Wine-ing about my Unusual Allergies – Lessons Learned from an Anaphylactic Reaction

Camping tent in the nice yellow dandelion field with mountains on background

My name is Fraser and I am a 26-year-old medical student. Last spring some friends and I planned to go camping in Gravenhurst, Ontario. While my friend Darryl and I were organizing our tents and sleeping bags, his mother offered us each a glass of wine. Our friend Pozz was picking us up so since we weren’t driving, we each indulged in a glass of wine.

I have life-threatening allergies to a long list of unusual allergens. I am allergic to all raw fruits, all raw vegetables, peanuts, tree nuts, raw salmon, and scallops. I grew into these allergies when I was about 18 or 19. I have had 10 anaphylactic reactions and each time, I have had to use my EpiPen®. I went to the hospital each time and on four occasions I needed another injection of epinephrine at the hospital. Thankfully, I have not stopped breathing during any of these reactions.

Darryl’s father handed us a small glass of white wine and we began pretending we were wine aficionados. I have enjoyed wine in the past, having a glass here and there. We swirled the wine around, spoke in British accents about the fruitful bouquet and the sparkling colours, pretending we knew the subtle differences between French and Italian wines. But, when I had a sip I could feel something wasn’t right. My throat was rapidly swelling up, I felt nauseous, and I began to feel dizzy. I had mistakenly left my EpiPen® in my car, so I ran out into the driveway, grabbed it, and administered it myself. Darryl came to the front door, saw what was happening, called for his father to dial 911, and came to help me. Within minutes, we had to administer another EpiPen® because the first had not yet provided effect. This was the first reaction that caused so much swelling in my throat that I was unable to breathe. The second EpiPen® took effect quickly. I was only unable to breathe for a few seconds. Soon, firemen and paramedics flooded the house and I was taken to the hospital.

I began breathing shortly after the second EpiPen® was administered, and my breathing stabilized in the ambulance. By the time I arrived to the hospital my symptoms were beginning to gradually recede. I was set up in a bed in the emergency department and was assessed by medical staff. My friend Darryl had accompanied me in the ambulance and my friend Pozz was on his way to meet us at the hospital. It was there that I began to feel something much different.

I felt guilty. I was going to be in the emergency department for a few hours to receive other medications and to ensure that I didn’t have a ‘bounce-back’ or “biphasic” allergic reaction. This is another reaction that can sometimes occur a few hours after the epinephrine wears off. By having to wait to make sure my symptoms were gone, I had delayed our camping trip. We were going to have to leave later in the evening, it was going to be dark by the time we arrived, we were going to have to set up our island camp site in the dark, my friends had to pay for parking at the hospital, my mother was called and she had to come down to the emergency department to see me, and I was taking up a valuable bed in the hospital. These were all thoughts going through my head. I don’t like being the centre of attention and having an anaphylactic reaction in the suburbs north of Toronto had brought several neighbours onto their porches to watch the commotion of firetrucks rushing with lights and sirens. I felt guilty that Darryl had to use his EpiPen® because mine hadn’t taken effect. I just felt guilty.

I spent four hours in the emergency room, and on the bright side, felt well enough to continue on the camping trip, and had a great weekend in Gravenhurst.

I think it’s very important for me to understand that having food allergies isn’t my fault. I don’t have food allergies because of poor lifestyle choices or because I didn’t study in school. I had enjoyed wine many times in the past and had no reason to believe that it would cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Feeling guilty might cause people to shy away from help when they think they might be having an anaphylactic reaction. While studying medicine I was chatting with an emergency room physician who has a life-threatening allergy to walnuts. He had a reaction at a social dinner and instead of signalling for help, he ran down to the washroom. Thankfully, someone found him, administered his EpiPen®, and averted what could have been a terrible allergic reaction. I am not weak or defective because I have food allergies and this is important for me to realize. I am not bound by my food allergies and after this scary reaction, I did not let my food allergies define me. They are just one of the aspects of my life that make me unique. For readers who feel guilty about your food allergies and your reactions, I want to assure you that this is a totally normal way to feel. You might feel like a hassle when you and a partner are making a special dinner and they have to remove several ingredients from the meal because of your food allergies. Or, you may not be able to accompany your friends to a restaurant or pub where peanut shells cover the floors. It is normal to feel this way. But, overcoming these feelings is important, because if you don’t, you will experience much more distress than you need.

Thank you for letting me share.

– Fraser K.

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