Tag Archives: Jason B.

The Best and Worst of Food Service

Everyone with an allergy knows the feeling of uncertainty. You’re halfway through a big bite of your meal when you hear someone say, “are you sure…”

Even writing about it I feel that tightness in the pit of my stomach. The tell-tale calling card of anxiety. No matter how experienced I’ve become with managing my food allergies, I still make mistakes, and those mistakes are scary.

I always try to remember that I’m not perfect when someone else is the one making the mistake. I try not to blame servers at restaurants, they’re usually very helpful. I’ve noticed one single thing that I appreciate more than any other when it comes to servers. But first a quick story.

In the middle of a meal at a banquet the server abruptly took my plate away, without explanation.

My friends at the table were confused but I knew what was happening. I had just eaten peanuts. I’m allergic to peanuts and I’ve had anaphylactic reactions in the past. Just like that I’m starting to freak out.

The server returned a moment later looking flustered and politely asking me to come to the manager’s office.

“What’s going on?”

“Just come with me.”

I’m losing it. This is the end. I’m taking a mental inventory of my symptoms. Nothing yet, but how long will it take? When will it start?

I walk into the office and I’m shocked to find it full of people.

As I sit down I’m bombarded with questions from a red faced and angry manager:

“How do you feel?
Tell us if you’re feeling bad!
You can’t sue me, you have to tell me!
How do you feel?”

This interrogation lasted ten minutes. The only response I gave was a simple,

“What did I eat?”

She never answered. For ten minutes she lectured me about lawsuits but refused to tell me what, if anything, I had eaten.

Finally a server in the corner told me that they were worried about contamination of my meal by pine nuts. I’m not even allergic to pine nuts. But they never asked me and were reluctant to answer my questions. I was fine, but my night was ruined and I’ve never been back to that restaurant.

The one thing I appreciate most in servers is direct honesty. Tell me what I’m dealing with and let me make my own decision.

Whenever you hide something from me, we risk a very serious situation.

How about another story? This one is the best experience I’ve had at a restaurant.

A big group of us went out for lunch. In the restaurant I calmly explained my food allergy to the server. His response is among the best I’ve ever had. He suggested I look through the menu and see if anything caught my eye, in the meantime he would talk to the kitchen manager and ensure that he could tell me EXACTLY what I could and could not order.

When he returned he took my order and then said:

“Thank you for joining us today. Before I place your order with the kitchen I want to explain our process so that you know we have you covered and can eat your meal in peace. When I place this order, I will announce that this table has a peanut allergy. Every staff member in the kitchen will wash their hands and until your order leaves the kitchen everyone will remain at their stations to avoid any chance of cross contamination. Our manager has assigned one cook to your order. He is working at a clean station that hasn’t been used since it was last cleaned. He’s cleaning it again to be safe. He will clean all your food and re-wash your dishes. When he’s ready to send the meal I will wash my hands and he will hand me the food, it will not touch the service counter at all. Once I pick up your meal I will not touch anything until I place it in from of you. Someone will open the doors for me, everyone will stay out of the way. Nothing will come into contact with your meal AT ALL. If anyone touches it for any reason we’ll start all over again. Is that OK with you?”

I was floored. This server just spent five minutes with me and all I ordered was a $10 lunch special!

That is the ultimate experience for me. I had no doubts, no anxiety, and I would go back in a second.

What I need from the people around me is the truth. I’ll take care of the rest!

– Jason B.

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.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To a Co-worker

Business People Meeting Conference Brainstorming Concept
Having open lines of communication with co-workers about your food allergy is important

I experienced my first anaphylactic reaction when I was an infant. By the time I entered the workforce I had more than two decades of experience taking care of my own safety. I was an expert, an anaphylaxis ninja, masterfully controlling my environment to ensure my safety.

This idea was shattered into tiny pieces one day when the office prankster saw me hard at work and used the back of my head as target practice. His projectile of choice was a handful of peanuts; the allergen I had reacted to.

In his defence he didn’t know his prank was dangerous. But for me this situation was a wake-up call; I was confronted with the fact that my track record hadn’t made me an expert, it made me complacent. I thought that it would have been awkward to inform my coworkers about my risk of anaphylaxis, but now I knew it was far more awkward to do so while picking a peanut out of my hair.

I realized that I needed to be proactive and explain anaphylaxis to my coworkers. Here are a few of my strategies for sharing food allergy information with coworkers:

  1. Go all the way to the top. If your company has a good Human Resources department go there, otherwise go to the highest manager you have access to. In my case, I went straight to the company president. I shared that I am at-risk for anaphylactic reactions and I educated him on what that meant. In all honesty I felt embarrassed, but the response to this was amazing. By the end of the day all the peanuts had been removed from the building and the cleaning staff were given special instructions to ensure every surface was cleaned. Most important of all was that now the management team knew what to do if anything happened.
  2. Next, go close to home. My company had 120 employees in two locations. I couldn’t tell everyone at once so I started within my department. This created a zone of safety with the cubicles nearest my own receiving the first education. Since these coworkers were actually eating food near my desk, they were critical to my safety. On top of this, they ended up being great advocates and helped me spread the word throughout the company.
  3. Be open to curiosity. Whenever someone had a question I went out of my way to educate them. I adopted the attitude that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Things that I took for granted were unknown to my coworkers so answering questions was a great way to make sure that the people around me were as anaphylaxis conscious as possible. For example, I got questions about smelling peanuts, symptoms I experienced in the past, how fast a reaction is, what they could do if I had a reaction and many others. These were great opportunities to educate people.
  4. Be direct and clear. It’s important to remember that anaphylaxis is serious business. I didn’t dwell on the darker side of food allergies but I did address them head on. After I explained what a reaction might look like I was honest, people have died from this, not often but it has happened. By approaching the subject directly I was able to get my message across and avoid other situations like the prankster episode. It turns out that my coworkers appreciated this method as it helped them understand the situation clearly.
  5. Teach people how to react to an allergic reaction. I always carry an auto-injector but during a previous reaction I learned that it can be hard to operate under pressure. When my hands were shaking I had my brother administer the injection for me. With that experience in mind I taught my coworkers how to use my auto-injector. I managed to get one of the trainers that has the needle removed and we practiced several times. Then we talked about the other steps such as calling an ambulance. Overall, it helped empower the people around me to feel like they could help if something went wrong.
  6. Continue to be proactive. My work was never over. This went for both my real work and my food allergy-awareness work. Food Allergies are a very important part of my life but just a fleeting thought for most people. Some people I had been working with for years would still forget about my food allergy from time to time. It’s your responsibility to stay safe so be proactive and continuously educate.

As people who are at-risk for anaphylactic reactions, we get used to talking to our friends, restaurant staff, and our families. But in many cases you spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else. It’s important to take matters into your own hands and talk to your coworkers about the risks associated with severe allergic reactions.

What about you? What strategies do you use to talk to your coworkers?

– Jason B.