Picture an unremarkable sixteen-year-old girl mowing lawns and babysitting children who never stop screaming, for an entire summer, all in effort to travel to Kansas.
People laugh at her when she says she’s excited for this trip to Kansas where she will spend five days learning how to be a better writer, all in the company of students who have taken the same curriculum. She finally registers for this event, yearning for knowledge and connections. She is ready to travel with her mom at her side, her partially written historical conspiracy novel in hand, and her life-threatening peanut allergy grimly tailing her as always.
Imagine if she had arrived at the Summer Workshop to accidentally eat contaminated food or to be hugged by an online friend who had eaten peanuts beforehand. Imagine that because of that one forkful or one hug she ends up being hospitalized. Imagine that although she had worked so hard to be there, she spent her time in the hospital trying to survive instead of making friends. Fortunately that is not what happened to her.
If you didn’t already guess, that girl is me. That trip to Kansas changed my life for the better in more ways than one. And without the relief the nut-free policy offered, it likely would never have happened. I finished that conspiracy novel, I’ve attended five OYAN Workshops, and I met some of my best friends through this program.
Perhaps you’ve seen the nut-free policy on the registration page for the Summer Workshop and, instead of feeling relief like my parents and I did several years ago, you’ve felt frustrated. “What?” you might think. “How am I supposed to survive without peanut butter and Reese’s Cups for an entire six days? Not even trail mix or peanut protein bars when I am out of energy?” Or “I promised my best OYAN pal that I would bring her some of my famous nutty brownies. I have to take to them! Allergies aren’t really a big deal anyway. I get them every spring.”
Here’s where I wish I could interject. When I say, “I have a peanut allergy,” you probably think, “She’ll get a runny nose, itchy eyes, a hive or two at the worst. Maybe she’ll throw up.” What I mean is: High chance of death.
Calling what I have a nut “allergy” is oversimplification and a massive understatement. It leads some people to believe that this condition is exaggerated or that those who talk about how hard it is to live with are being “snowflakes.” More correctly, allergies like mine are known as “anaphylaxis.” I believe we do the anaphylactic community a disservice by throwing this condition under the “allergy” umbrella, which, although technically correct, contributes to misunderstandings with serious consequences.
Did you know that some movie-goers complained that the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs showed highly exaggerated reactions to peanuts? The character Sam has an anaphylactic reaction to peanut brittle in the finale. If you look up real photos of anaphylaxis you’ll see that the film was actually quite accurate. The swelling, the hives, the colors. Anaphylaxis is very real and very life-threatening.
Here’s what Mayo Clinic has to say on anaphylaxis:
Anaphylaxis causes your immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause you to go into shock—your blood pressure drops suddenly and your airways narrow, blocking breathing. Signs and symptoms include a rapid, weak pulse; a skin rash; and nausea and vomiting.
If a person goes into anaphylactic shock, they need to be immediately injected with epinephrine and rushed to an emergency room. It takes mere minutes for anaphylaxis to be fatal, so you may not even have time make it to the E.R. or wait for an ambulance. Additionally, epinephrine is also itself life-threatening.
I don’t know about you, but going to the emergency room doesn’t sound fun to me. Nor would I want to be the one to accidentally send someone there after they’ve worked so hard to get to the Summer Workshop in the first place.
I am not the only one with anaphylaxis who attends the OYAN Summer Workshop so please don’t see this as me asking for a special privilege for myself. For those with anaphylaxis, merely leaving the safety of your own home for basic everyday tasks, like going to the grocery store or to a friend’s birthday bash, is a gamble. Finding places and events that are nut-free zones is a comfort and, though we are always on guard, allows us to relax and trust that those around us are also doing their best to keep us from being injured.
I have attended several Summer Workshops, four at the time of writing this. Every year I have attended nuts have not been allowed (especially not peanuts, which are technically a legume). I want to make every year a year that I, or someone else living in fear of a rogue peanut, doesn’t overhear, “I know peanuts aren’t allowed but I have Reese’s Pieces in my dorm if you want some” or “Peanut butter pretzels are okay, right?” Yes, both of these are statements I overheard my first Summer Workshop.
So this is why I’m sharing my story. To inform you about anaphylaxis and to explain one way you can step up your protection of anaphylactic attendees. Nuts have oil in them. Think about what you eat before you even arrive on site. If you eat something with peanut butter or even eat a handful of plain old raw peanuts, the oil gets onto your hand. When you turn a doorknob, the oil rubs onto the knob. When you shake hands with someone it gets on their hand. And it stays there. It doesn’t really go away. This is why cross contamination is such a huge issue in restaurants. Even your arrival at Summer Workshop (all that hugging) after having consumed peanut oil can be dangerous for some anaphylactic people.
I have had near-death experiences with peanuts since I was three years old. I once walked into a room that had a sealed container of peanut trail mix on a table several feet from me and I ended up in the hospital from my severe reaction. I never even touched them. Once I touched a cookie that had peanut butter in it, and—you guessed it!—ended up in the hospital. I’ve had to carry an epi-pen everywhere I go for my entire life just in case. This rule isn’t a joke.
You can survive without Reese’s Cups for six days. As my friend pointed out, “Other students can’t survive with them.” If you have your own serious health reasons why you rely on nuts, contact the One Year Adventure Novel staff. They can help you figure out a plan.
Take anaphylaxis seriously. If someone else has peanuts that they’re carrying around, please call them out on it. I thank you in advance on behalf of all of us with a nut or peanut allergy. Keep your friends safe!
An “OYANer” since 2012, Lela’s writing career began with satirical superhero serials, evolving into historical fiction conspiracy novels and sci-fi political dramas. She is an enthusiastic reptile owner, loves spontaneous outings and a good laugh, and consumes too much coffee. She works in emergency medicine and writes on the side.