My scary encounter with allergies

For a few minutes there I wondered if I was going to make it.

Funny, the kind of thoughts that cross your mind when you see your own mortality staring you in the face. A couple of TV police dramas I had recently watched flashed through my mind. They always started with people meeting untimely ends.

I briefly considered calling my wife who was at a customer meeting. I didn’t see the point.

I wondered if I should call 911, then decided against it. What it wasn’t anything serious?

Later that day, when I told my wife what had happened, she rolled her eyes. I could hear her unspoken words, “overreacting again!”

It had started out as a normal day.

I had decided to work from home since I had been scheduled for some routine medical tests that morning. Medical tests and procedures seem to follow your age than your ailments – this test at forty, that test at fifty, and so on. The instructions for the tests were clear, I had to be fasting from the previous evening, and stop drinking liquids from early morning on the day of the procedure.

I was more concerned about work. I had a jam-packed afternoon with back-to-back meetings. I wanted to make sure that I got back home on time and got a bite of food before picking up from where I left off.

The tests went like clockwork. They roll you in, do their tests, brief wait, and get you out the door.

Relieved that I had made it back home on time, I quickly grabbed the first thing that I could find in the fridge and absent-mindedly started eating it as I parsed my work emails for anything important.

Something didn’t feel right.

I ignored it. I figured that it may have something to do with my gulping down food after having starved for nearly a day.

My face felt funny. I touched it and realized that it had swollen up. I couldn’t explain it.

I looked at my plate. It couldn’t be the shrimps, I told myself. I had eaten shrimps all my life. After all, I come from a coastal town in India. Fish is what I grew up with. As I tentatively took another bite, the swelling seemed to get worse and extend to my neck. I was beginning to have trouble breathing.

Panic started to set in.

I left the food and contemplated my options. If I was really having an allergic reaction to the shrimps, I had to get help.

I called my doctor’s office and tried to explain to the matter-of-fact receptionist that I had to see the doctor, in a hurry. She calmly told me that I could get an appointment in two weeks. My doctor was on vacation. Trying to keep my calm, I persisted. She finally relented and offered to get the backup doctor to take a look at me.

About twenty minutes had elapsed, and my swelling had stabilized since I stopped eating.

I quickly made my way over to the doctor’s office, a five-minute walk from my apartment.

“So, this is not normal?” The sub-in doctor asked as she pressed my face to determine if the swelling was painful.

I wasn’t sure of what she was implying.

I wanted to tell her that I had a normal face like everyone else, but stuck with a simple “no.”

As she went through my medical history, the swelling seemed to subside. She prescribed me some allergy pills and suggested that I come back if the symptoms persisted, or go to the “Emergency” if it got any worse.

As I was leaving, a thought seem to cross her mind.

“Try drinking a lot of water, it may be due to dehydration,” she advised as she moved on to her next patient.

Once home, I went straight to the Web to look-up “face-swelling related to food.” I quickly realized that my experience was not unique. Many others had encountered similar symptoms – all triggered by the simple act of eating food.

A message board chat-string titled “Jaw Swells Up When Eating” seemed to explain it best. The issue was attributed to a blocked salivary gland – often caused due to dehydration. The remedy was simple – drink a lot of water, suck on sour candy, or eat spicy food. Reassured that I may have found out the root-cause of my problem I decided to try the hydration option before resorting to the allergy medication.

A few hours later, I felt as good as new!

Until that day, I had not paid any serious attention to allergies or the plight of the people who live with it all their lives.

Sure, I have family members who are allergic to nuts, seafood, eggs, the list goes on. But, until I lived it I, had no appreciation for what it can entail. The everyday discipline that is required to ensure that you don’t accidentally consume or touch something that you shouldn’t must be daunting. The anxiety that comes with a child susceptible to allergies must be even worse.

How do you trust foods that you have no control over? It could literally mean life or death!

Surprisingly, I had not come across anyone with allergies in India until I was well into my late twenties. Perhaps people had higher tolerance to food groups, or there was less awareness, or both. A friend’s daughter was identified as “lactose intolerant.” The suggested alternative to milk was Prosobee, a soy-based infant formula not available in India at that time. My friend had the means to get it, but what if she hadn’t?

Then there was the situation with another friend whose wife was identified as allergic to him during her pregnancy. I didn’t quite believe that it was a real thing until I read this article in BBC titled “I’m allergic to my husband.”

Apparently, it is a medical condition!

As I meet more and more people who live with allergies, I can’t help wonder if our obsession with clean and sanitized environments is partly to blame for our predicament.

Irrespective of the reasons, I now have a new found appreciation for allergies.

But for now, I am thankful that I can eat shrimps again!

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Dax Nair

Dax is a marketer of cloud and security solutions with varied interests in technology, travel, food, racquet sports, and blogging.

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