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So, after initially finding out about the allergies, I still had a lot of learning to do. It was a few years before I had most of it pegged. That was an uncomfortable few years. I carried an Epi-Pen during this time, because who knows? I can eat most lettuce (not baby spinach, though), tomatoes (usually), and grapes (only red ones, though) raw, pretty much the rest of the fruit and vegetable world was out for my unless I cooked it. I can also get away with an apple or two in the absolute dead of winter. This allergy was generally pretty manageable. It’s easy to pick the cucumbers and carrots out of a salad or decline a fresh peach (ok, so it’s actually really hard to decline a fresh peach, but you know what I’m saying!). I tried to keep up with my allergy shots for about a semester and a half into college. Then I just got sick of it, I guess, and stopped going. Allergy shots are very inconvenient (you have to wait to get your shot, then wait a half hour to make sure you’re not going to collapse into shock and you have to go twice a week), but I just lacked the resolve to stick to it.

Fast forward 8 years. I’m living happily in Montana with my husband and we’re not really planning on going anywhere else anytime soon. In the meantime, I’d been having a few mysterious symptoms. Nothing that scared me enough to seek medical advice. I just had intermittent severe fatigue that I chalked up to laziness, a flutter in my lungs that just seemed like ‘one of those things’. I had a lot of headaches and was gassier than your average bear, but this is just how my body is, I thought. I’d promised myself that once life was stable, I’d start again with the allergy shots. So I set up an appointment with a otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat guy) who came highly recommended to me. Turns out that they have a different approach to managing allergies than allergist do, so it was a little different. We did a prick test on my arms, rather than my back, and it was put into groups (like “deciduous trees” rather oak, cottonwood, etc). So they only pricked me about 15 times rather than 54. Of course, I turned up very allergic to everything but dogs (this is how I know God actually does love me).

Then they took my blood for a test of food allergies. A week later a nurse called me. You’d think she was telling me I had terminal cancer, by her demeanor.

“I’m calling about your food allergies. Are you sitting? I have some bad news.” (I’m not even exaggerating. She actually asked me if I was sitting.)

“Heee! Yeah… Let me guess, I’m allergic to everything?”

Very soberly, she responded, “Um, pretty much.”

She went on to tell me that I had tested allergic to wheat, corn, eggs, soy, and milk to varying degrees, wheat and corn being the worst. I would have to go on an exclusion diet with none of those ingredients and then test each one individually. The test is apparently not the definitive answer, the exclusion diet is. The exclusion diet seemed to me to be a bit like walking up and poking a wolverine just to see what happened, but I did the whole thing. I also gave up beer to see if the grains therein were part of the problem. [Note: I love beer. A lot]

The results:
Wheat: Bad fatigue (to the point that Eric thought I was mad at him for days, because I was too tired to talk. And when he asked me, too tired to explain that I was too tired to explain.) Headache. Tight muscles in the neck and shoulders.

Corn: Some fatigue. Bad headaches. Fluttery lungs (that the best I can describe it. The feel… fluttery and I have to inhale very deeply to feel like I’m getting enough air, even when resting). Crampy and tight muscles.

Eggs: Copious, sulfurous farts. (Yum.)

Dairy: Milk, half and half, yogurt=headache. Butter and cheese=nada. Who knows? I recently read that cheese and butter have very little lactose compared to the former stuff (none in the case of butter). Wonder if that has anything to do with it?

Soy: Not much really, but I read up on the stuff from a nutritional standpoint and decided to limit my soy intake very severely.

Beer (barley, hops): A-OK. God really does love me. I can drink a beer and play with my dogs with no fear of allergic response.

So my allergy tally just went up quite a bit. Now I can’t eat any wheat, corn or eggs and only some kinds of dairy. This eliminates almost every baked good, packaged food, prepared food (especially if it’s sweet), and most food served in most restaurants. My diet now is very simple, filled with real, whole foods. Frankly, it’s delicious. And not surprisingly, I lost about 25 lbs in short order when I went on this diet (I’d been trying to lose that weight to no avail for years!). I know the Gospel of the Whole Grain is preached loudly by the media, government and nutritional ‘experts’, but I believe that a diet based on meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts is healthiest. I don’t entirely eschew grains. I obviously drink beer. I eat oatmeal 2-3 times a week and rice once or twice a week. It’s just not the core of my diet anymore, and I believe I’m much healthier for it!

Recently, I went back to the otolaryngologist and he told me about some fancy little drop that goes under one’s tongue that would squelch my reaction to any of these food allergies (though, not the oral allergies, unfortunately). It was then I realized, I don’t even want wheat or corn back. Eggs and dairy, well, sure! But not wheat or corn. Wheat used to be a horrible dietary crutch for me. Corn itself is quite nice stuff, but most of the corn any American eats is corn that is fractionated into corn syrup, starch, myriad sugars, and zillions of other things you find in packaged and pre-prepared foods. I got the drops for those occasions where it’s too hard to control my food intake, but I have yet to use them.

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I’ve spent the last 5 days with the kind of fatigue that makes you consider whether it’s reasonable to attempt climbing the half-flight of stairs to get to the bathroom and makes even simple sentences difficult to formulate. The first three days I also had a persistent, bad headache.

Why? Because I have a kick-ass immune system. Somewhere along the line, it got so bored with the lame challenge of fighting off the common cold and slaying bacteria that it took up extracurricular activities. Like kicking dander’s ass or whooping up on some vegetables. I imagine Jackie Chan would understand my immune system’s feelings.

You see, I have allergies. Bad ones and not so bad ones, but I sure have lots of ’em. When I was a young child, I had bad seasonal allergies and also a mild oral allergy to some raw fruits and vegetables. The roof of my mouth and my head would itch. My sister was the same way and to a similar severity. My Mom, naturally, just thought we weren’t a fan of vegetables and had active imaginations. I think most mothers would. All this lessened as we grew up until it never really bothered us at all.

Then, at the age of 16, we moved from the high desert of Southern Arizona to the mountains of Western Colorado. About a year after we moved, the itchiness in response to raw fruits and vegetables came back. With a vengeance! Now, the itching began to extend deep into my throat and if I ate enough of the problem plant, my throat would begin to swell and breathing would become difficult. The first time that happened, I knew this was serious. That kind of thing really gets your attention!

So, off we went to the allergist. We talked a lot, but there was really no tests or treatment for the oral allergies. They did the prick tests for other allergies. They tested for 56 specific allergens and I reacted to 54 (molds apparently aren’t a problem. Given that I live in the arid west, um, good to know). That’s pretty damn itchy. My mother accompanied me through all this, and as I lay on the table on my hands to keep from scratching, she burst out crying. “Why in the world are you crying. Mom?”

“I-I-I-I’m so s-s-s-s-sorry I didn’t believe you about bananas and carrots when you were a kid!” Heh. I reassured her that I was no worse for wear and I wouldn’t be describing that childhood slight to any therapists any time soon.

I was going to start allergy shots (which I stopped taking after a year due to lack of discipline about it) and was told to avoid any foods that gave me a problem. I had to start carrying an Epi-Pen since I was still learning about the behavior of my oral allergies, which could potentially lead to anaphylactic shock. That was that. On my way out, my doctor said, “In 40 years of practice, you’re probably among the top 3 patients I’ve had in terms of severity of their oral allergy!” Well, at least I’m an overachiever in one arena!

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