By Henry Ehrlich
I took five flights over five days going to the wonderful Food Allergy Blogger Conference (FABlogCon) in Las Vegas with a side trip to the San Francisco area to see old friends. On two of those flights I sat next to people with histories of food allergies.
The first, going from Dallas to Vegas, was a young woman who was studying for a CPA exam, which I asked about. She was on the auditing team for one of the big casinos, which was very intriguing. I’ve seen the movie “Casino” and couldn’t help but wonder how the auditors catch the skim but before I could inquire she asked me why I was going to Vegas, and when I told her, she lit up. Why that very day she had gotten a call from her doctor’s office saying that she was allergic to wheat, as she expected, but also to several tree nuts and other foods! I asked her what her symptoms were. She said that she had always had a bit of pain swallowing and reflux to wheat but no other reactions, except for some hives. She was miffed that the nurse had called her with the results but refused to put the doctor on the phone to explain them. She had to make, and pay for, an appointment, which is massively inconvenient as she is preparing for her test. So with the disclaimer of any medical credentials, upon her request I did my best to explain what were clearly RAST scores of dubious utility, what they indicate and what they don’t, told her about component testing, and the possibility that she could have some esophagus problems. In return she gave me tax advice. (Just kidding.)
On my way back from San Francisco I sat next to a 48-year old man who as a child growing up in Berkeley had been diagnosed with severe wheat, egg, and dairy allergies, but had outgrown them. How old was he when he outgrew? “I’m not sure. At the age of 14 I was rebelling and decided to eat an egg salad sandwich. No reaction.” Berkeley—birthplace of youthful rebellion. During a lull in our conversation he hauled out a Tupperware container with trail mix, which had both peanuts and tree nuts. I explained to him that such snacks were often an issue on flights. He put his away. Although there had been no announcement about anyone on board with allergies, given his own history he decided to go hungry. He did, however, drink a Bloody Mary, a good source of vitamin C.
Other food allergy notes from the trip:
My friends whom I visited in California both work at the Stanford medical school. It has become common practice among their many friends who have trouble with foods to show up at dinner parties both in homes and restaurants and not eat. Instead, they “pre-eat,” which spares them the problem of negotiating with waiters or hosts. I failed to learn whether they are charged for sitting at a restaurant, in the spirit of charging a corkage fee if you bring your own wine. Seems only fair.
Finally, and this is the most intriguing thing—the other dinner guest at my friends’ home the night I arrived in Palo Alto was also an MD who has a sideline in taking groups on trips to places like Tibet. These are all older people with lots of money. It turns out the biggest medical challenge is that significant numbers of these people have food allergies, and lots of epinephrine makes the trip, too. This doctor agreed to write a guest editorial for us, so I gave her a copy of my book. Can’t wait.
I wonder if I sat next you on a plane, would you make me sound as interesting?