Dory Cerny plays Miss Manners for those awkward allergic moments.
Situation: A female aquaintance gives you a gift that includes your allergen, such as chocolate-covered nuts or a food basket full of potentially lethal goodies.
How to Handle: If you don’t know the woman well, just say a gracious thank you and promptly “re-gift”. If it’s from someone you do know well, however, she has no doubt forgotten about your allergy, and is about to be mortified. Thank your friend for the thought, remind her of your allergy and while she slaps herself in the forehead, gently suggest that, as you won’t be able to enjoy this lovely gift, she may want to give it to someone else.
Situation: A relative insists that “a little bit won’t kill you.”
How to Handle: When it comes to family, sometimes subtlety is a lost cause. If your Aunt Tilda’s idea of a “safe” meal for you involves picking the shrimp out of the pasta, gently but firmly lay down the law. Explain that yes, it could kill you and as much as you love spending time with auntie, from now on you’ll come by for tea or invite her instead to your house. That way, you’ll have control over what is served.
Situation: A good friend is so anxious that you will have a reaction that you no longer get invited over or out for dinner.
How to Handle: If friends are uncomfortable preparing meals or eating out with you, take the lead. When going to a dinner party, offer to bring your own food or to eat at home and arrive after dinner, so that you can take part in the social aspects of the evening without putting any burden on your host. When eating out, suggest a restaurant where you know the kitchen or call ahead to someone else’s choice to ensure there is a safe meal option.
Situation: You encounter someone who thinks “allergies are in your head.”
How to Handle: If this is a person you will be in contact with on a regular basis and not just some jerk at a party, you will be forced to offer remedial education. First off, if you’ve had an anaphylactic reaction, you might mention that the doctor running with the epinephrine needle at Emerg. didn’t think you had “psychological issues”. That and the words “life-threatening” usually get taken seriously. Calmly offer to bring by some materials to explain the medical science of allergy and immune system over-response. You can find such materials at the websites of Anaphylaxis Canada, the Allergy/Asthma Information Association, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the Food Allergy Initiative.
Published in Allergic Living magazine.
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