My Brother's Secret
Food is essential to life, making it difficult to avoid.
Never have I thought of my brother as being limited. In fact, my brother is probably one of the wildest individuals I have ever known; he lives his life to the fullest nearly every day. He has gone skydiving, is incredibly social, and works out often, but above all, he loves to eat. My brother is the type of person that lights up a room instantly when he walks through the door. His passion for life is astounding and he is always cracking jokes and enjoying the company of those around him. Anyone and everyone who talks to my brother assumes that he is a perfectly normal, outgoing, and happy teenage male. Although he truly is a wonderful and enjoyable person, this could not be farther from the truth. Only those who are close to my family and my brother know the reality; my brother was diagnosed with anaphylaxis when he was incredibly young and has been living with it his whole life.
Anaphylaxis is essentially a fancy medical term for severe food allergies. Please note that when I say “food allergies”, I do not mean that he will simply get an upset stomach or a small rash if he eats something he shouldn't have. Instead, I mean that even a small bite of a forbidden food could be his last. His throat begins to close, small bumps called “hives” appear on his face, and his body starts to shut down. Every second can be crucial when it comes to anaphylaxis. In the case that he does eat something bad, he has to take Benadryl and inject himself with epinephrine. Even then, he often has to pay a visit to the hospital to make sure he's alright and recovering properly. If this medication did not exist, I'm positive my brother would not have survived his worst allergic reactions.
As you can imagine, growing up was incredibly difficult. My brother's allergies, though still considered severe, were much worse when he was a child. When he was first diagnosed, he could not have wheat, milk, eggs, nuts, fish, or shellfish. I can vividly recall the strange looks my mother was given when she ordered sandwiches without the bread and cheese from fast food restaurants or reread the labels of everything she pulled off the shelf at the grocery store. The tiniest bit of cross-contamination could cause a horrible reaction, so both my mother and I have been conditioned to read the fine print on every label of the food. Thankfully, he outgrew many of his allergies and is only allergic to nuts and shellfish presently. This news brought him a false sense of security, however, and he often forgets to carry his potentially lifesaving epinephrine shot with him.
My brother's worst allergic reaction mirrored his personality; extreme. Although my family has never treated my brother any differently due to his allergies, we always watch out for him and prepare for the worst. He was about 11 years old at the time of his worst reaction, if I remember correctly. My mom's family was planning a trip to the Grand Canyon over the summer; we were going to hike miles down the canyon, get to the village at the bottom of the canyon, admire the waterfalls, swim, camp for a few days at the bottom, and then hike back up. Our mother had read the labels of all of the snacks she had brought and everything was going smoothly, or so we thought.
"We had no other choice but to give him an epinephrine shot."
As we were almost to the village, our group took a small break and started snacking on some tuna and crackers. My brother's throat began to itch and swell. We gave him some Benadryl, made sure he was okay, and carried on. He seemed as though he was alright and did not complain much. We eventually got to the campsite and, by that time, my brother was in bad shape. Instead of his happy, spunky self, he was dull, pale, and weak. We had no other choice but to give him an epinephrine shot. My mother had him lay down and raise his legs in one of the tents while one of my uncles sprinted to the village for help, as we had no service and had used all of his medication. At that moment, I thought I was going to lose him. Fortunately, we were able to get a helicopter to fly him out of the canyon and he recovered fully.
These days, the number of allergic reactions he has are far less frequent. He is currently 18 years old, 6'3”, gets constant attention from women wherever we go, and is incredibly confident and charming. Despite the severity of his allergies, my brother truly does live a fairly normal and full life. In fact, he probably lives a fuller life than many “normal” people do. I am thoroughly proud of him for turning a difficult situation around and continue to learn, grow, and thrive in without limiting himself. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he is always improving and moving forward. My brother is living proof that it is possible to be happy and thrive even if you have daily challenges in your life. I strongly believe that he will continue to flourish and hope that he will one day be comfortable enough to share his experiences and help those with similar issues.