. This is because all of my food allergy friendly convenience items are unavailable. I am being forced to cook every single meal from scratch every single day.

Take breakfast, for example. My special allergy-friendly cereal is either unavailable, or the choice that is available has a limit of 2. This is made even more challenging when I have people shopping for me by just adding items onto their own list. I have to just obtain food by where people are already going and what they can get for me. It is making living with food allergies that much harder.

For breakfast, I have been making muffins since cereal and milk are unavailable. Allergy-friendly milk, by the way, has been completely unavailable since the end of February.

Making muffins every 2-3 days is hard work. Yesterday, I had to shred the carrots by hand. Yes, they are made from scratch. I have no shortcuts available. Food in quarantine is hard. I am also going through more muffins because I am eating them for snacks. I get hungry a lot, and none of my allergy-friendly snack items are available due to factory closures. Food shortages are real. 

I have been trying to figure out how to get food without relying on my informal supports. As things have reopened and people go back to their routines, they don’t tend to check on me as much in quarantine. It is really challenging to order things online. I cannot get produce or anything fresh that way – only shelf stable items.

My fear throughout this entire pandemic is that I do not want to put anyone at risk to help me. Plus, if a person or people helping me get COVID, then they will no longer be able to help me because they will need help themselves.

That fear has come true. About half of the people helping me with food are now in quarantine awaiting COVID test results.

I have been hungry all the time throughout this pandemic. I don’t remember hunger like this since I was a child. This is primarily due to the fact that I have multiple food allergies and there are severe food shortages. I’m not going to eat something just to have it kill me. That defeats the point.

Decision fatigue over lack of food options combined with the fact that I have lost close to 15 pounds during the pandemic, has created a problem. I weigh less than 100 pounds to begin with. I have to figure out how to create some sense of normalcy with food even with food shortages.

Obtaining food is my biggest challenge right now.

Thankfully, one local non-profit is delivering food to houses for free – food pantry style. I requested a delivery last week to help. The challenge is that they were not able to accommodate my multiple food allergies. I am only able to eat about half of what they give me. It was also challenging trying to open the bags without touching something I am allergic to and causing a reaction. 

Money is tight right now since food prices have escalated to 3-4x more in the pandemic. That’s if you can find food. I hear many stories of bare shelves in grocery stores.

Instacart does deliver to my area. It is expensive. Many people have recommended that I not try it due to the expense. However, at this point, I am starving and desperate. 

I was so hungry the other day and the only thing I had to eat without spending an hour plus cooking was 2 hot dogs. Something needs to change. I need food.

I did sign up for a free 2-week trial of Instacart. Yes, I am fully aware I will be charged for it after the 2 weeks. However, I did the math, and it works out to be $8 per month for the service. Seeing that I will be in quarantine for close to a year if not longer, I decided to take the risk. At this point, I am so hungry, I just want food.

I placed my first order on Instacart. I was so impressed it arrived in less than 2 hours. Not only that, but I had the best “shopper” (yes, I tipped her well). 

For the first time in 6 months (since about February), I now have cereal, milk, bacon, allergy-friendly snacks and a few other items that make me feel more normal. What’s better is that Instacart is cheaper than the local delivery service I used previously. The other delivery service had a $100 minimum and a very limited selection of items. Instacart allows me to send someone to the stores where I know they have my allergy-friendly items. They also only have a $35 minimum, which is a lot easier on my wallet right now. 

While I still feel bad asking someone else to go to the store for me … well, this is their job. I’m sorry it’s their job, but thank you. Now I don’t have to worry about half the people helping me being quarantined for COVID tests. As long as Instacart can keep enough employees … Yes, I am tipping well. They deserve hazard pay for this. 

There are still food shortages. I had strawberries on my Instacart list, and the shopper had to substitute blueberries because there were no strawberries. That’s fine. I’m not picky. I was just happy to have fruit. There was also a substitution with my ground turkey … again, no problem. This is the first time since February I have been able to get ground turkey. I can’t wait to make turkey burgers and carrot fries this week. I communicated my food allergies to the shopper so they were able to make appropriate substitutions for me when needed.

I’m not sure if this Instacart thing is a good thing or a bad thing, but when I received my Instacart delivery this week, it was the first time in a long time I felt almost normal when it came to food. Everyone has been trying to discourage me from Instacart, so I am a little skeptical. 

However, I have what I need to make several of my normal meals and do not have to get creative with what I have. I feel very rich that I actually have food right now. I even have some things in my freezer so that I can go a while between needing groceries so I am not putting Instacart people at risk. I am happy that when I tip them, I am tipping a local person who needs the money right now.  

Food and work continue to be my two biggest challenges in the pandemic. I need food and I need to be able to do my job so I can continue to get paid. I am so thankful to be employed.

I am not sure if Instacart is going to solve my food issues or even if it will be more affordable than what I have been doing. Maybe I am throwing my money away. Who knows? All I know is that I am hungry, and I can’t live with being hungry anymore. The food shortages are one of the hardest things I have lived through.

Anyone else have any positive or negative experiences with Instacart?

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.