I was introduced to Jason by a friend and instantly drawn to the guy who could out talk me! Following an exercise about explosive devices at an Army camp where I was the only female in amongst a huge room of police officers and soldiers, I discovered a love of uniforms….. Military ones! Jason and I later became firm friends, and so our story began.
As the probationary period of two years had come to an end, this newly confirmed Police Officer decided to treat herself to a new car and new wardrobe! A small investment in the hair and makeup department in addition to some acrylic nails and I was all set for our first ‘date’. I had been advised to rub almond oil onto my nails and it was at this point I fell in love! Almond oil is fabulously fragrant; I simply could not get enough of it. Shampoo, body cream, aromatherapy oils are just a few to mention. You name it, I had it. I was also advised that almonds are low in saturated fat, have a favourable effect on blood cholesterol levels and contain calcium and magnesium, vitamin E and compounds which may protect against cardiovascular disease, even cancer. I therefore started to consume almonds on a daily basis.
A year or so later I started to experience some strange sporadic symptoms. On a couple of occasions, my eye swelled up, quite randomly; or so I thought. Having not touched my eye beforehand, it remained a bit of a mystery, as did the intense itchy sensation I began to experience within my mouth. As these random symptoms cleared almost as quickly as they arrived, I remained unaware as to what was causing them. I did however become aware of a problem at work whilst wearing gloves. The gloves we used to wear were the powdered latex variety, used for first aid or when searching people, premises and items that needed careful handling. These gloves could be worn for long periods during which time my hands began to itch and swell. It was only when I was tired and rubbed my eyes on one occasion that my eye swelled instantly. On another occasion I went to a restaurant and started to feel a little peculiar. I made a swift exit to the rest room and to my horror discovered that I was sporting new lips! Clearly I had not undergone collagen replacement therapy, and if I had, it was time for a refund! Anyone who has seen the film ‘Hitch’, starring Will Smith, may recall a scene where his character Alex Hitchens has an allergic reaction to shellfish. His face becomes somewhat distorted as everything swells. This was me, in a crisis, not looking so good at the start of a romantic night out. Needless to say the evening ended sooner than anticipated!
A series of odd symptoms continued over the next few months, the last of which were an intensely itchy throat and slight breathing difficulties which prompted a visit to the Doctors. I was advised that I was experiencing an allergic reaction, but to what exactly remained unclear. A full history was provided along with a food diary and I was initially tested for the most common food allergies (milk, wheat, nuts, eggs, soya, fish/shellfish). Eventually I was referred to Professor Frew’s allergy clinic who performed a series of allergy tests including skin prick and RAST (blood test) to confirm I had allergies to Almonds, Peanuts and Latex (natural rubber). I can distinctly remember feeling relieved the allergy was not to wheat or shellfish. My love for those far outweighed my new found love of almonds and as far as latex, I was naive enough to think wearing an alternative type of glove would be a sufficient resolution to my problem. How wrong could I be? The initial realisation that I would no longer be able to use my range of almond skin, hair and nail products was quite a sedate affair. The further realisation that many favourite foods were now a thing of the past was a little harder to accept. That aside, armed with an EpiPen I figured that these allergens could be easily avoided. Wrong again!
‘This product may contain nuts’ ‘This product is produced in a factory that processes nuts’…….
Statements that became all too familiar as ingredient labels were scrutinised. Yet, this was just the beginning. The first time I experienced an Anaphylactic Shock I was at the gym. Having just consumed a smoothie, I put all my belongings in the locker and went upstairs to begin a work out. No sooner had the treadmill started, I suddenly felt my throat tighten to the point I was really scared. A Manager, Mark Daley, of the West Hants Club, Bournemouth, knew that I had allergies asked where my EpiPen was. Visions of my lifesaving medication lying in my handbag, in a locker, were flashing through my mind as my view of room became very hazy………..
I awoke to a feeling of confusion surrounded by staff and Paramedics. The Manager organised the retrieval of the keys from my locker, administered the EpiPen and called for assistance. The paramedics administered Cortisone and carried me out on a stretcher which was highly embarrassing for a 29 year old who passed people over double my age! If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking and excellent First Aid Skills of Mark Daley, the situation may have been very different. I will always remain very grateful for his help. It later transpired that what I had consumed had contained nut derivatives. My lax attitude had caused me a huge problem, one that I did not wish to experience ever again.
Sadly this was to be the first of many as a similar incident occurred shortly afterwards at a family celebration. A family member had kindly offered to buy me a drink; my favourite cream based liquor. I was passed the drink and advised that as they had ran out of the original, the new version had been bought instead. This drink was indeed delicious, despite unknowingly potentially deadly for me! Once again my throat felt as if it was closing and as I had experienced this before, I started to panic.My husband Jason administered the EpiPen and wanted to take me to hospital but I had started to feel much better and requested he took me home instead. When I returned to his parent’s home, the symptoms returned, a second Epi Pen was used and an ambulance was called. I was taken to hospital where more medication was administered. I later made enquiries with the company that makes the liquor. I discovered that the oil in the drink contained nut derivatives.
There are two lessons that I learnt from these incidents. The first is to scrupulously check the ingredients label on any item and if no label is available then to avoid it. The second is to listen to my husband when he thinks it’s a good idea to go to hospital! Sometimes (rare occasions!) he does know best!