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Posted on: Sun, 08/03/2003 - 12:17am
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This article appeared in the Globe and Mail Toronto newspaper recently:
[url="http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20030731/FACTS31//?query=anaphylaxis"]http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20030731/FACTS31//?query=anaphylaxis[/url]
For me, all fruit is forbidden
Apples and oranges do have one thing in common. They both seem to want me dead.
By ANGELA BROWN
Thursday, July 31, 2003 - Page A24
Yes! Finally, after spending my entire adult life and much of my youth feeling misunderstood and maligned, now I feel vindicated. No longer must I skulk in corners at the outdoor market, turn abashedly away during pumpkin fest or blush with ignominy at apple harvesting time. Scientists have finally discovered fructose intolerance, and my day in the sun has come.
I want to tell the world -- I love your fruit, but I can't eat it. In fact, fructose intolerance isn't half the problem; I am an anaphylactic. To the uninitiated, anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction. If untreated, the victim can die within minutes. To the uninformed I say: it's not just about nuts. My anaphylaxis embraces many food groups -- vegetables, fruits (solid and liquid), spices, wines and microbrew beers. Don't get me started on Thai and Mexican cuisine.
But let's just talk fruits for now. Come with me on my voyage to the sweet, the tart, the tangy.
Here's how it happens. Not only do I feel an upset stomach after consuming a sweet strawberry or a juicy apple, but my stomach writhes in agony when the fruit touches down. It regurgitates the swallow whole and expels it from my body like a rocket launcher in action during a fiery attack.
And then, the pain. Ahhh! First there are the stomach contractions. (Mothers, I'm sure you can relate to this.) Then my lips swell up, then my face, my throat, my tongue. (Ever see a blowfish?) My eyeballs start burning in their sockets. My pupils dilate exponentially.
Then comes the itching. Hives all over my body. I feel like I'm having a drug-induced nightmare. Then comes the torture of the extremities. My palms are hot and itchy. And so are my feet. And my ears, too. I'm jumping and itching all over like Mick Jagger in heat. It hurts so much I want to die. Then the world starts to look all soft and blurry.
It's happening for real now. I'm 19 years old and standing on the corner of Woodbine and Danforth Avenue, in Toronto, trying to cross the road. There are lights. Red, amber, green. All distorted and mixed together. As I start walking, I feel weaker and weaker. I'm staggering like a drunk on a bender. When I make it to the other side of the road, I reach for a parking meter. I'm so dizzy, and my heart is racing faster and faster. I can barely breathe as my throat tightens like a noose around my neck. I try to hold on to the post but I'm losing my grip and my body falls slowly to the ground.
I hear someone's voice, "Are you okay?" I think I hear sirens in the distance. Then nothing. No sound. No light. I'm unconscious. I think I must be dead.
I thought it was all over then. I hadn't quite finished my education or got my career under way. I owed some money to a few people, and I had just paid about 40 bucks for a biology textbook and I hadn't even been to the first class. Yipes! The pressure of dying unprepared. I needed some time to write a note at least. What will my mother think? Dying here on the Danforth, just like a piece of abandoned road kill.
Well, dear reader, I was saved in the end. A kindly woman found me lying on the sidewalk and called an ambulance. At the hospital, they gave me this wonderful drug called adrenaline. Mmm. I started to feel so good. No more itching, no more cramps. And the tightness in my chest went away, too. I could breathe again. My tongue was still a bit swollen for a while, but I was grateful to be alive. "Thanth," I said to the doctor in a feeble voice. "What?" he said. It doesn't matter.
You didn't ask for it, but there's a day in the life of a misunderstood anaphylactic. Remember, it's not just the nuts, okay? Sometimes I see you on the bus chomping down on a juicy red apple, saliva running down your mouth and I feel a little sick. I can smell that fructose in the air like a nauseating putrid stench. No offence. Or, at the office, there you are peeling an orange, making a mess with the juice all sticky on your desk and orange peel stuck in your fingernails. I have to look away. But it's not you I can't stand. It's the fruit.
Give me a Coke and a burger. Give me an ice cream sandwich. (Lactose is my friend.) Give me all your artificially sweetened soft drinks and snacks. To the school boards thinking of taking away chocolate bars from the vending machines and replacing them with fruit bars, I say, "Are you trying to kill us?"
Seriously, it's a different world for the fructose intolerant, and for people like me -- anaphylactics who are allergic to practically everything even remotely healthy. Nuts are only the start of it. It has never been fun being an anaphylactic. It all started when I was 19. First it was fruits, then nuts, then lettuce, beans, mayonnaise, and so on.
Today I applaud the people who bring allergies to the table, who talk about my silent killer. And the next time I'm at a dinner party and someone says, "Anaphylactic to fruit? I've never heard of that." Or "Have a berry. We just want to see what it looks like when your face puffs up." They don't really believe, of course. They think I'm kidding. But now the world knows.
For some people, fruit sucks. For people like me, fruit kills. I've said my piece. You may return to your strawberry tart, my friend. Bon appetit! But be careful what you eat.

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