Sue Burrows lives in Kingston, Ont.
Going to McMaster University is a new chapter for Alyssa. I'm excited for her, but I'm also nervous.
She is a normal 18-year-old heading off for the first time. She's going to sleep in, she's going to forget her paper and she's going to forget her EpiPen. In high school, we knew there was one in the office, and one in her pencil case. And all of her friends – they knew that if something went wrong, they should go get her an EpiPen. She does wear a medical alert bracelet, but I'm just hoping that people will be aware that she needs an EpiPen and that they'll give it to her.
Peanuts are her only food allergy, but she has asthma, too – I guess they go hand and hand. She had her first allergic reaction at 13. We were at her aunt's place, eating Thai food that had peanuts in it. She got up to leave the room, saying she wasn't feeling very well. Her brother came back and said, "Her lips are turning blue, she's having a hard time breathing and her tongue is swollen."
Now we travel with three EpiPens. When we're on an airplane, I bring Lysol wipes to wipe down our seats. She doesn't eat on the plane. When we go to countries where they speak a different language, we bring a handwritten note in their language and hand it to the server so they're well aware of her allergy – plus, we make sure we know where the hospitals are. Sometimes it takes us more than an hour to find a restaurant where she can eat.
At university, she'll have the mandatory food plan, and a single room at the request of her allergist. We have met with McMaster's hospitality services, and that has helped ease my anxieties a little bit. On the first day of school, she's supposed to introduce herself to the chefs. Her picture, along with those of other people with allergies, will be in the kitchen. From my understanding, they are going to [prepare] her her own food, but nothing is foolproof.
Talking about it makes me nervous. [A year ago, another first-year student, Andrea Mariano, died of anaphylactic shock after ordering a smoothie on campus at Queen's University.] The girl who died last year – that could happen at any university. But you know how they have defibrillators everywhere? Why don't we have EpiPen stations in cafeterias?
I think I'll be more at ease after the first year, when Alyssa gets her own place. For now, residence is the place she wants to be. We wouldn't want her to be excluded or isolated in any way because of her allergy – she needs to be like everybody else. But I'm putting her life in someone else's hands when they prepare her food.