By Adeyinka Glover
I’m often asked, “What are you allergic to?”
I always respond, “Everything.”
When this topic is brought up, I try to change the subject. I am not someone who likes to focus on my limitations. I’ve lived with allergies all my life, but I’ve never wanted them to define me.
I try to be responsible about my allergies. I taste test anything new, and I ask my friends to taste food before me. If I’m at a restaurant, I ask for the ingredients in dishes, and I make necessary modifications to my orders.
My allergies and my perspective on them have been weighing heavily on my mind lately.
I read a news story recently about a young boy in England with a dairy allergy who died after being exposed to cheese.
And this week, actress Gina Rodriguez ate a pastry before she went on air on “The Talk.” Unbeknownst to her, the pastry contained blueberries, a food she is allergic to. Following the incident while on national television, she said she is “deathly allergic to blueberries.” She made light of the situation and said, “We’re good. We’re good.”
The minute-long clip hit me so hard. I recognized what she did, because I do the exact same thing — I minimize the severity of my allergies. I don’t want people to worry about me. I don’t like attention for a limitation in my life.
I should mention I almost died three years ago due to my allergies. I almost died because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. My life could have ended at age 27.
Because of my near-death experience, I feel it is important to tell my story.
For my 27th birthday, a coworker took me out to lunch. On the limited menu were crepes and paninis. When deciding what to order, I asked the woman ringing us up what is pesto, and what are the ingredients. She told me it contains spinach and olive oil. That’s it.
I decide on the chicken pesto, and my coworker and I order one chocolate crepe to share.
We got our food, and it looked delicious. I began eating my sandwich, potatoes and the crepe.
Suddenly, I started to feel hot. My mouth felt funny. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t identify the source.
I finally told my coworker something was wrong. I ask her, “Do you think there could be nuts in this sandwich?” She said, “Possibly.”
Although she knew of my allergies, I didn’t alert my coworker of the gravity of the situation.
I asked the waitress if the pesto contained nuts. She wasn’t sure, so she asked someone in the kitchen. She came back and notified me it did.
I felt like I was fighting to survive.
We left the restaurant, and I didn’t let my coworker know how concerned I was about my health and very existence.
At that moment, I decided to take the rest of the day off work. I felt like my body was working overtime to make it through the reaction.
My coworker drove us back to work. Once at work, I just needed to collect my things, go home and lay down.
On my way home, I felt hot, and the inside of my cheeks felt tight. I realized I needed to take medicine now. I stopped by a Walgreen’s and bought some Benadryl. I needed it more than ever. Nuts are my worst allergy. I don’t mess with nuts. They close my airways, and I can’t breathe.
It took me a while to realize my body was reacting. I very rarely ingest nuts — so I didn’t recognize my body’s reaction. My nut reaction was foreign to me — especially given the quantity I ingested.
As someone who likes to get things right, I messed up in every way that day. I should have told my coworker how serious it was. I should have told her I was scared. I should have taken my Epi-pen, been taken to the hospital, been administered medication and been monitored for hours by medical professionals. Because of my fears, I forgot everything I was taught. I failed myself that day.
I’ve done much better since then. However, after hearing about the young boy in Texas and watching the clip of Gina Rodriguez, I realized I can do so much more by sharing my story.
We should all act responsibly when it comes to our allergies. To help, I have a few suggestions. If you have allergies, be honest with yourself about their severity. Keep your medication on you and in the places you frequent. Share your allergies with people who should know, whether it be your classmates, your employer or your friends. Develop a plan if you react. Share that plan with people and practice that plan. I promise moving forward I will do the same.
Whether or not you have allergies, become educated about allergies. If you are a food service employer, prioritize the food handler training. Make sure the training focuses on allergies. If you are preparing food for family and friends or an audience you are not already familiar with, ask about food sensitivities. Be cognizant of reusing silverware from one food to another without washing it first. If you are parent, observe your kids and how they respond to food. And if you are a teacher, as you help nurture your students’ interpersonal relationships, let them know how important it is to respect allergies.
Adeyinka Glover lives in Bakersfield and is an attorney with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.