If you asked most people if they were aware of allergies, they would undoubtedly tell you, yes. “Tom, are you aware?”, “Yep”, he nods….”Sally, how about you?”, “Sure!”, she exclaims with a smile. Ok then, problem solved, we’re all good. Everyone is aware.
Not so fast. Being aware doesn’t mean you understand the impacts and the consequences of someone dealing with life threatening allergies. We all want to do good.(Most of us) We all want to think we are understanding of others needs. Especially if there are life changing consequences. But, do we really, when it comes to allergies?
I had an incident about 8 years ago as I was on a commercial flight. I was sitting in my seat getting comfortable and eating some peanuts I had brought on the plane. A nice mother reached over and tapped me on the shoulder and explained that her child, sitting a row behind and diagonal from me was allergic to peanuts. I looked over at him. By all measure he was a happy smiling young child. Then I looked over at his mother and said something to the effect of, “OK”. We exchanged smiles and she went back to her seat and I thought I was aware of the situation. Feeling good about myself that I had looked over to make sure the child was okay and being careful to not drop any peanuts in his direction. I thought I was a hero. Upon reflection, years later, I’m sure that mom thought I was a jerk. But I did what I thought was right and no one told me otherwise. I mean I looked back and I was also very careful with my eating habits. I promise you, no peanuts missed my mouth. Was I both a hero and a jerk? I mean I was aware of food allergies. I just didn’t understand them too well.
You see, people with life threatening allergies can have an attack and die from just inhaling the dust of an allergen. Take that peanut story for example. Just opening that bag of peanuts in the vicinity of the allergic child put his life in danger. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the particles of peanut dust spread like cigarette smoke and can’t be contained. Can you visualize a cloud of teeny tiny little particles spreading? If not, I have a little experiment for you. Go to your kitchen (or grocery store) and get one of those five pound bags of flour. Now put a hole in the top and punch the side. If you really want to have fun put your face next to the opening! By the way, I have a nice image of you with your face covered in flour. ( One note of caution – Don’t do this experiment if you or others around you have wheat allergies or gluten intolerance.!).
I’d like to change how I handled myself on that plane that day. I would have closed the peanuts and stopped eating them if I had more understanding. But, that’s the burden of regret. I now have an understanding of the seriousness of life threatening allergies and anaphylaxis and I’m more “mom approved”. Truthfully, I think there are many more genuinely caring people out there that just don’t know they might not be doing what’s needed. They just need more understanding and less awareness. Knowledge is a good thing. Food allergy understanding is a good thing.