“Got those two? Cool, now mine is the Mighty burger, no cheese, plus avo on traditional please… Hey, can you please tell the chef that I’m really allergic to dairy too… Yeah, the no cheese bit. I don’t feel like dying today, hahaha. Yes, I’ve been here before. That’s really cool how you put it into the register/ order system…”
15 minutes later I’m at home, and am thinking to myself:
Loving this weather. Where’s the bottle opener? Bird, get off my seat! Awesome Sunday lunch. Which burger is mine? Quick peek at it to be sure, cool, looks ok. Sooo hungry, get in my belly! Hmm that’s not right… Surely not… I checked… Did I swallow it? Yup, uh oh. How much did I eat? But what the was in it? Is it going to be a bad one…? Maybe, it feels like it. Come on, are you sure? Maybe you’re just being paranoid? Damn, there goes my throat… Pull the burger apart and check again!
“Melted cheese! So stupid. How did I miss that? Right, EpiPen is in my bag, antihistamines are in the cupboard – I’m getting them now… oh no, the baby is asleep, how are we going to make this work?” I say hurriedly to my wife. The anxiety about my impending reaction is quite apparent in my voice. It’s now not “Sunday, fun day” anymore. I’m not scared though, I’m angry that this has happened.
Ooh, that’s right I need to stab myself with this thing again… come on, you know that you need it. Safety off, pause, leg, breathe, bang goes the pen, hold and count to 10, give it a rub… OK, now I’ve got a little time before the reaction really kicks in.
“Honey, get the keys I need to go to the hospital right now… Baby can stay with Megan while you run me up. It’s ok just drop me off there. No, I want you to come back and stay at home with baby. Don’t make me talk…”
Thinking to myself again – Just focus Kurt, be calm, it’s only a 3 minute drive. You already know what is going to happen from here on in, and it is not going to be any fun. You’ve got a kid now mate, and this is the second reaction since she was born (4th since she was conceived). Get better at managing your allergy, this is not good enough.
Royal North Shore Hospital is a very short drive from my house. This time, instead of arriving with lights and sirens and being accompanied by my wife as usual, I’ve asked to be dropped off and will be riding this reaction without her. I’m familiar with this place, and this feeling, and I don’t enjoy either one of them.
Here comes the wheezing – nebulizer please, this breathing business is getting quite difficult. Here comes the reaction again – adrenaline, that helps a bit. Have some prednisolone as well. Thanks, don’t mind if I do.
Here comes the rash – more antihistamine, it’s not the one I requested and I know this one won’t do much to slow things down.
Here comes the reaction again – more adrenaline, and then the shakes.
One hour in and the rash is really kicking in now, and I’m getting super agitated about it – I’m given the antihistamine that I originally requested and it sorts things out. Heart rate comes down from 160(ish) to about 100 bpm. Phew, this is better.
I am a puffy sad face emoticon. Hey, let’s take a selfie and try to record parts of this one so I can share it with Joanne – what a great idea.
Through to another room for observation after 3 hours, and it’s 8 hours from admission to discharge. I’m really tired now.
Tomorrow I know I’m going to feel like I have been hit by a bus. Wonderful. But I am alive and keen to help raise awareness.
I’m 37, and anaphylactic to all dairy products (all milk, not egg) since birth. I consider myself to be a pretty healthy, robust, understanding, independent person who is able to cope with any situation. My mum was always fantastic at making me feel special growing up. I was always the cool kid at parties with special treats that were often better than what the other kids had. There is no tolerance or desensitization over time in my story. In fact it seems to be getting worse with age and each event. This escalation is not something that I’m scared of though. You see, the one good thing with having had dozens of these reactions over the years is that I now know what to expect, and can generally manage things pretty well. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a few very close calls along the way.
The message behind my story is simple – Anaphylaxis is something to be learnt from, not afraid of. Anaphylaxis makes you a stronger person.
I own a media and marketing agency that specializes in the Healthcare, Pharmaceutical and FMCG industries (think food & medicine). I work with many “Blue Chip” product owners, and a few small ones, publishers, store-owners, industry lobby groups and suppliers. This has given me a real appreciation of everything from the product manufacturing processes through to marketing, labelling requirements, importing – and unfortunately, crisis management.
Josh, in the previous story, covered off the hospitality/restaurant side of allergies really well. I agree with all of his sentiments, and especially that nothing can be guaranteed – but we can all do things to help make things safer. People are fallible, and mistakes happen.
Regardless of all the checks and warnings that I gave other people, I need to take (an element of) responsibility for my anaphylaxis this time around.
Ultimately it was me who put the burger in my mouth, and me who took a bite. Had I been more diligent in checking before I took a bite, this particular reaction could have easily been avoided – as I would have caught the mistake that two people missed (order taker & chef).
Sunday was a mistake, pure and simple. Learn from it, and move on.
Anaphylaxis can be a real conversation starter with my clients, especially in social situations where food and drink is involved. Ana parents, this social interaction is something that all of your ana children will experience and learn to deal with as they grow up. This condition will force them to be strong, worldly and independent – even though the thought of them dealing with this on their own scares the pants off you right now. It will be ok.
If I can cope with having a reaction in the outer islands of Fiji (picture those logistics) or the middle of Germany, then it’s up to you Ana parents to encourage your Ana kids to stretch their boundaries in a safe and sensible way. Don’t let an allergen make you hide them away from the world. Doing this may make sense to you at the moment, but it won’t help them in the long run because kids grow up. Teach them communication skills. Teach them to be assertive. Teach them to own their anaphylaxis, empower them but do not let it define them.
Anaphylaxis does not stop me from doing anything I want to do. Anaphylaxis does not stop me from travelling. Anaphylaxis does not stop me from socializing. Anaphylaxis does not dictate my life, nor that of my family (although it was a frustrating 12 months while my wife breastfeeding ?!) I am really excited to work with Joanne and others in helping create a better future for all of us.
Note – we are currently working with the burger chain on policy change at the moment so won’t announce who they are until then. Joanne will announce some exciting news shortly about the progress.
Note – anaphylaxis may make eating a 14 course degustation at Heston Blumenthals “Fat Duck” a bit difficult, but it won’t stop me from going there to check things out. – Kurt, aged 37