So I’ve always had allergies. And they’ve always been pretty severe. So what’s happening right now — this extremely limited diet, the excessive carefulness — it’s not the first time in my life I’ve had to deal with it. Apparently, it’s a lot like what went down when I was a kid.
But, there were a lot of years where my allergies were totally manageable and secondary. I mean, it’s not that big of a deal to be allergic to fish and salad. So I was happily not going to an allergist, never getting tested, just rolling along not eating lettuce and being ok about it.
Until a year ago. Well, sort of. The X-Games are this weekend (and I’m going tonight, woot!) and I remember clear as day that when I went to the ER for a random allergic reaction last year, the X-Games were going on. And they were in July last year and now it’s June, so it’s not exactly a year, but in X-Games-time it’s a year and I overcelebrate birthdays and anniversaries, so…happy allergiversay to me!
It seems only fitting to recall the incident that sparked this whole “to-do.”
I’d gone to Trader Joe’s with my intern/friend T to pick up some food for lunch. We’d talked about my allergies there, because it had become a big deal to my interns around that time. (Their boss’ son is allergic to peanuts, and there was a training session/dinner at his house where someone had brought peanut M&Ms. I asked him if he was fine and like all 14 year old boys, he said sure, but I could tell he wasn’t thrilled about the peanuts being there and everyone touching everything but he didn’t want anyone to know why, so I asked the interns who were eating the M&Ms to soap their hands and keep the M&Ms closed and separate because of allergies to peanuts, and they all assumed it was my allergy to peanuts, which I didn’t know I was allergic to and still believe I’m not, and I didn’t correct them because I remember being embarrassed about my allergies and sometimes I still am, but I blog about them to make them meaningful so all that embarrassment sort of had to end, and oh yeah, immune systems misbehaving is nothing to be ashamed of). So anyway, my interns all became curious about my eating habits.
And in Trader Joe’s, I assured T that I would be fine, because all I was getting were cheese and crackers and I wasn’t allergic to cheese or crackers. Yes, I was allergic to his spinach wrap, but it wouldn’t hurt me to sit near him while he ate it. How much spinach is in a spinach wrap, anyway?
We headed back to the office. I started eating my cheeseballs and crackers. And I started feeling funny, but I thought, “Cinds, it’s just because you and T were just talking about this and you’re being all psychosematic, just breathe, doing panic attack exercises, and move on with your life.”
And then that didn’t work. My vision was getting blurry, my throat swollen, my breathing harder, and I just kept counting backward from 30 by quarters, my doctor-approved panic attack trick, and it wasn’t making anything better. Then, BOOM.
It’s always boom, isn’t it?
I felt like someone had punched me in the back. Like all of a sudden someone came up behind me, punched me hard as they could and rumbled throughout my lungs, chest and throat.
So I wandered over to the water cooler. I didn’t think I would make it there. I was pretty sure I was going to collapse. My hands were shaking but I’m a little too proud to ask for help…
I pulled out my Epipen case and T noticed. He wanted to know if I was alright.
“Sure. Just need Benaderyl.” And then talking was too hard so I threw my Epipen/Benadryl case at him and said, “Benaderyl. Now. Scared.”
And then my boss and colleague JUMPED up. They’d seen me through a number of quiet allergic reactions but never one like this. My boss asked me if I needed to go to the hospital. I laughed and said absolutely not just water and Benadryl and who wants to go to a hospital? My coworker ran to get me more water. T was fumbling with the Benadryl package — those things are so hard to open. My boss grabbed it from him and they each tried to open a pill, and finally resorted to using car keys to slit it open. I took the mug of water, hand shaking, popped the pills and all returned to normal.
Except my body was not getting any better and it didn’t feel like the normal allergic reactions I have.
“Um, guys, I think I need to go to a hospital.”
My boss was relieved, I think, to see me admit it. Everyone jumped up to take me , but determined that T should be the one. He drove me to St. John’s. I called a friend with allergies to see if I needed my Epipen or if I could wait the ten minutes. She didn’t fully understand me on the phone. I hung up and we pulled into the hospital. T left his car in the valet section, ran in with me and said, “She’s having an allergic reaction! Help her!” The security guard ran in and asked him to move his car/give him keys, and T said, “In a minute, she’s having an allergic reaction and that’s more important.” And the security guard backed off, and I was so impressed with T. In that moment, I knew he could handle the toughest desk in Hollywood, working for any agent in town.
By the time I was done checking in, my breathing was manageable. The doctors gave me more benadryl, another anti-histamine called pepcid, some oxygen/albuterol, and prednisone. The medicine started working, and I started feeling much better. But I had to stay to finish the oxygen/albuterol, and I was ANTSY.
I am the world’s worst hospital patient. I made T turn the TV on and was so excited to watch the X-Games, both because it’s my favorite sporting event and I knew I could come home and delete it from my DVR and free up space. But I kept pulling the oxygen thing off to whine to T. I wasn’t inhaling it fast enough, I didn’t feel like I needed anymore, I wanted to go back to work, I felt the whole thing was overdramatic, and I wasn’t allergic to crackers and cheese anyway so the whole thing seemed stupid. More bonus points for T? He took my whining in, calmed me down with tales of his asthma-related hospital visits, and realized the dial on my oxygen wasn’t turned properly. He adjusted it (totally okay, the nurse had said we could) and I started inhaling it more. Then I was done. And just sitting around, waiting. You know how half of a hospital visit is just waiting? I started whining again. T went to find a nurse, explained to her that I needed to get discharged and could not be kept waiting any more, and minutes later, we were off. We stopped to get donuts, which in hindsight was a bad idea given my new wheat allergy, but was necessary in the moment because I was starving and donuts are my go-to food after an ER visit. Or were. Because, you know, wheat allergy.
Of course I went right back to work. My boss was not exactly sure what I was doing there, but I wasn’t fit to drive and I was in the middle of a project so I felt guilty. I think that started his oft-used phrase, “Don’t be a hero” and maybe someday I’ll start to listen.
I returned home to cook for shabbat. My friend from earlier called to check in, and she wanted to come over to take care of me. But I was cooking with basil and she is allergic to basil and I started yelling that she couldn’t come over and I needed to sleep and I was pretty insane. I called my mother and became hysterical. And then my mom researched prednisone and found that one of the many side effects is over emotional behaviour. So that was fun, because I was a wreck for two days, just crying and yelling and being bratty, and then all of sudden this cloud lifted and I remembered happiness and I thought, “This is what Prozac must feel like” and I was a human again.
Except that after that incident, almost every time I ate, I had a reaction. It didn’t matter to what, it didn’t matter if I’d eaten it the night before and was fine, the leftovers for lunch would do me in. So I decided to see an allergist. I saw a great one in NY in September who referred me to a (UNDERSTATEMENT) not-so-great one (whom she didn’t know, she just read about and saw was supposedly good) in LA and I returned to the NY allergist in November for further testing, and tried to find a new allergist in LA which I finally did in March…and that’s when this whole journey started.
But really, it started a year ago, with some cheese, crackers, and the X-Games.