Thursday, August 10, 2017

Memory Lane: Food Allergies on the Move

We are on our way to Chicago to look at colleges, and I am stopped, as I slip back into my loafers, and watch my carry-on being X-rayed. Again.

 My son nods to me, questioning--Epi-Pens? No, I say, think it’s the food bag.  And the security guard pulls out the rectangular soft case meant for keeping baby bottles cool—ours happens to be plaid—and unzips it.  Inside she finds a Ziploc bag of frozen steak, strips of chicken and ½ pound of roast beef.

My son has food allergies—multiple food allergies—so we travel with food.  Everywhere, every trip.

It’s a strange territory this food allergy world—it’s not intolerance, you explain, he could stop breathing if he eats an egg or something made with an egg.

My son is anaphylactic to Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Sesame, Shellfish—that means if he eats these foods in any of their multi-various forms, his throat will close, he will need a shot or two of adrenaline and a hospital visit.

As for other allergies—he’s allergic to wheat, soy, peas, strawberries, barley and so on—to these he merely vomits until they’re out of his system.  But at least we know he won’t be guzzling beer at all these colleges we’re visiting. 

But it also means that he’s never had pizza or ice cream or birthday cake at a party. Or ever sat down in a restaurant without a frisson of anxiety—prior research and experience notwithstanding.  But at least we go to restaurants; some allergic families do not.

In the large scheme of bad things, food allergies are not the biggest deal.  But the devil is in the details.

In the everyday details of life—breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the bring-your-own-food-to-every-event-you’ve-ever-been-to details. The change-every-meal-in-your-family-tradition –from lasagne to chopped liver to chicken soup. The details of the ship-your-own-food-to-every-travel-destination, and by the way, get a doctor’s note for carrying that food the airport security is now squeezing back into your little plaid insulated case.

Food allergies are isolating, dangerous, exhausting and frustrating.

 What it’s really about is finding a balance, like most things in life.  Finding a balance between anxiety and self-confidence. Between anger and restraint.  Between self-pity and joining the parade. Between avoidance and risk.

But, this day, as I step back from the virtual edge—the security guard smiles at me and waves me through.  “It looks like good eats,” she says, and I smile back and say “thanks.”

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