Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Two summers ago, I spent 10 lovely days in the south of France in a house that I have been going to for 20 years. It is as remote as you can get, in which the closest village is a 15 minute drive, and the nearest hospital is 40 minutes away via the winding and rolling hills of the French countryside. My best friend and I were at the supermarche looking for some snacks for the afternoon. Both of us having an intermediate level knowledge of French, we felt comfortable examining the backs of all the hummus labels checking for allergens in bold or the ‘may contain’ alert at the bottom of the ingredients. We grabbed one that seemed to be ok, but put it back as it said ‘may contain nuts’ at the bottom. We picked another one, and there was nothing in bold and no ‘may contain’ listed - so we checked out.
Back at the farm, we broke out the snacks. I scooped a large bit of hummus onto my carrot and ate it. Took another large scoop, and as I swallowed I felt a tingling sensation in my mouth. I stopped eating as I was extremely confused as to what was going on. I only know the tingling sensation to be associated with one thing - anaphylaxis - but I hadn’t eaten anything that I was allergic to. I picked up the hummus again in hopes to put my mind at ease that this tingling was just in my head, and as I read down the label one last time my heart sank. Two words - ‘Fromage Frais’ (aka Cream Cheese) were hidden in the body of the text. It was not in bold, there was no allergy listed at the bottom, and so when reading the label, my eyes just scanned over it.
As I am anaphylactic to dairy, (also peanuts and treenuts), I knew I had swallowed a significant amount of the allergen that I would need to get to the hospital right away. I told my dad what happened, and my best friend and I hopped in the back of the car. As we were pulling out of the driveway, I told my dad to pull over. I knew the hospital was 40-45 minutes away and since I knew I had a sizable amount of the allergen that even though my symptoms weren’t progressing rapidly I didn’t want to wait for them to get worse. We pulled over, and I gave myself the epi-pen in the car.
Now in previous anaphylactic shocks I’ve had, I’ve usually not given myself the epi-pen that quickly - but here is why going forward I will never hesitate if I know a reaction is in suit. The first reason being that we were far away. I knew I had enough of the ‘cream cheese hummus’ to know what could/would happen. Rather than wait for the anaphylaxis to get worse, doing the epi pen actually made it so that the initial symptoms never progressed. Additionally, not being familiar with the healthcare system and their being a bit of a language barrier I felt more in control doing the pen myself. When I got to the hospital, the doctor said I did the right thing and just watched me for 2.5 hours and then I went home and that was that.
What could have been an intimidating situation, actually ended up feeling like a small detour in the day. While I wouldn’t usually recommend being so far from a hospital when traveling, the most important thing to take with you whether you are on a trip or leaving the house is confidence in trusting your ability to use the epi pen, and I really can’t emphasize this enough. The number one tip for traveling, is not to be scared to use the pen. They are your best travel buddy, and will always be there for you. We know our body better than anyone else, even a doctor, and if you are reading this as a close friend or family member of someone anaphylactic it is so important to understand that it is always better to act sooner rather than later. Traveling is not something we should fear of living with allergies. I share this story in hopes that it makes you feel empowered to own your allergy and your pen and to not let anything hold you back from experiencing the world - and also, most importantly, do not hesitate to use the epi pen.
If you have any questions for me, please feel free to leave a comment or DM me directly @gracefriendly