Joie de Vivre

Hellooooo WordPress!

It’s been a while. It’s been nine months, in fact. But what an incredible nine months it’s been.

Many of my past posts have been about trying to figure out my life: finding a Big Girl Job, discovering this amazing city I live in, answering random questions that popped into my head, etc.

I’ll tell you a secret though: I was very close to moving back to Edmonton. There was a point earlier this year where I knew I needed a different job because I was so deeply unhappy; the only things getting me through at that point were my friends, yoga, and books. I had decided that if I did not find a Big Girl Job by August, I would quit my job, go on a fantastic trip, and return (broke) to Edmonton. To placate myself until then, I booked a ticket to Berlin for June, where my sister would be participating in a summer internship.

Everything changed in May: I got a Big Girl Job. And not just any Big Girl Job…an incredible Big Girl Job.

I knew this was the starting point of so many good things to come. It was the validation I needed that my perseverance to stick around Toronto was worth it. You see, even though I had loosely planned moving back to Edmonton at the end of August, it still didn’t feel quite right. Toronto felt right. This whole thought process was validated by a near-death experience (it sounds dramatic, I’ll admit, but it’s true!).

I had worked at my new job for approximately two weeks before I left for Berlin. I could tell at this point that this job was where I was meant to be, and I had to keep pinching myself because a variety of good things were happening all at once. I went off to Berlin almost in a state of shock.

Berlin was incredible. It was the first international sister trip Anna and I had taken together. I got to see family and friends I hadn’t seen in a decade. It was my first time in Berlin as an adult, and I realized that Berlin is basically me as a city.

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Abandoned allied spy tower…now a canvas for visual art.

However, I’ll also never forget this trip because I almost died. As my close friends reading this blog know, I had the worst allergic reaction of my life in Berlin. I’ve had severe anaphylactic allergies my whole life, and I’ve had terrible life-threatening reactions before, but quite literally nothing compares to the reaction I experienced in Berlin.

My sister, cousin and I were eating dinner at a burger restaurant. I chose a vegan option, as vegan food is significantly safer for me to eat with my allergies. While eating the burger, there was a brief moment where it felt like a reaction was about to begin. Strangely, it passed after a couple of minutes, and I assumed that due to my paranoia I was imagining a reaction (which has happened before).

After dinner, the three of us were walking to the nearest tram stop, and I suddenly felt like I had been hit with every possible allergic reaction symptom at once. My throat began constricting without pause. I couldn’t feel my face. My stomach felt like it was turning in on itself. Anna noticed immediately what was happening. I popped two Benadryl and told her I needed water ASAP.

The three of us ran into a bar so I could grab water, but before the bartender had poured the glass, I felt so suddenly ill that I ran into the bathroom located in the basement. Anna ran after me, and so begun a period of time that I have very little recollection of to this day. What I do remember is a constant battle in my brain, debating whether or not I should use my Epi-Pen (note: if this question is ever considered, the correct answer is to always use the Epi-Pen).

But if I use my Epi-Pen, I’ll only have one left for the duration of my trip.

I’ll have to go to the hospital if I take it, and what if my travel insurance provider lied and I have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for emergency care.

I don’t really want to die…I have so much going for me right now. I just started this incredible job. I’m so blessed to have such a caring family. I’m so blessed to have friends that are like family to me.

I’m not exaggerating on that last thought. My brain was so deprived of oxygen that I was literally weighing the options of living out my life or dying in the basement of a bar in Berlin (I hope those of you with a black sense of humor like me can find this part a bit amusing).

Eventually, after Anna persistently telling me to just use my Epi-Pen and asking if I needed an ambulance, I silently reached into my backpack and grabbed the Epi-Pen. After realizing I couldn’t read the instructions (words are hard when your brain is working with significantly less oxygen than it’s used to), I followed my instincts. Looking my sister dead in the eyes, I stabbed myself and whispered, “we should call the ambulance now.” Again, if you have a black sense of humor I hope you can laugh at the ridiculousness of this moment. At this point, I was seriously wondering how much longer I would have before I blacked out, as my vision was starting to darken. This had never happened to me before.

Things seemed to happen quite quickly after that. Germans are known for their efficiency, and emergency services is no exception. After much confusion as to what an Epi-Pen is (they have a totally different name for it in Germany) and after almost having a heart attack (likely due to the Epi-Pen misunderstanding and the administration of God-knows what drug), I was dragged up the stairs of the bar and into an ambulance, which had stopped in the middle of the street, on the tram tracks, during rush hour  (you’re welcome, Berlin). Not everyone can say that they have quite literally stopped traffic in Berlin.

We made it to the hospital with no issues. It was the best hospital experience I’ve ever had (and according to my cousin, it was the best hospital in Germany). Anna was my rock throughout this entire experience, and things would have ended dramatically differently without her. I’ll never be able to thank her enough.

Following the reaction, I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I couldn’t think about the events of the situation for a solid week after they occurred. I still don’t remember much of the reaction, and I only know details of the story thanks to Anna.

The day after, I approached life with renewed vigor. Usually after a bad reaction, it takes me two to three days to feel back to normal. Not this time. I had a second shot at life and I wasn’t going to waste any time. I can still remember the look of disbelief on my cousin’s face when we met that day to go see the Berlin wall.

I’ve tried to maintain that joie de vivre since that day (I’ve also tried to be extra cautious when eating out since that day!). I think I’ve succeeded. I hope I keep succeeding, and I hope that you can also find joy in your life without nearly dying in the basement of a grungy bar.

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The day after my allergy attack. And yes, denim on denim is cool in Berlin.

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My Complicated Relationship with Food

This weekend, one of my best friends from high school is getting married! I’m also incredibly excited because I am one of her two maids of honour (couldn’t break up a trio of high school best friends!).

Big events involving food, however, are often sources of fear for me. Having had anaphylactic food allergies for my entire life, weddings, graduations, and parties are all synonymous with that big question: will I be able to eat anything? And if that question seemed anti-climactic to you, I will have you know I am an extreme foodie and would probably weigh six hundred pounds if I didn’t have my food allergies.

On a more serious note, this question is an important one. The risk of eating anywhere—but particularly at large events—can be increased by so many factors, including carelessness, honest mistakes, and misunderstandings. Personally, I find choosing to eat anywhere outside of my home rests on the amount of trust I am able to place in the people making the food. However, I never fully trust anyone; I’ve had too many close calls.

I’ve had allergy attacks in strange places: the tallest building in China, rural Peru at 4000 meters of elevation (no they don’t have 24/7 emergency rooms and yes the elevation makes it hard to breathe to begin with), a corn maze, and my own kitchen (sadly true on more than one occasion). Although the locales, circumstances, and the severity of reactions change, the emotional burden remains fairly consistent. Being in my twenties I have developed a system of monitoring my physical symptoms, but emotionally staring death in the face is never an easy thing. While allergy attacks can become severe quickly, especially if you have anaphylaxis, I often feel like time slows down. The back of my throat starts swelling; then if my entire throat begins to swell I know I need to reach for my Epi-Pen and call an ambulance. I continuously swallow in order to judge how worried I need to be about the quick arrival of the paramedics. All the while, at the back of my mind I know that I can die within minutes.

This may sound dramatic to you, but it is my reality. Recently, my fellow maid of honor in the upcoming wedding has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Although celiac disease and allergies affect bodies very differently, living with celiac and allergies is very similar. With her recent diagnosis, my friend has been experiencing frustration with those who do not understand her condition, along with frustration at coping with her food restrictions. Hearing her experiences makes me reconsider how I cope with my food allergies. While I’m pretty used to receiving comments such as “wow, having allergies must really suck” or “wow, so what do you even eat?”, they continue to be difficult to respond to. Yes, having allergies sucks, but I’ve learned to live with them. Yes, I do eat food besides lettuce.

Luckily, understanding and tolerance of food restrictions has grown significantly in recent years. I am very fortunate to have friends (like my friend getting married this upcoming weekend) who are extremely careful with my allergies. I am also very fortunate to live in a country that understands the importance of universal healthcare, thereby giving me the ability to acquire an Epi-Pen for significantly less than $600 (a cruel act of capitalism my allergy brethren in the United States are currently facing).

I thought this blog post would be particularly fitting for October; Thanksgiving is next weekend, and Halloween will soon be upon us. If you know someone with a food restriction, please be mindful of that. If you have sincere questions about a person’s dietary needs, just ask. If—Heaven forbid—someone has a reaction, call the ambulance immediately. Also, a bonus to calling the ambulance is that you will get to see attractive paramedics: my favourite part (although I always look like complete shit by the time paramedics arrive when I have allergy attacks; lack of oxygen will do that to a girl).

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and happy (safe) eating!