An Allergic Girl's Thoughts on the Allergy/Covid-19 Comparisons
Updated: May 1, 2020
The world is going through a very intense period right now. Never in my life would I have thought that one day I would be sitting on my couch at 2 AM, writing about a Covid-19 pandemic and food allergies, but here I am. My second week of shelter in place has finally come to a close, and I have to say, it’s definitely getting a little bit easier. I’m an introvert, so I tend to be the girl who wonders why everyone hates their house so much (when I cherish mine haha), but I have to admit that at least having the option to leave and go out worry-free is something I miss.
And though I live with my family, we all used to have such busy schedules that I usually had the entire house to myself in between my college courses. So it’s been a bit of an adjustment from going to having half the day to myself to literally none of the day to myself! Despite that, I am glad that California is taking such a strict approach when it comes to shelter in place orders and management of the virus. It’s terrifying living in Santa Clara County and knowing that this area is one of the hardest hit in the state, but I am very thankful that my family and I are able to do work/ school at home safely. We are very blessed in that way.
During this period of uncertainty and isolation from the rest of the world, I have spent a lot of time lost in my own introspective thoughts. Oh and Instagram. One of the trends I seem to be seeing lately on the magical world of the Instagram food allergy community is a comparison to life with Covid-19 and that of someone with food allergies. I first started seeing the memes come up when there were only a few cases of Covid-19 reported in the USA.
But as time has gone on, I must say, I’m starting to agree less with this type of messaging going around the food allergy community, and I’m going to tell you why
As of writing this, the CDC reports there to be about 103,321 cases in the USA. Who would have thought this would hit us so hard? It’s quite surreal to me. But as the cases seem to grow, so do the reports all over the news talking about the horrific details. And part of that, so do the memes and comparisons drawn with food allergies and Covid-19 appear more frequently. I love the community, and I really do not mean to ruffle anyone's feathers. I have to admit when I first started seeing the jokes, the memes, and the infographics, I was like okay trueeee. Yes, I do have to wash my hands like the rest of the world now! Yes, I have to worry about dying from invisible substances (potentially) and the rest of the world has to now too!
But as time has gone on, I must say, I’m starting to agree less with this type of messaging going around the food allergy community, and I’m going to tell you why. I know that it is hard for people who don’t have food allergies to understand what those of us with food allergies or children with food allergies go through on a day to day basis. We can educate and explain things over and over, but frankly, until you see it yourself, it can be hard to imagine the constant state of alertness and anxiety that we can experience in our everyday allergic lives. So in that sense, I get the concept of comparing it to Covid-19. I don’t touch my face that frequently because of my food allergies as well, and I wash my hands all the time. But now, I wash my hands ALL THE TIME. I wash longer and sing “happy birthday” to my dog twice each time (poor thing thinks it’s his birthday everyday now lol) so I make sure I wash for about 20 seconds as recommended by the CDC. My hands are in worse shape than they were before this pandemic for sure!
Now, many more people are scared of a virus they can’t see, a virus that can be anywhere and do them much harm, much like traces of our allergens can do to us. But the thing with food allergies is that I have medication that can potentially stop that reaction and save my life. There is no medication that is out there to save my life if I get coronavirus. I have lived my entire life carrying epi-pens, preparing to keep myself safe, and I have used my epi-pens before and saved my own life.
I know what it feels like to not be able to breathe for a few seconds, and it is absolutely terrifying. But with my allergies, I can at least feel like I have some sort of control or management by carrying my meds. I have seen myself recover from anaphylaxis and I feel like I can recover from that. When it comes to Covid-19, there is no real treatment at all. Some people recover, some don’t, and while this can also be said of anaphylaxis, I’d almost rather take my chances on anaphylaxis (at a time when there wasn’t a pandemic of course) than potentially dying in a state where I felt like I couldn’t breathe because of a virus without any type of treatment. I cannot explain the kind of panic that you experience when you cannot breathe, and I only experienced that for a few seconds thanks to my epi-pen. And as someone with high risk, I really don’t know how things would turn out for me if I get this virus. There are plenty of people who don’t have pre-existing conditions who are still losing their lives to the virus. True, not everyone will lose their lives, but many have and will.
This next point is a little different if you are a parent of a child with food allergies versus a person with food allergies themselves, but I still wanted to mention it. As someone who has used the epi-pen several times and knows what anaphylaxis feels like, I can say that while this type of reaction is terrifying, I have been blessed with wonderful humans in my inner circle who are always there to help me should something go wrong and I am unable to help myself. When I have gone to the hospital for reactions and I have had to wait for the standard 4 - 6 hour observation period, I’ve been able to have my family come stay with me. Oftentimes my mom, dad, and brother visit, as well as my boyfriend Kyle and sometimes my aunt who lives close by. While I am generally someone who is highly uncomfortable with IV (especially Benadryl through IV because it stings *for me specifically*), having my family with me helps keep me feeling calm in the moments that I am actually awake (they definitely give you a lot of meds so as long as you are hooked up to monitors it’s okay to sleep as far as I know). But for the coronavirus, people are all alone.
Anaphylaxis is not contagious, and THANK GOD it’s not. I am truly scared of anaphylaxis, but I am so thankful that nobody else in my family has it or can get it while I am going through it.
Families can’t visit or be close by for comfort because they are equally vulnerable to infection. Anaphylaxis is not contagious, and THANK GOD it’s not. I am truly scared of anaphylaxis, but I am so thankful that nobody else in my family has it or can get it while I am going through it. I would never want them to go through that kind of reaction because I know how scary it is and I care too much about them. And me having an extreme reaction like this would not physically cause them harm. But Covid-19 is so different and it keeps me up at night thinking about what might happen to my parents or brother if they caught the infection. My family is everything to me.
As someone with food allergies, your life is limited in a few ways for sure, but my life has never been more limited as it is now. When the world was back how it was before all the Covid-19 cases started out, I would go out occasionally. I would drive to the neighboring city to see my boyfriend, I would eat out at Chipotle, go to the movies, and go bowling. But now, that’s all shut down. I worry about what would happen if I needed to go to the hospital, or if someone I love needed to. The world feels like a state of disarray. I understand that in times of chaos, humor or relatability can be comforting, but as the numbers continue to go up and up on the death toll of this pandemic, I wonder if it’s still appropriate to continue comparing life with food allergies and life with the pandemic.
I know that we want nothing more than to thrive in an empathetic world, but in order to get empathy, we have a responsibility to give it back to those we seek it from.
Before Covid-19, I could get all my allergy-friendly snacks with ease, but now it’s hard to even find hand sanitizer and toilet paper. No, this way of life, as positive as I am attempting to be about it, is not fun. It is a lot more depressing than my usual way of life. There is worldwide anxiety and panic right now, and I don’t feel it is very empathetic of us as a community to smugly note the similarities. I know that we want nothing more than to thrive in an empathetic world, but in order to get empathy, we have a responsibility to give it back to those we seek it from. My life has always been something I absolutely cherish, and it’s always been full of fun and happy moments despite my food allergies.
As I sit here stuck in my house, missing my friends, my boyfriend, and extended family - knowing my upcoming birthday will likely be spent without them - I want things to go back as they were before. This is not what my life with food allergies was like. As mentioned, I get the comparison at a basic level, but I feel like to compare at a basic level is only to simplify not only life with food allergies but also life during the Covid-19 pandemic. I just hope that instead of using a worldwide tragedy to explain our tough way of life, we can remember all the blessings we had during our lives before this pandemic, acknowledge any absences, and come together to continue to support each other as just another group managing new roadblocks in the management of our daily lives.