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Juggling Job and Allergies

Writer Janet French could relate to the anecdotes of the allergic employees she interviewed for “On the Job With Allergies” in our new Winter issue. Janet works in a newsroom – a literal hive of activity, where reporters often grab a bite to eat on the run between interviews and media conferences.

She is allergic to tree nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds, and has environmental allergies and mild asthma. Janet finds her colleagues both informed and accommodating about her allergies. But even in an enlightened atmosphere, there are still those moments – those occasions.

She describes the weeks leading up to Christmas in the newsroom of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix: “We get reams of gifts in the newsroom from any company you could possibly imagine that wants to court the press. Tables are covered with chocolate liqueurs, tins of shortbread and red-bowed baskets of jams and jellies.” Last Christmas, one freebie was downright terrifying to her – a clear, plastic vat brimming with assorted nuts.

“As my colleagues scooped handfuls and munched, I took circuitous trips around the area. With an anaphylactic allergy to tree nuts, there was no way I was going near that holiday vat of death, or near the people around it,” Janet says.

She had only been working at the StarPhoenix for a few months at the time, and did not want to start telling new colleagues what they could and couldn’t eat. But by this Christmas season and after writing this story for Allergic Living, Janet planned to speak up more. She was going to make a point of asking fellow reporters to be extremely careful, and to take a wide berth of her desk if they’d been snacking on nuts.

What was interesting to Janet about “On the Job With Allergies” as an assignment was the personal effect it had on her. She found it “oddly vindicating” to speak to other people with food and environmental allergies who were navigating similar risks at work.

“As somebody with allergies, sometimes you feel alone, you feel that you have these unreasonable demands; that colleagues must cater to me.” She realized how many others were in the same boat, and that “maybe I’m not crazy to worry about allergies on the job”.

That’s a behind-the-scenes aspect of this story: the deluge of interest it generated. Janet and I were caught off-guard by the response. It started after Anaphylaxis Canada agreed to e-mail members of its online registry with a request for interview subjects. “As a writer, a constant problem is finding enough people to talk,” notes Janet. Not this time. The e-mail request went out one autumn evening, and by bedtime Janet had received 10 responses. In a week, she had 88 serious replies.

“I had this huge operation,” Janet says with a laugh. “I made a gigantic list of all the names, allergies, stories to tell and where each individual lived.” She narrowed down the interview list, creating a balanced representation by geography as well as by food and environmental allergies and asthma.

Janet and I would like to thank everyone who responded – including those whose stories we couldn’t accommodate. Everyone who answered contributed in this sense: we now understand just how many people are doing the juggling routine: trying to be effective on the job and trying to protect their health.

Allergic Living’s first year of publishing is drawing to a close. It’s been an exciting year for those of us who started this new magazine in the spring of 2005. I’d like to thank our readers for helping our launch with their encouragement, kind words of support and intelligent suggestions.

On behalf of the staff at Allergic Living, we wish all of you a wonderful (and safe) holiday season, and we send our best wishes for the New Year. We’ll see you in 2006!

Gwen Smith
Editor, Allergic Living
From the Winter 2006 issue of Allergic Living magazine.
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