"Matt, do you have your EpiPen?" "Matt, do you have your EpiPen?" "Matt, do you have your EpiPen?" How many times have I heard that? Thousands. Growing up with a food allergy was a huge burden requiring constant vigilance. Vigilance about carrying my EpiPen and about knowing where to sit at the school lunch table, who would chaperone the field trip, whose birthday party my mom or dad would have to hang out at, whose house was safe for me to hang out at - and vigilance about which foods I eat.
Since enrolling and subsequently graduating from a Stanford food allergy study led by Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, my anxiety surrounding my allergy has greatly decreased, but my vigilance remains steadfast. The Stanford study has given me safety from cross contamination and a life without fear.
Yet, just as Batman has his utility belt, I have my EpiPen. The EpiPen may as well be tattooed on to my skin, as it still travels with me everywhere I go. In my opinion, this should be the same for every severely allergic person. My good friend (who has multiple food allergies) doesn't carry one when he's with me. His rationale behind it is, "I'm with you, so I don't need one." I recently met someone who doesn't carry an EpiPen although she has a diagnosed anaphylactic allergy to tree nuts and peanuts. Her rationale? "I've never had a reaction, and I am really careful about what I eat."
I can't understand when I meet people with food allergies and they don't carry an EpiPen. Sometimes they say, " I just get hives around my mouth." Or "I just get a little itchy on my tongue." Or "I have one - it's in my car." CAN YOU BE SERIOUS?
Unfortunately for me, before entering the allergy study, I had to use my trusted EpiPen several times. It was very tense, scary and thankfully quick. After a person gets over the paralyzing fear of the needle (which is actually hidden inside the pen), the EpiPen is actually easy to use (once you get the hang of it). It works so fast. It actually stops the allergic reaction in its tracks. It's the only life-saving medication food that allergic people can use to help prevent life threatening reactions.
So yes, under the advice of my doctor, I still carry an EpiPen. Even though I successfully eat a lot (4,000 milligrams each) of all of my allergens daily, (which are wheat, rye, barley and oats), it's always by my side - at camp, tennis, school or a party. I know the facts of how quickly a reaction can escalate, and I may still have a reaction. I am after all, a living science experiment.
The words, "Matt, do you have your EpiPen?" are still essential to my life.
Matthew Friend is a high-school junior from Chicago. A version of this piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
Previously: Participant in Stanford food-allergy study delves into lifestyle-changing research, Taking a bite out of food allergies: Stanford doctors exploring new way to help sufferers, Simultaneous treatment for several food allergies passes safety hurdle, Stanford team shows, Researchers show how DNA-based test could keep peanut allergy at bay and A mom’s perspective on a food allergy trial and Searching for a cure for pediatric food allergies
Photo by JD Hancock