Monday, December 8, 2008


After dinner on Friday night, Shelby left to go to a friend's birthday party in Manhattan. At 10:00 I got a text: "i am the hospital right now. had some nut".

My sister has battled a nut allergy her whole life and is very accomplished at avoiding things that might potentially have nuts in them (she doesn't eat European chocolate because it has traces of nut from the kitchens; she turns down desserts all the time "just in case"; she doesn't eat Thai food or Middle Eastern food because the waiters don't understand that "pine nut" counts when she asks them if something contains nuts), but apparently this birthday cake looked innocuous. She only had one bite.

Her reactions to nuts are always severe but can usually be fended off by rapid application of Benadryl. Not this time. After she began to black out in the street, her friends put her in a cab for the New York Downtown Hospital. I'm especially grateful to her work friend Simon, who rode with her in the cab and waited with her in the ER until I could get there (luckily, we have a car, and luckily, the hospital was right across the Brooklyn Bridge).

I stayed with her until about 1:30 in the morning, when they let her go home. I've never seen a person's face be a literal shade of green, and I've never seen my sister so ill--convulsive shivers, an inability to speak above a whisper, a violent loss of stomach contents. I'm just glad I live in the city and was able to be there. Chris picked us up (he hadn't been able to find parking or would have stayed with us) and we installed Shelby on our sofa bed with lots of pillows, blankets, movies, and my stuffed monkey Ned, and she stayed there all day Saturday while we were at the bridal shower.

My public service announcement is this: if you must bake with nuts (which, why? Trust me, chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, carrot cake, it ALL tastes JUST AS GOOD without the nuts. Flavoring with almond extract, grinding up nuts to give density to the flour--it's fine if you must do it but please warn people) please, please chop up some walnuts to garnish the item or somehow indicate that the product contains nuts. Nut allergies have increased in not only number but in severity in the last decade, and people DIE. Thank God my sister's body's reflexes are so fast and she could tell instantly that she had consumed something with nut. If she'd had one more bite, who knows what might have happened?

You hear a lot about peanut allergies (note: peanuts are not actually nuts, they are beans, and Shelby is, ironically, not allergic to peanuts), but nut allergies are just as severe, and I hope that this story will erase any impatience with food restrictions you may have previously rolled your eyes at.


sarah said...

i'm glad that she is okay, that is so scary. i think that those of us who don't have to think about what we are putting in our mouths, often forget about the people who do. hopefully this will be a reminder to all of us.

traci said...

Heavens to Betsy! Poor Shelby! I'm so glad (there's that word again...) she's okay. And I hereby swear that if I ever decide to cook, and if the cooked thing contains any form of nut, I will give ample warning via voice and garnish. And probably a sign. Just in case. Wow.

the other lion said...

Punkin had a friend at school who was allergic to nuts and like four other things. It was so scary, I would limit what I let him eat on the way to school because even skin to skin contact (or spit to skin contact) could be fatal for her. I am so glad you and Chris and Ned were there! And I'm glad Shelby is okay.