Saturday, August 16, 2008

Allergies and Vampires

A friend recently got me into Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, as usual I'm several years behind on the latest craze. If you haven’t read the books, all you need to know for the rest of this post to make sense is that they are about Bella, a human, her boyfriend Edward Cullen, a vampire (and his “siblings” Alice, Jasper, Rosalie, and Emmett, and their “parents” Carlisle and Esme), and her best friend Jake, a werewolf. Obviously there is much more to it than that or people would not be going crazy over the books. But enough said; there are no plot spoilers to be wary of if you are reading the series, but I talk a bit about a one scene from Twilight.

As I was reading I felt myself developing a connection with the vampires, not in a gothy-teen I can identify with undead way but more a boy, they have a lot of food restriction problems and uncontrollable reactions too way. Oh, did I mention that the Cullens are “vegetarian” vampires, in that they don’t eat people? They hunt animals, but people smell very tempting in a way that can cause an almost uncontrollable reaction or make them feel ill trying to control it. Unfortunately, there is no vampire version of Epi-pens or Benadryl to stop their reactions, just self-control.

There is a scene in the first book where, while opening her birthday presents at the Cullens’, Bella gets a paper cut and Jasper goes from normal nice guy to blood-crazed vampire faster than you can say anaphylaxis. In the course of protecting her from his bigger brother, Edward accidentally pushes Bella into the table holding the plates, and she winds up with a huge gash down her arm. So the living room of the vampire home is now contaminated and they flee the room, just as I would if someone opened a bag of popcorn or a corn-filled air freshener in my living room. Carlisle, who is a doctor and not sensitive to blood, cleans the wound and stitches up Bella’s arm, while the more resistant members of the family (who can fortunately hold their breath for hours—wouldn’t that be a nice option!) disinfect the living room with bleach and burn everything that had been used to clean up the blood.

This scene popped into my head last night when I had to try to selectively decontaminate my kitchen in the middle of cooking dinner. I’d bought a bunch of beautiful squash, zucchini and beans at the campus organic veggie stand and decided to cook up a big Thai curry with my stash of the one safe coconut milk. (Mr. Coco brand has no citric acid or xanthan gum, so it is corn-free.) Luckily, I sampled one of the beans while I was chopping them because I had a reaction! (Beans? This is a very weird reaction; I’m going to ask the farmers next week if they were co-grown with the corn.) So, after drinking a bunch of Benadryl and getting out the Epi-pen just in case, I had to stop and think about what the evil poison beans had touched and decontaminate the kitchen so I could finish cooking dinner before the Benadryl coma hit. The cutting board and bowl they were on went back in the sink. I picked up the knife to slice the squash and realized I’d just been cutting beans with that knife! Whoops. All the veggies needed to be rewashed because they had been in the same final wash water as the beans. I wound up just scrubbing down the prep area and starting over. Too bad I don’t have super-vision that tells me where corn-tamination occurs.

The vampires’ sense of smell can cause them pain; mine does too. Of course it is much more elegant and dramatic when you are a fictional vampire and the smell of a werewolf is revolting or the smell of human blood causes a physically painful reaction. Me, I have a nose like a bloodhound and get sick from all the corn in the air—in perfume and air fresheners—and I generally look like an idiot. I can sniff out corn in just about any form. The first indicator is that my cheeks turn crimson, and then the reaction begins. In the last two weeks I’ve managed to have my eyes stream like a waterfall when I walked into the church at my cousin’s wedding, and I had to bolt out of the gate area in a small airport where they had sprayed Febreze to cover construction smells. At the airport, I stood at the edge of the security and the gate areas, close to the construction zone where there was an opening to the outdoors, lips swelling, eyes puffing, swigging from my two-ounce bottle of Benadryl and praying we would board before the TSA folks decided that I couldn’t stand there. My partner talked to the gate agent, asking if we could be the first to board when it was time to go because I was having an allergic reaction to something sprayed in the room. The agent was very confused , but let us go through as quickly as possible when I jogged in with my hand over my nose and mouth, desperately trying not to breath. Such savoir-faire.

I think many of us with severe food allergies can identify with the day-to-day issues of the Twilight vampires, finding safe food, constantly being on alert to avoid things that trigger reactions, and decontaminating our living areas after an allergen has been introduced. So when do the grace, style, and superpowers show up? Considering what a goofball I’ve been lately, I’d settle for any one of the three.

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