Sunday, February 16, 2003

Lengthy Ranting About Allergies

I'm recovering from my second semi-serious allergic reaction of the week. The first was Tuesday night. It rained in the night, and *something* bloomed. I woke up around 2AM itching and covered in hives, took a lot of Benadryl, and slept through the next day. I was apparently quite entertaining in the morning. Michele was trying to talk to me, and I was answering in a dream. Did I want some tea? "My head fell off." And so on.

Last night was a bit more serious. Paul made a wonderful steak dinner for everyone — well, steak for them, portabella mushrooms for me, since I don't eat large slabs of meat. He also made smashed potatoes, the portabellas (done in way too much lime juice — not one of his more successful experiments, I'm afraid), and lovely fresh asparagus stir-fried with onions and (unfortunately) marinated artichoke hearts.

We try to label anything coming into the house that's dangerous for me, using ugly Day-Glo green stickers. But the stickers just mean that something is definitely unsafe — their absence doesn't mean something is definitely safe. And of course, usually I check anything I eat. But last night was unusual. Paul doesn't cook all that often. We were all relaxing and having a good time together. He said everything was Lynn-safe and listed what was in each dish — though he said "artichoke hearts," not "marinated artichoke hearts." He thought they were OK, since there was no green sticker.

So. I sit down, start eating, and in five minutes or so I was violently itching. I didn't even have an artichoke heart — but I ate two stalks of asparagus that had touched them, and they were marinated with "spices," one or more of which must have been on my forbidden list.

So: another night doped to the gills with Benadryl. I'm still itchy and rashy. And another evening ruined by Lynn's stupid allergies.

Oh God, for the days when I could waltz into any restaurant and eat anything. When I devoured fine meals of Indian food or Mexican food or Chinese food without being terrified that a stray flake of cilantro or slice of celery would kill me. When I could eat at a buffet or salad bar without being afraid that something had touched celery.

It's damned hard, and I feel terrible about it. On one hand, I have to be an absolute termagant about the spice thing, or people don't take it seriously. I really and truly can die from celery and all its cousins, which include parsley, cumin, anise, coriander, cilantro. . . . half the spices around. People act as though I simply don't care for celery. (I loved it right up to the point when I started reacting to it, in my early thirties.) Believe me, it's serious. The buckwheat allergy is, too — anybody who saw me gasping for air in the ER after that little episode knows I have to be totally serious about eradicating any trace of buckwheat from my diet. I can't be polite about it. It will kill me.

On the other hand, when someone does inadvertently give me an allergic reaction, I honestly don't want them to feel bad. I certainly don't hold it against them. I hold it against myself — I'm the one with the weird problems, and I am responsible for every bite that goes into this mouth. I have to be.

After the buckwheat reaction last April, when I spent the evening in the ER and the subsequent 3 days knocked out by Benadryl, it was a good six months before food gave me any pleasure again. Until that started coming back, I hadn't realized it was gone. I did realize that I could scarcely be persuaded to eat anything other than the most basic foods, stuff I was absolutely certain held no risks. But only when I started inhaling deeply, savoring homemade food, and saying, "It's like sex!" did I realize how completely that pleasure had been gone for me.

I can't even enter restaurants that use those spices heavily — Boston Market, plenty of seafood restaurants, Indian restaurants. I brown-bag it to friends' parties. There are only a handful of people I'll trust to cook for me now, because they're as paranoid about food as I have to be. And because I know how hurtful it is to someone who cares about me when I have a bad reaction to food. Sonja has never quite forgiven herself for making the meal with the buckwheat noodles, though neither of us knew about the buckwheat allergy — it was brand new.

I don't want my friends to feel bad. I don't want to be a bloody boring drag when everyone wants to go out to eat. And yet I do seriously have to be frightened. I had a mild reaction on Thanksgiving to something that had apparently touched celery at some point (probably the potatoes). My upper lip swelled grotesquely, and I got itchy. But this was a visible reaction — and Antony actually apologized to me. He thought all these years I'd been making an unnecessary fuss about celery. Only seeing this intensity and speed of reaction made him realize that the problem was serious. But the really serious reactions aren't that visible. You just go into anaphylactic shock. And die.

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