Just last weekend we went to an end-of-season celebration for our sons’ baseball teams. It was held at a small amusement park and there was a short awards ceremony before the BBQ where the kids got medals and small trophies. The boys were thrilled and had a great time. But when the line started for the BBQ, so did my worries.
Our older son remains allergic to dairy and egg now at age seven. I could see the line cooks slapping cheese on every hamburger in site. Who knew what was in the hot dogs? So I ventured up to the front of the line to see what I could do. I asked if I might be able to see the package for the hot dogs as we’ve found that milk is in many brands of hot dogs. The young girl said she didn’t know where the package was, then she turned to ask the “guy in charge” who shouted back to me, “Hey lady, they’re just regular hot dogs!” Ugh. I gave up and went back to stand with my family in line.
Earlier, at home, I had tried to think this whole thing through and packed a few dairy-free organic hot dogs. They’d been on ice in my backpack for about five hours now--not something I felt good about. So now, I ventured up to the front of the line and asked a kind, older gentlemen if he could warm these up on the grill for me and keep them in the tin foil. He obliged me and about ten minutes later I picked up the hot dogs. But they were not even cooked. They were just the other side of cold, kind of almost warm. My son took a bite or two, but we decided to just make him a hamburger when we would be home. So for now, we gave him a pile of pickles which contented him for the moment.
This was probably one of the more difficult situations that I’ve encountered with the dairy allergy--one where everyone is eating the same thing and my son cannot participate. At smaller, family BBQs, it is easier to check a label or ask for special consideration. Even storing a hot dog or hamburger from home in a refrigerator is a convenience that can make all the difference--then popping it in a microwave for one minute or so. But these options weren’t available to us at this amusement park BBQ.
At times I like these I realize that people just have no idea. It is weird-- I too have trouble believing that a common food can be so harmful to some people, like my beautiful son. I know many people, especially those who don’t have children with food allergies, have strong feelings of disbelief about others’ food allergies. I’ve even seen stories on TV and on the Internet saying that many, if not most, food allergy tests produce false positives. While there is clearly a lot of doubt, ignorance and skepticism about food allergies, I must admit that I still, at times, struggle with the “disbelief” grief stage that my husband discusses in his chapter in my book.
My own disbelief got the better of me this past spring. After my sons had eaten egg baked in bread a few times over the years, I convinced myself they were outgrowing their egg allergy. So I let them try a small bit of hard boiled egg white not long after Easter. My younger son spit it out saying it was disgusting. My older son said he liked it. Within ten minutes he wanted to vomit and started sneezing uncontrollably. Then within twenty minutes his eyes got itchy, he developed a lot of mucus, became extremely tired and then said his chest hurt. After giving him two doses of antihistamine and talking with our allergist over the phone, I was instructed to give him the Epi-Pen and go to the ER. I am somewhere between ashamed of my actions and dumbfounded by my own disbelief. But the lesson taught us that disbelief is real and dangerous. It also helps me to understand why others feel this way.
Over the next ten, twenty or more years, more and more people will probably develop food allergies. That cook who shouted at me, “Hey lady, they’re just regular hot dogs!” may one day have a child with a food allergy and then maybe he’ll think back to all the times he brushed off questions about food that to him may have seemed silly or bizarre. Or news reporters, anchors, talk show hosts who report on food allergy disbelief stories with an air of superiority and insinuation that those who think they have allergies are just a little crazy, may one day understand, when their own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or even themselves develop a serious allergy. Maybe when more scientists or government officials’ family members develop food allergies then more funding, research and answers will be created. Until then, our virtual food allergy community around the world needs to continue to support one another.