Category Archives: Travel and Allergies

(Backcountry) Camping with Allergies

Route planning

I recently returned from a ten-day, 85-km hiking and backcountry camping trip in the Canadian Rockies, about 90 minutes southwest of Calgary. It was so enjoyable and the views were so magnificent! I went with three friends, one of which like myself, has life-threatening food allergies. We camped in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, about 30 minutes from any cell phone service so needless to say, the trip took a lot of preparation. We had to select our routes, campsites, gear, and safe food. I found that meal planning was surprisingly the most time-consuming part of the trip, especially for an adult with allergies. I have life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and all raw fruits and vegetables, so here’s a glimpse into my camping preparations:

Exit strategy

I am a very pragmatic individual, and since I have food allergies, I planned for the worst-case scenario. If I had an allergic reaction in the wilderness, I need to know how far I was from the nearest ambulance and hospital. This was important for our trip because we were so secluded, but I think it’s an important part of weekend camping as well. With appropriate meal planning and proper meal preparation hygiene, it is unlikely that an adult with an allergy will experience a reaction while camping, but knowing the closest healthcare facility is important because it can put one’s mind at ease. Before leaving on the trip we found that our furthest point from the trail head was 21-km and from the trail head we were 95-km from the Canmore General Hospital. We were also able to determine how many epinephrine auto-injectors to bring. Since we were quite far from healthcare services, we chose to bring a satellite phone as well, which gave us the flexibility to call for emergency services if the worst-case scenario occurred.

Overcoming previous fears

Mental preparation for this camping trip was especially difficult for myself because of a previous camping experience. In the summer of 2016, I was camping with two friends in Northern Ontario when we encountered a very large black bear. It was moving away from us into the woods, but was directly between us and the trail head. Minutes later I realized that I was having an allergic reaction. We had to get to the trail head to get to the car, but there was a bear in between us and our goal. I administered my auto-injector and we proceeded with caution towards the car, making as much noise as we possibly could to deter the bear. We made it to the car and arrived at the hospital nearly 45 minutes after my initial reaction, but not without tremendous anxiety. So the thoughts going through my head leading up to this big trip was…what if something like this happened in the Rockies?

New food exploration

I discovered my allergies in my early 20’s. I have a severe form of what’s called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and with this type of allergy, skin testing is not effective at elucidating allergens. I kept having allergic reactions to food I previously ate without concern. This method of uncovering allergens can be stressful because I felt that nothing was safe. Since discovering my allergies, exploring new foods has always been difficult. I used to avoid new foods altogether, but honestly that’s quite a boring way to live. So, I began incorporating new foods into my diet, trying them in safe places (in a doctor’s office, or at a hospital, or if you have easy access, at the allergist’s office), and now I try them at home with my epinephrine auto-injector in-hand. I felt that in the wilderness camping, I would be alright with my prepared food as long as I had my emergency plans in place (auto injector, satellite phone, and an escape route) since I only brought food that I was comfortable eating and 100% sure about.

Medication preparation

So, now that I had my escape route planned and the information about the closest healthcare facilities noted, I knew that the furthest I would be away from medical services at minimum was 12 hours hiking and 90 minutes driving. To be safe, I doubled this estimate, and I brought enough allergy medication for just over 24 hours. As well, we made sure that not only was each member of the group aware of my allergies, but each member knew what to do in case of an emergency.

Having fun

Once all the preparation had been complete, it was time to explore the Canadian Rockies. This trip was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! I swam in glacier waters, I saw many different kinds of wildlife including a grizzly bear and a large buck, I experienced some of the most glorious views from mountain tops, and really learned what it takes to hike and camp in the mountains. I spent 10 days with my closest friends, experienced highs and lows (literally and figuratively), and learned to work together. With the right preparation, weekend camping and backcountry camping can be very, very enjoyable experiences, even as an adult with allergies.

– Fraser K.

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Tips for Travelling with Food Allergies

Before you Travel

Planning for the worst might seem stressful, but that’s how astronauts survive travelling out of this world. If you have allergies, it makes sense to plan out your contingencies when you travel outside of your home. Here are some pre-travel tips:

  • Know where the closest medical care is available, what it will be, what it will cost, and how to arrange to get there.
  • If travelling alone, find out how you would call for help.

When travelling with others, teach them what to do in case of a reaction. Food Allergy Canada has fabulous free online courses available at www.allergyaware.ca.

  • Get Travel Insurance. Travel Insurance is not only helpful for medical care in other countries, but also helps in case there are unforeseen reasons you need to cancel or change your flights.
  • Learn as much of the local language as possible, especially the terms associated with allergies so that you can recognize what your allergens are called, and explain yourself when you are having a reaction and need help. Hellolingo.com is one free language sharing site, and Duolingo is a great language learning app for your smartphone.
  • Make a small business card with your name, picture, and allergens in English and the translations to the local language. I also put pictures on mine when I was travelling where the literacy rate was not particularly high.
  • Plan what medications you would bring with you, by speaking with your allergist and your travel doctor if going overseas.
  • Plan where you can find safe food/snacks, and call ahead to hotels and restaurants about their food allergy accommodations if possible.
  • If you need to bring your own safe food, be sure to check customs regulations about what you can bring, and how much, to avoid your safe food being confiscated.
  • If you can, book a hotel room with a kitchen, and find out where local groceries can be purchased.

When you travel by car:

  • Bring what you need if you can! In my car have a little emergency stove, water, a camping pot, towels and soap, and dehydrated meals at all times so that I can safely make meals anywhere. I also found a portable kettle, which allows me to use any ceramic mug to boil water. It takes a long time, though…
  • Be aware of how far you’ll be from medical care, and whether there are any areas you’re driving through without cell phone coverage. Consider not eating while you are outside of cell phone coverage areas, or as an alternative, find out where the closest emergency pay phones will be, just in case.

When you travel by bus/train/plane/boat:

  • Bring your own food with you, and lots of wipes. The wipes won’t necessarily remove allergens, but at least you’ll know your eating area is disinfected.
  • Ask when booking for early boarding, so that you can wipe down your seat. Some companies will create an allergy-free buffer zone for you, while others will not. Ask in advance to avoid conflict.
  • Often hot water is available on trains & airplanes, so you can bring dehydrated or freeze dried meals on board and make them easily. Sandwiches work well for your outbound journey and you might think about bringing canned food for the way home. Check customs regulations before you make your meal plan; many countries have restrictions on fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products.
  • If you’re heading on a cruise, call the company beforehand and ask about medical care and food accommodations on board the ship. Some companies are really good at accommodating food allergies.

When you travel in the wilderness:

  • If you have allergies, it’s probably best if you don’t travel alone. At the very least, have someone who knows your route plan and have regular check-ins so that they know where you are and whether you’re safe.
  • Bring some form of emergency beacon, satellite phone, GPS or all three, so that if you should have a reaction, you can get help.
  • Bring lots of auto-injectors. Call the local health authorities in advance to find out what they recommend in terms of what you should bring.

Finding safe food in other countries:

  • Labelling laws differ between countries! Look out for what regulations are in place.
  • Many products change recipes from country to country, so READ THE LABEL EVERY TIME. For example, a popular soda brand tastes different internationally & a UK version of a popular energy drink in Canada contains apple juice.
  • It might be safest to cook food from scratch, rather than buying pre-packaged food or eating at a restaurant.

Don’t give up!

Even with multiple severe food allergies, it is possible to travel. Hopefully these tips will help you to get out there, and explore the world!

Happy Travelling,

-Janice

Travelling to Africa with Food Allergies

Africa is an incredible continent, one which I have had the pleasure to visit several times now. I first went to South Africa in 2004, and then visited Angola in 2009 via Namibia. In 2010, my parents moved to Angola, so I decided to go back for a surprise visit in 2014. It was a pretty epic adventure, not only because I wanted to keep my very social parents out of the loop… but also because it was to be my first international trip with new severe food allergies. It seemed impossible at first, travelling at all, and especially with the added element of surprise. I wasn’t even sure my parents would be home, since they travel frequently…

But looking back, the look on my father’s face was WELL worth it. The planning, getting a visa, calling airlines… all the logistics worked out. So how did I pull it off? Well, here are my tips for travelling to Africa:

1. Bring Emergency Food!
If you’re travelling in a more developed/stable country, like South Africa, Namibia, Egypt, or Morocco… chances are that the local grocery stores will have some food you can make from scratch. You might even find specialty allergy safe food, but be sure to call the company: Each country has different labelling laws so the definition of “gluten free” (for example) might change from place to place.

If you’re more likely shopping at the local market, bring your specialty food with you from your home country. I found it very helpful to have dehydrated/ freeze dried meals with me, but I had to leave a bunch at home when I realized that dairy and meat are completely forbidden to travel through the UK. Those were particularly useful on board aircraft, and when I was camping, but that’s a story for another time.

2. Allergy Card
Many of us with allergies know how helpful it is to carry a card with your allergens that you can hand out at restaurants. I designed mine to be a double-sided business card with both English and Portuguese (the main language in Angola). I also added pictures in order to try and minimize misunderstandings, and to prevent a lack of literacy from being a problem.

3. Travel Insurance
If you’re going to Africa… buy travel insurance. Even before I had severe allergies, having travel insurance saved me thousands of dollars in change fees when the airlines changed the locations of my flights. But with severe allergies, travel insurance gave me peace of mind that I would have medical coverage while overseas, should an emergency take place. Medical care can be limited in Africa, and more severe cases are referred out of country, so having a plan to pay for those emergency transportations is key!

One of my favourite food-related moments was in Luanda, on the way home. My father came with me so as to maximize spending time with me, and we spent a few lovely nights being treated like royalty by one of his friends, Etienne. Etienne took us to some fabulous restaurants (where my allergy card came in handy), and then put us up in his guest house, complete with a private chef! It happened that she (the chef) had family members with allergies, so it was such a high note to end my trip there! She was able to accommodate all of my allergies, and her personal attention was very much appreciated.

Pride of Lions

All in all, the trip was a huge success, and while I have developed even more allergens since then, I have already started planning my next trip. It might not be until 2020… but I’m determined to make it happen! Have you ever travelled to Africa with a food allergy? Let me know your experience by commenting below!

-Janice H.

“What’s in your food?” – Experiences with Food Labelling Abroad

When I was 19, I packed up myself, my peanut and soy allergies, and five EpiPen® auto-injectors, and moved to Finland. This was a goal I had set for myself when I was 12 and I barely slept from the day I received my university acceptance in January until I left in July. After 21 hours of travel, I ventured to the grocery store to find something – anything – to eat. My excitement was quickly squashed when I noticed the vague “may contain nuts” label present on so many foods. Did they mean peanuts? How was I supposed to eat with this vague labelling? Cookies, chocolates, breads, and even some pasta…and for some reason, things were labelled with “nuts and almonds.” Those are the same thing! Almonds are nuts! Not only was I dealing with reading in two new languages (Finnish and Swedish), but I was also dealing with new labelling laws in two new languages…and one wrong choice could have had drastic consequences. While I’m sure Finnish hospitals are wonderful, I didn’t particularly want to see the inside of one of them.
I lost 10 lbs in the first month, and anyone who knows me will tell you I didn’t have 10 lbs to lose. I quickly realized I needed to figure out these laws or let my allergies win and pack my bags to go back to Canada. I started contacting companies asking them to define what
nuts are included in their “may contain nuts” statement so I could better assess the risk for my allergies. Every company responded to me right away, and knew exactly what nuts were present in the facilities where their food was produced. Even a simple Facebook© message resulted in a straight-to-the-point answer where I clearly understood if the product was safe or not. With these quick responses, I soon started to question if I was better off in Finland than Canada.

From there, I explored restaurants. My Finnish friend insisted this bakery she loved would be allergen-safe. Bakeries are an automatic ‘no’ for me while I’m at home and I could feel my anxiety rising as I prepared myself to order a coffee with no cinnamon bun, as usual (perspective: that’s basically like ordering a poutine with no cheese in Canada). I nearly cried when, without missing a beat, the woman working behind the counter knew that the cocoa used in that cake *points to chocolate cake in the corner* had a “may contain nuts” warning on it, but that every other ingredient was safe and every piece of equipment was sanitized between making products. Yes, those traditional Christmas joulutorttu – puff pastries with prune jam, things I had eyed in the stores and accepted I would never get to try – were deemed safe.

The quality of service was not isolated to this small bakery. Every time I ate out I felt 100% safe and understood. All restaurants knew exactly what was in their food and what their food had come into contact with, whether it was a burger joint on the highway or a fancy restaurant in downtown Helsinki. The school cafeterias labelled allergens in all meals on large screens. Cafeteria food was labelled “contains a small amount of X” (aka, likely safe for intolerances) or “contains no X” (aka, likely safe for serious allergies). The cafeteria workers were incredibly precise with ensuring utensils only touched the food they were supposed to touch and that nothing dripped from one area to another. I skipped the days when peanut dishes were offered, but regularly ate the other cafeteria foods without any issues – and, most importantly, I felt safe whenever I chose to eat.

Originally, I wanted to write about the difficulties of food labelling abroad. Of course, I ran into issues in Estonia when I didn’t bother to learn any Estonian before my travels. I ran into problems in the arctic when a chef told me to just read the menu to see what was in the food (he thought I meant an intolerance). I also assumed that food in Denmark would be labelled in Swedish because food in Sweden was labeled in Danish. I quickly found myself buying a soda pop instead of a real meal to get me through my flight without a reaction because I couldn’t read any of the food ingredients. But through writing this blog post, I have come to realize that, for the most part, food allergies were incredibly well handled in Finland. Of course, you need to know the native words for your allergen. For example, I knew maapähkinä is peanut and soijaproteiini is soy protein before I even applied to move to Finland, and I knew how to pronounce them the best I could. Had I not learned those words, I would have had a significantly different experience. But other than the language barrier, no significant issues occurred. Travelling with allergies is possible, and sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find!

– Danielle B.

Barbados in Peanut-Free Shell

Your footprints disappear in white sand behind you as clear turquoise water laps gently against your toes. The air smells warm, the breeze carries tranquil scents and the sights offer endless blue horizons and lush green gullies. It’s hard to have any worries when you’re surrounded by such beauty, but the reality of having a severe food allergy is and it follows you anywhere you go.

I had the opportunity to travel to a slice of paradise last year when visiting the Caribbean island of Barbados. My family and I stayed at a condo-style facility where I had the opportunity to make most of my own food, which is an ideal situation for anyone who, like me, is at-risk for anaphylaxis to several foods. I thought I would find issues with food labeling laws or lack of information available when it comes to prepackaged foods. I was surprised to walk into a grocery store to see both North American brands that I am more comfortable with and precautionary labelling (e.g. “may contain”) on other brands. As well, an abundance of fresh foods like meats, vegetables, and fruits gave me variety in what I chose to eat. I was also shocked to see separate sections for all tree nuts away from the produce, along with closing bags and wash stations, a feature that I’ve never seen at a grocery store! It was amazing to see food allergy safety protocol outside of my home. It put my worries at ease and I felt safer and more comfortable.

Having bags that zip shut, and a place to wash or disinfect your hands is an idea worth considering for other grocery stores internationally. Whether it be for sanitary reasons, or food allergy safety, it’s a protocol I wish more would adapt. All of this made cooking on our vacation no sweat but I was still looking forward to trying the local foods and spirits.

Before I eat anywhere whether it be at home in Canada or abroad, I always research several restaurants online and gather any information I can find. From menus and allergen information, to hopefully contacting the restaurant by email or phone, I like to be prepared when I dine out. If I’m travelling, I try to contact a restaurant beforehand and see what (if any) allergen policy they may have. My emails and phone calls always have the same message and questions. If there isn’t an email or contact, I try to contact the restaurant on social media like Facebook or Twitter with simple questions. In my experience, they’re usually great at responding but I was floored at the responses and multiple follow ups I received from several restaurants in Barbados. The moment that caught me off guard was the remembrance of me and my food allergy. I emailed a particular place about two weeks before our trip, after being assured it was safe, I made a reservation, and to my surprise the manager remembered my name and allergy when we arrived. She took time to get the chef to chat with me about my options and assured me he would personally make my meal. I haven’t felt that safe and confident in my meal choice since Walt Disney World, where the staff went above and beyond! The chef brought my meal out specifically and even made me a special dessert since none were safe on the menu.

It was such a nice surprise to be greeted this way. I never expected that level of involvement and assurance from the chef, not to mention the sheer acknowledgement of my name and allergen was enough to keep a smile on my face the entire meal. I never expected that level of involvement and allergen awareness when I entered that restaurant. Here in Canada, restaurants are great when it comes to food allergy awareness. One thing I think some could learn is the hospitality and comfort I was offered in that fateful place. The assurance of safety and knowledge in the kitchen and care from the chef and staff boosted my confidence in asking questions and voicing my concerns.

A travel advertisement once left you with the line “life wasn’t created here, but it was perfected.” When each day starts with crystal blue water and ends with picture perfect sunsets, it’s hard not to get swept away into the peace and beauty that is Barbados. When you have a food allergy, it can be hard not to let a black cloud hang over your head when travelling. Between the plane and being in a different location, it can cause serious anxiety regardless of where you are. It can also be easy to forget about or be less vigilant when it comes to your food allergy when you’re on vacation and already in a relaxed state of mind. Whether you’re the former or the later it’s important to plan ahead, do your research, and come prepared wherever you may be.

With less worry blocking your view, that black cloud can lift and you’ll be able to see that beautiful view of vacationing.

-Arianne K.

Be Our Guest: Dining at Walt Disney World

Let’s face it, we’ve all looked at a menu with hesitation. Wondering what limitations or substitutions await you. We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for the lines “made on the same grill, pre-made at another facility, or may have come into contact with.” It can be so discouraging that you almost want to wait to crack open that menu until you can talk with a server or chef. I’ve always held off on making decisions on ordering until I’ve spoken with someone, that is, until I stepped into the most magical place on earth and was handed a menu that helped me put away my worries and strife.

The Vacation Kingdom of the World. You don’t get a title like that without being a well-rounded, fine-tuned, working machine. Now full disclosure, I am no slouch when it comes to Walt Disney World (WDW). We started going to Disney in the early 90’s, a turbulent time in the family as we had my newly discovered risk-for-anaphylaxis to peanuts and tree-nuts and my brother’s newly discovered food allergy to eggs. With all these food allergies packed into one family, we decided to pack up a trailer and drive from Ontario, Canada to the great state of Florida (a three day excursion mind you) and camp at the Fort Wilderness Campground. This way, my mom and dad could be in charge of all the food we ate because I was terrified to eat anywhere other than my mom and Grandma’s house.

Now, it may not come to anyone’s surprise that The Walt Disney World Company has their food allergy game figured out, but at the time I was still scared, I didn’t have the self-confidence to try the food in the parks. That was until I turned 13. Things changed and I became more confident in myself and my food allergies, and was ready to try new dining adventures. I had my very first dining-out experience at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.

Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for WDW. In such a safe and welcoming environment, I could discuss my food allergies with an actual chef, who took the time to explain the menu and reassure me of their due diligence. It was this stepping stone that laid the ground work for me to become more confident in speaking about my food allergies in restaurants anywhere. I learned to look over menus carefully and talk to servers myself and ask the right
questions. Because their cast members were so well trained and prepared, it rubbed off on me and helped me understand the value and importance of taking this time to be sure of my food choice and feel safe about them.

Fast forward to January 2017. My partner Steve and I decided to travel down to WDW to ring in the New Year with the mouse. I am continually impressed with how restaurants treat food allergies, but I am knocked off my feet in awe of how the Walt Disney Company is changing the game when it comes to food allergies. When you’re planning a trip to WDW, it’s in your best interest to book dinner reservations in advance. Booking online is the first step in WDW’s food allergy preparedness. You have the option to fill out all your food allergies in detail before you even step foot in the restaurant.
When we finally arrived to our first dining reservation, I was greeted with the question, “who has the allergy in this party?” and then promptly handed an allergy-friendly menu. The menu had detailed dishes from appetizers to desserts, outlining all ingredients and what dishes were free of certain allergens. It’s hard to put into words how I felt in that moment. I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. It was the first time I was able to go through a menu with confidence before speaking with someone from the restaurant. When we placed our order, the server asked if I felt comfortable and if I needed to speak with a chef just in case. I couldn’t help but remember that shy 13-year-old, who blustered up the courage to talk with a chef about her food allergies. I was bursting with emotions thinking about how a tool such as this will help kids just like me build confidence and a voice when it comes to their food allergy. Instead of being presented with a bunch of no’s and off-limits, we finally have a menu that is full of options and
opportunities.

Remember, the onus is still on you to disclose all of your allergies and take all of the necessary precautions you would usually take at any restaurant. It’s hard to guarantee anything, but WDW gets pretty close in my books!

The Walt Disney World Company truly gets it. They understand the mental toll it takes to dine out with a food allergy regardless of being a confident adult, or a parent with their child. They’ve stream lined a process with 100% visibility from putting menu’s online, to informing the restaurant when you book a reservation, down to a beautiful allergy-friendly menu. They also have the opportunity to look over menu books at quick server restaurants, and give you the option to speak with a chef at buffet style dining halls in their resorts. It is magical for a lack of a better term, but I think the word fits nicely considering the location. Food allergy awareness has come a long way and WDW is certainly looking like a gold standard contender. They are continuously innovating and discovering new ways to ensure everyone has a safe and happy dining experience while on vacation.

-Arianne. K

Denial: A Thought Process During an Allergic Reaction

As an adult I’ve experienced two anaphylactic reactions. They both had one thing in common: denial. Today I want to share my thought process during my reactions.

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We were having a great day walking around the Dutch city of Leiden. European cities have an age to them that Canadian cities can’t match. With age comes wisdom and somehow walking these cobbled streets helped me feel a sense of serenity and peace.

Earlier that day at lunch I went through a very unique experience ordering food from a waiter who spoke only Dutch, a language I couldn’t understand. It was unnerving to have my normal allergy discussion through a translator. After a few minutes my translator seemed satisfied that this restaurant was safe and we decided to eat. In retrospect, I ignored a few red flags and should have been more careful.

As I walked down the street I began feeling bloated. That’s normal enough when I’m suffering from jet lag and eating new foods in new places. I would have ignored it completely if it hadn’t steadily worsened over the course of an hour or so. Eventually I was so uncomfortable that I felt I might throw up. It crossed my mind that I may be having an anaphylactic reaction to my lunch.


When people with allergies talk about allergies to friends and family we tend to play up our vigilance. “I would never…” is the beginning of many of our bold claims. Here’s a good one that I’ve shared hundreds of times “I would never ignore even the slightest symptom of a reaction, it isn’t worth it.”

Contrary to my claim I wasn’t just ignoring my symptoms but I was actively rationalizing them away. My thought process went like this:

“My stomach hurts, that’s not an allergic reaction!”

A few moments later…
“If this was a reaction you’d already be passed out. This is taking too long, it’s just indigestion”

Finally…

“Don’t be stupid Jason, you’re making yourself panic. Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself. You’re only in Holland for a short time!”

This ongoing desperate attempt to explain away my symptoms was eventually interrupted by my brother who noticed I was behaving strangely. He offered me a mint to settle my stomach and noticed that I immediately complained that the mint made my tongue itch. With a subtlety that I only understood after the fact he casually remarked that if my tongue was itchy I should pinch my ear. I did. My ear was itchy and sore.
My brother and I locked eyes, he didn’t say anything. That was the moment I realized what was really happening.

Minutes later I was sitting on a Dutch hospital bed as a doctor scolded me for not using my auto-injector. Everything worked out fine but the denial nearly cost me my life.

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Three years later I was getting married.

My groomsmen and I rented a cottage for the bachelor party. After an evening of video games, beer, and cigars we were winding down the evening playing cards.
I didn’t feel right. My back and shoulders were itchy and I was generally uncomfortable. I figured I was tired, drunk, or both. Just like my walk through the streets of Leiden at some point it occurred to me that I may be having an allergic reaction.

I may be the king of denial because this time was nearly the same as last time.

“You’re fine.”

My brother, who is also allergic to peanuts, and was present, was not having a reaction. We had been eating the same food all weekend.

“If Dylan’s OK then I am too. It’s impossible for one of us to react and not the other.”

The worst part about the denial during shock is that it makes so much sense at the time. Every thought I had explained away my symptoms in a logical manner. I thought about indigestion, seasonal allergies, reactions to alcohol, fatigue. All of it made sense. It was enough to protect my fragile sense of security from the reality of a dangerous situation.

All good things come to an end. I walked past a mirror and saw a red patch on the back of my arm. This looked alarmingly like hives. Lifting my shirt, I checked my back. I felt a sinking feeling as I saw that my back was covered in hives.

From the outside looking in I know that this is the moment when I should have taken a shot of epinephrine and called an ambulance. I’m embarrassed that my actual response almost turned my anecdote into a tragedy. I looked at the rash and thought:

“This is fine. It’s just a rash, don’t ruin the party.”

For years, I scolded my friends who hid their symptoms to protect the fun that their friends were having. The joke was on me, I’m not so different. There I was in the midst of a full blown anaphylactic reaction convincing myself that I had nothing to worry about.

A few minutes later the hives were getting worse and I fessed up to the gang and showed them my back. While my friends debated what the rash could mean I made eye contact with my brother and immediately knew what he was thinking. This wasn’t a drill.

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Denial is one of the most dangerous symptoms of shock. Heart attacks are misunderstood as indigestion, strokes are mistaken for fatigue, and “small infections” are ignored leading to blood poisoning or worse.

We’re taught to treat hives, throat closures, chest tightness, and many other symptoms with urgency to protect ourselves. In an emergency, however, this can all be derailed by a few moments of denial. My first-hand experience was a real eye opener for me. I realize now that there is more to this equation than I had originally thought.

This can happen to any of us. If I had been reacting by myself who knows what would have happened. Luckily I had my brother with me to snap me out of denial twice. When you practice using your auto-injector or educate your friends don’t forget this scenario. Be prepared to face denial.

Always remember to take your symptoms seriously.

– Jason B.