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The Gift of Uncertainty


It is always in the midst, in the epicenter, of your troubles that you find serenity.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Last week I made a visit to my doctor.

Not a groundbreaking event for some, but rare for me as I am seldom sick. And, being in possession of what I call faux-insurance, I make it a point to limit luxurious first-world activities like seeking medical care.

Typically, I ride things out. I know what to do when the specter of illness hovers over me like a used car salesman—I know which herbs to take, the foods to eat to nourish my weary bod, and I know how to embrace sleep like a long-absent lover. Yes, I am pretty good at being my own health advocate—damn the $5,000 deductible, I say.

But after a particularly harrowing weekend, to the doctor I went. This appointment was nearly one month after a visit for the same, and first ever, episode. My doctor, nice, perfunctory, and a bit tightly wound, gave me a diagnosis. A diagnosis that adds “life-threatening condition” to my skills set.

Let me frame the scenario for you: it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving; I had a fun day running errands on my Vespa, and was enjoying my night at home. Later that evening, after a simple dinner and herb tea (wow, I sound positively elderly), my body decided to rebel against me. A feeling came over me, a tingling sensation, as if my lips and mouth had been sprinkled with cayenne pepper. Or little ant bites. The sensation continued as I tried to convince myself it was the mint or tea tree oil in my lip balm.

The tingling sensation was followed by facial swelling: lips, eyes, tongue, uvula—yeah, that little thing that hangs down in the back of the throat—so much that I thought I was going to stop breathing. It’s a feeling of drowning on land and one I can’t recommend as an exciting way to spend a Saturday night. Full-blown symptoms were in effect within an hour and took nearly two days to fully subside.

Hello, anaphylaxis, my new bff! If you are not familiar with anaphylaxis, it’s an extreme allergic reaction that can be so severe as to cause death within minutes—and a host of other really fun symptoms on the way to the final breath. The first time I experienced this was in October. I have always had allergies: Hay fever, cats when I was younger, and other garden-variety annoyances. Oh, and the bees, yes, there’s that, too. But never have I experienced anything like this.

Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) is frightening and confusing, especially since, for me, I am not sure what caused it. Both attacks have little to no common threads. Clearly it was something I ate, but what? I eat simply and healthfully, maintaining a vegan and gluten-free diet. It’s not like I was wolfing down shellfish laced with peanut sauce (do they even do that?); hell, I don’t even eat peanuts!

Now lest you are concerned, I am not leaving the planet, yet, if I can help it, and as soon as I find out which food causes my throat to seal shut after ingesting it, trust me, I will steer clear of it, but until then, I foray into culinary terrain with my eyes wide open to the gift, yes the gift this uncertainty has given me.

You see, I was already on the path of cultivating awareness, being fully present, and this little, umm, complication, keeps me right here now. No mistaking it, my characteristic mindfulness has been enhanced by the vivid clarity that uncertainty brings. For now, as I work toward healing, understanding, and peace with this gift, I am fully, oh so fully, aware that my food choices could kill me. And with this in mind, as I gaze at the stars tonight, I am awed by their brilliance. I look forward to many more nights like this one.

[Note: I did have a food allergy blood test (the doc that I saw, not my regular, doesn’t like it, says it’s inconclusive) and my results? I have no food sensitivities. Yeah, right! And yes, I do carry the Epi-pen and an arsenal of Benadryl with me.]

more inspiration here!

19 Comments for this entry

December 8th, 2011 on 12:21 am

Shanna, it must have been incredibly frightening to feel like you were “drowning on land” — I’m so thankful you’re still with us! I’m also thankful that you shared the conclusions you’ve drawn and the perspectives you’ve gained from that experience. Bad situations — even life-threatening ones — can either hold us back / inhibit us / make us fearful, or we can find value in them and even come to appreciate them, as you have. Everything becomes more precious after that, even starlight. :) Thanks for the gift of uncertainty.
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Sue Ann Gleason
December 8th, 2011 on 4:57 am

So very scary, Shanna, and so perplexing. Even “good” food, healthy food, clean food can come into contact with something that our body reacts to, violently. But, in your case, not knowing what caused the reaction makes it all the more frightening. Knowing you, I’m sure you’ve done the “research” and you’re carrying the dreaded EpiPen. . .

I read an article yesterday called 13 Horrifying Things You Eat Without Knowing It. Admittedly, I felt a little smug when I read that article. “Not me,” I thought. “I don’t eat that c-r-a-p.” At least not at home or when I’m eating from my garden. But I also live in the real world. I go out to eat with my husband or with friends. I can’t control EVERY morsel of food that passes my lips. What makes ME a little crazy is that I can’t “trust” every morsel of food that passes my lips because I don’t always trust those who are bringing it to my table.

Farm to table sounds so wholesome doesn’t it? But now it’s become a marketing strategy more than a mission. Some of the worst meals I’ve eaten come from restaurants that boast “from farm to table.” Now I find myself asking, “Really? Which farm?”

Such a great post, as always, thought provoking and passion stirring. And yes, sometimes uncertainty is a gift. And sometimes we must learn to dance with powerlessness. . .
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    December 8th, 2011 on 9:48 am

    Sue Ann, yes, uncertainty and letting go of control. What a lesson for so many of us. I must look up that article (I can already imagine what’s in it!). What’s hardest for me is if it is birch pollen cross-contamination (not that we have birch here in San Diego), that includes nuts, apples, pears, celery, carrots, avocados…and the list goes on. Everything in my diet, that’s for sure! I have had all of those things, though, since the reaction with no problem. Of course staying off chocolate (as was recommended) is no fun right now!

    Oh, and the initial blood test? Shows I am not sensitive/allergic to any of the foods tested, but even the M.D. said that test is inconclusive and he doesn’t like it. So, onward and upward!

December 8th, 2011 on 6:53 am

Shanna – I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been having reactions, even sorrier you don’t know what is causing the reactions. I have multiple food sensitivities and severe hayfever when certain things are in the air. The food sensitivities occurred all of a sudden about 5 years ago and the hayfever went from manageable to debilitating around the same time.

Is it possible that foods you ate on the two occasions were not the same but part of the same family or which react with the same pollens? I don’t know if this would work, but I wonder if an allergist could do a RAST test to pinpoint the pollens you react to (or which are most prevalent where you live) and test them simultaneously with the fruits and vegetables they typically cross-react with to see if the reaction increases.

Hopefully, you are able to identify the culprits and gain some peace of mind about what you can/can’t eat. My thoughts are with you.

    December 8th, 2011 on 9:35 am

    That’s the part of the problem, the initial consult with the allergist is almost $400 and the testing starts at $700 (hence my mention of crappy, high-deductible insurance). Of course I have more info. than I could add to the post–I did have hazelnuts on the first occasion, and chocolate on the second–likely hazelnut cross-contamination (?). And, as you know, the birch pollen sensitivity includes so many food–all the ones that I eat and love! Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and comment. Like you, I have always had allergies and now I have hit the threshold point.

December 8th, 2011 on 10:47 am

So scary and you are right about your thoughts on insurance. I was in the same boat before I got married. Now I pay a significantly higher premium, but I can go to the doc and have maternity; which is almost unheard of if you are on an individual plan and live in California.
I’m sorry to hear about this experience and hope you either never experience it again, or quickly find out what the cause was. Unfortunately, I have heard that those allergy tests frequently come back as inconclusive. Even the expensive ones.
Take care~g

    December 8th, 2011 on 1:57 pm

    Thanks, Gwen, for stopping by and reading my post. It is indeed scary, and I don’t want to live in fear, but man, the attack kicks in a response that makes it really hard to stay grounded and level-headed when it hits. Either way, I move forward through life being here now (’cause where else can I be) :)

    Oh, and congratulations!

December 8th, 2011 on 11:14 am

Oh Shanna, this is so scary. I can’t really imagine it. I am fortunate to not have any known/serious allergies, but as for fear – I have spent my whole life adamantly avoiding it. To live a hostage of the “what ifs” is no kind of life at all. But, you are making the absolute most of it. I’m glad that your journey has brought you to a place where you can look at this situation with enlightened eyes, appreciating all that you DO still have. I look forward to the day you get some answers and a clear path forward from this bump in the road. I look forward to your many starry nights ahead. Love you.
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    December 8th, 2011 on 1:59 pm

    I am not someone who lives from a place of fear, typically (you know that). And while yes, scary things happen that put me in a fear cycle for a period, I always come out of it. The path is rutted and full of obstacles, that I know, and this little health crisis is one more thing that allows me to connect to the present and to live with empathy for others.

    Love you, too :)

December 8th, 2011 on 2:43 pm

Oh Shanna, how scary and like yourself, I tend to eat well, most of the time I too have had this reaction myself, reading your words ” little ant bites. The sensation continued as I tried to convince myself it was the mint or tea tree oil in my lip balm” having echoing your experience, it’s so scary. I too must indulge in an epi pen and like yourself my doctors are thinking it’s “airborne” great, that makes me feel better. I am so grateful you went to the doctor and that you’re feeling better. But that feeling, that feeling of knowing you were SO close to the other side is so challenging to describe. I only hope that what ever it is or “who” according to L.Hay just gets out of our system or at least the next time it happens we have our epi pens near BY or that it’s just something that is passing through? Have you watched the TEDx talk by Lissa Rankin, MD on health, remarkable and maybe something to intertwine into your healing? I am so grateful you’re well.
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Helen Hunter Mackenzie
December 8th, 2011 on 2:45 pm

Shanna- thank you for sharing how you are using an incredibly scary experience as a reminder to stay present and appreciate every ‘this moment’. I would selfishly prefer you grace us all with many more decades of your fabulous presence, so I am setting the intention that the culinary culprit will be found, and found quickly. In the meantime, I love how you are looking at this as a gift. There is always a message hiding out somewhere in every painful or scary event. Much love to you. xo
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Tracey Ceurvels
December 8th, 2011 on 2:59 pm

I’m sorry you went through this but thank you for sharing your insight and positive attitude toward what is a scary situation. “Cultivating awareness” and being “right here right now” are so important–and certainly help in the face of fear. I’m glad you’re feeling better.xoxo
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    December 8th, 2011 on 9:01 pm

    Hi Tracey,
    Thanks for stopping by and your kind words. I know it will be a challenge, but what is life if not challenging (and fun, and wild, and scary, etc.)?

Mark Lovett
December 8th, 2011 on 4:02 pm

Yikes Shanna, what an ordeal, so thankful all is relatively well. While I haven’t had any sort of alergy experience, I do know the near death feeling, wondering if you’ll come out the other side. As you say, the reminder of life’s uncertainty is something that alters our perception and appreciation. So here’s to problem solved soon and many more decades of hanging out with you on this crazy (wonderful) planet!
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    December 8th, 2011 on 8:59 pm

    Thanks, Mark, for reading the 411. Yeah, pretty scary, but so it goes and I’m still here–with every intention of sticking around a good long time. Vino soon? :)

December 12th, 2011 on 3:52 am

This happened to my girlfriend, what she finally deduced through watching
Her diet was that it was nor food that she was allergic to, but the pesticides used on the foods. It is my belief that with all the genetically modified foods, and then pesticides and additives, there often becomes a.time when our body freaks. Good luck!

    December 12th, 2011 on 8:29 am

    Thank you, Laura, for commenting. I agree with you on the GMO foods and pesticide use–I maintain an organic diet and don’t eat GMO foods or conventionally-grown produce. Of course, restaurants are a risky proposition as it’s impossible to be sure exactly what is on one’s plate. I also keep a food diary—I write down everything I eat each day! An interesting process to be sure.

December 15th, 2011 on 9:07 am

Sorry to hear about anaphylaxis. Very scary indeed. I went through my own mini-hell last year, and concluded finally that I’m allergic to soy, which is in darn near everything that is processed. Even “healthy” foods you find at a natural grocer are likely to have soy in it. I don’t eat peanuts either. :-) The best way for me to determine my food allergy was an elimination diet. Best of luck to you.
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    December 15th, 2011 on 9:13 am

    Thanks, Cynthia. I have yet to do the RAST testing, will do so in the new year. I originally thought hazelnuts, and have eliminated so many things from my diet, but the two follow-up reactions to the first one don’t seem to have any connections. Yesterday, though, I had a mild reaction, and I think I may have a clue: Aleve! I looked it up, and there’s a site devoted to crazy reactions from naproxen sodium! I so hope that’s what it is as I had an Aleve the first time it happened, too. Playing detective each day… :)

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