Age: 13, Grade: 8
School Name: Speyer Legacy School, New York, NY
Educator: Matt Thoren
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
I Risked My Life To Eat A Peanut
I was eight months old when my parents figured out I had allergies. My family was eating out at a familiar restaurant in town. My small, clumsy hands knocked a glass of milk over on the table. I assume this was quite irritating for my parents, but they were probably used to it. Afterall, they had two small kids, one who was less than a year old and one who was three years old. It is easy to get caught in challenging situations, raising a baby and a toddler. I laugh a little bit to myself imagining the vexed looks on my parents’ faces as they discovered that my haphazardness had caused the milk to spill on my clothes, arms, and hands. Yes, the situation was annoying, but it seemed far from severe. It was innocuous and meaningless, probably would not be spoken of again. Yet it is interesting how something innocuous could turn into something dangerous and life threatening in a matter of minutes. Immediately after touching the spilled milk, hives had started to form all over my body. This was unusual.
I was rushed to the doctor’s office immediately. The doctors ran tests and confirmed I was allergic to milk. After more tests came back, it was found that I was deathly allergic to seven out of nine main allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame seeds, dairy, gluten, eggs. Despite the severity and danger of our situation, my parents remained optimistic. Our optimism had gotten us far and had been monumental in getting rid of my allergies. By the time I was five years old, we had made countless visits to a hospital in the city. The doctors had conducted tests and drawn the conclusion my body was able to tolerate all of my allergens except peanuts. Despite an unfathomable burden being lifted off of their shoulders, my allergy to peanuts had a determination to stick with me. It was a battle of perseverance between me and the peanuts, and I would do everything in my capability to win.
When I reached the age of seven, my parents decided to take immediate measures to cure my peanut allergies. I tried to tell them that no further action was needed. Yet I am beyond grateful that my parents were persistent. After scavenging the internet, we found a miracle: the New England Food Allergy Treatment Center. Its goal was complex. The doctors proposed a method, a cure that had the potential to save lives, but also put them in danger at the same time. The doctors proposed a process of desensitization, a way to expose your body by feeding small amounts of the allergen. Each week the dosage would increase, until, after an amount of time, the body would be able to tolerate a larger dosage.
The car rolled down the highway to the New England Food Allergy Treatment Center. The doctors fed me the small bits of peanuts, monitoring my progress as the dosage increased. I would sit there for a few hours, and then drive back with my Mom and Dad. Most of my Saturdays were spent dragging myself from bed into the backseat of the red Subaru for a two hour drive to Hartford. Aside from being scary, the commitment was intense. It was not just biweekly, it was daily, as I had to eat my peanut dust “dose,” and then sit quietly for two hours each day to stabilize my metabolism and avoid overheating. The commitment was also daunting, requiring years of determined effort. Give up or persevere? Fortunately, I like to compete. It was me versus the peanut. I would do everything in my capability to win.
My battle was difficult. For most, childhood is light and blissful, a time of innocence and carelessness, a lack of awareness for some of the more difficult things happening around you. However, on my weekends, I was not experiencing the typical childhood. I would reluctantly climb into the back seat of the red Subaru for the long drive to Hartford, Connecticut. I still can remember as clear as day; the rhythmic sound of beeping medical equipment and the strong smell of hand sanitizer. How it felt to be enclosed by the blank white walls of a musky doctor’s office, while the beaming sun beckoned me to come outside and play. These days accumulated, until it had been two years since my first visit. Every weekend, wasted in that same, empty room, had built up to one pivotal moment: the day I would finally be able to eat 72 peanuts.
After two years of eating peanut dust, I embarked on my final visit to conquer the peanut, 72 of them. The peanut had dominated my entire life. It was my time for redemption. My parents had watched me try and fail, win and lose, in chess games and soccer matches. Yet, it seemed nothing mattered unless I stood victorious in this. It would be risky, as allergies are unpredictable.
The peanuts were served one by one; I clutched my parents’ hands for support. Each bite was excruciatingly terrible. I winced at the strong, bitter taste that I had grown to fear and despise. When the doctor entered the room for the last time, a surge of relief eased my mind as he told me I had passed the test. The meal was over. As we lazily drove down the highway and crossed the New York border, a feeling of contentment and satisfaction rolled over all of us, as my family had made this journey with me. Two years of my life had been dedicated to desensitization, and it seemed impossible that I could finally eat foods worry free. Persistence had helped me do the impossible, and science had showed me the way.
Four years after that last drive home, my perseverance still drives me to do things I did not think possible. In addition, I have an even greater respect for how science can improve my life and the lives of others. Having received so much from the doctors at the New England Food Allergy Treatment Center, I aspire to help others, as I have been helped. Further, now desensitized to peanuts, I hope never to be desensitized to life: I want to cherish moments many take for granted. When every meal has risk, and spare time comes rarely, each minute is a treasure.