September 13th 2017 will forever be an important date to my family and I. It's the day that I nearly died, alone, in my car on a rural highway after consuming a Mochi ball and a piece of chocolate from Whole Foods Market.
1) Absolutely never trust that because something is Kosher and Vegan it's allergen friendly.
The chocolate I ate was laced with Hazelnuts, a deadly allergen. The signs on the display for Kosher, Vegan, Ethically Sourced and Local were not a replacement for an ingredients list and a nut warning. Learn all the alternative names for your allergens and memorize them. Don't be afraid to ask store clerks for an ingredients list if you can't find one.
2) It's very scary to realize no one can help you - but it's also empowering
I was driving alone when I realized I was experiencing a severe allergic reaction and I knew that I didn't have the time to pull over and wait for help. I drove myself to the emergency room while on the phone with my parents. I knew that I needed to devote 100% of my efforts into driving as fast as I could while keeping my breathing consistent. Since that day I've had a lot of emotions about this incident but I never doubted whether I did the right thing or not. I kept myself alive in a very scary life threatening situation and I know now that I can do anything.
3) It's important to talk about those feelings
I'm not hugely emotional but I had a lot of feelings about this incident. It was traumatic and scary for me and for my parents who met me at the hospital. It's important to talk through trauma or it eats you up inside. I had months where I cried every time I drove down that particular stretch of highway and in front of the hospital and it was OK. I'm here today to tell my story but it takes time to heal and it takes a village.
4) I recognized how lucky I was
Each year in the US alone over 200,000 people require emergency medical care due to food allergies and teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis. I was incredibly lucky to survive my drive to the hospital and I don't take that for granted. I've tried to be a better, nicer version of myself and I make sure to tell my family and friends that I love them about a million times a day. I think of all the kids who didn't get to come home after an anaphylactic episode and I mourn for their families.
5) I realized that change has to happen - and that my voice mattered
Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. This is way too often. Sometimes it's a supermarket product that has an uncommon name for a common allergen or keeps the colors of the packaging the same while adding peanut butter as a limited-edition flavor and sometimes it's a supermarket counter without an ingredients list. Sometimes it's a premade salad that someone decided to add walnuts too. There needs to be consistent labeling for prepackaged ready-to-eat food items. There have been far too many tragic deaths made by grocery stores and restaurants mistakes and it's critical to report allergic reactions. If I had been more persistent in reporting the Mochi I ate another woman would still be alive. Your voice matters.