Thursday, June 20, 2013

les poissons, les poissons

I have distinct childhood memories of eating escargot.

Feet dangling from my restaurant chair, white cloth napkin tucked into my Limited Too overalls,  I would blow over the steaming puddles of oil until it was safe to fork out the garlicky little suckers and sop it all up with crusty bread. 

As a kid, I would eat just about anything: fruits, veggies, snails, stinky cheese. Since then, I've been proud of my inclusive and adventurous eating habits. I'll eagerly taste anything and end up liking most of it (with the hard to admit exception of black olives, eel and cocktail bitters, but that's it.) 

Blood sausage, monkfish liver, barbecue-flavored larvets-- bring 'em on. There's next to nothing I'd outright refuse.

To be honest, finicky eaters annoy me. Just eat that delicious oyster. It's chewy in the very right way. And I know that branzino's eyes are looking up at you from the plate but it tastes like Santorini on a breezy afternoon, and that's a very good thing. Oh and come on, can you really be allergic to gluten? (Just kidding. Kinda.)

As a proud (and sorta judgmental) foodie, I had no choice but denial when I recently began developing random unpleasant and sometimes severe reactions to the delicious foods I had enjoyed my whole life. I would pop Benadryl, quietly dismiss myself from restaurants and ignore the bowling ball bloat. No matter how bad these reactions got, I found stubborn and stupid reasons not to visit an allergist.

In fact, it took almost three years of hive outbreaks, countless nights cradled around a toilet and one face-distorting anaphylaxis while traveling abroad to finally make an appointment a couple weeks ago.

I fidgeted over my white papered seat as the doctor asked me to describe every itchy detail of my symptoms. After about 15 minutes of nodding his head and scribbling illegible notes around the edges of my chart, the doctor swiveled his giant Mac screen around and broke the cardinal rule of Google Image searching.

Everybody knows you should never, ever voluntarily search images of anything even remotely medical. Certainly don't search "hives" and force me to look. He scrolled through the gruesome lineup and asked me to identify my hives. I found them on a stranger's splotchy love handles and prayed for him to hit minimize.

Turns out, the hives I pointed to are extremely common among women in their "peak reproductive age". The news was comforting (besides the whole biological clock ticking thing). There was a chance my reactions weren't even related to food. Maybe I wouldn't have to give any of it up.

Then he proceeded to poke my bare back with 112 needles until I looked like a SAT Scantron sheet. Each prick contained a very small amount of common food allergens. If I developed hives or irritation where he pricked, I was allergic. I sat with my hospital gown open to the back for five impossibly long minutes before the doc gulped a quick breath and dragged out the words "so, umm, yes there seem to be a few reactions."

Really? My back felt warm and itchy. He snapped a photo with my iPhone that I've been meaning to delete from my Camera Roll/brain. My entire back was an angry shade of pink with 112 plump pencil-eraser hives. All of the pricks reacted. My back belonged next to the reptile-humans on Google Image.

According to the doctor, I have "highly allergic" skin, the type of skin that doesn't tolerate irritation. The common allergy prick test didn't really work for me because it was too hard to tell what was a true reaction and what was just my skin being cranky. He decided to do a bunch of blood tests.

When he called me back with the results, I braced myself. He cut to the chase.

I'm extremely allergic to shrimp and crab. And I should also avoid squid. He wants me to carry an EpiPen.

He kept talking, but all I could hear was his sad list of shellfish that I could never eat again. (My face probably looked like Sebastian's to the left.) Bittersweet memories of snapping snow crabs and waving over cater waiters with trays of shrimp skewers flooded my thoughts. I had enjoyed my last crab cake and my last shrimp dumpling.

"Lobster and mussels look OK" the doctor offered, sensing my disappointment.

I was relieved.

You can take my liberty, but you can't take my lobster roll.

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