An Unfortunate Event

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An Unfortunate Event

During the pandemic, Sam and I chose to be more cautious than many others due to underlying health issues we both have. We only had food prepared outside the home twice, and both times it was “hot” food untouched (in theory) by human hands on its way from the oven to us – and we still put it in the air fryer for a quick bake before eating. This might seem like overkill to some, but in the early days of the pandemic, it was unknown how long the virus lived on surfaces (food) and how it affected the body, or what underlying conditions may make someone more susceptible to infection. We just figured it better not to get it. This is still a good approach, btw, we still don’t know what will happen to COVID recoverers in twenty years (don’t forget Shingles is a re-activation of chickenpox that occurs decades later!)

A hypochondriac like myself would have been super cautious anyway. Before the pandemic I kept wipes in my car to clean my hands after getting gas. Before the pandemic I would track what my body touched outside the home and tracked it until I could wash my hands. I used to imagine a sort of “aura” around the spots on my hands where I’d pushed open a door or picked up a box or shaken someone’s hand. I used to clean the car door handles when I got gas. I used to hold my breath when I passed by people in the office hallway. Sam can confirm there never was a “5-second rule” for me – and that counts for food that landed on our (usually very clean) counters too, not just the floor. Anything that left the cutting board or the soup pot was bug-infested, gross hazardous waste.

Remember when Jerry’s belt accidentally touched the urinal?

Clare: What’s wrong with the belt?

Jerry: I went to the movies last night, I went to the bathroom and I unbuckled a little wobbly and the buckle kind of banged against the side of the urinal. So…(throws away belt) that’s it!

Clare: So, you’re insane?

Jerry: Oh yes, quite.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought about that episode while in public bathrooms or on the metro or … anywhere in public, essentially. So much so that I actually (until looking it up while writing this blog post) configured a whole scene in my head of Jerry doing this instead of just talking about doing it on the show. In my head, the belt touched the urinal and he said “and that’s the end of that” and dramatically pulled the belt out loop by loop, held it over an open trash can like a wriggling poisonous snake, puckered up his face, turned his head and let it go before washing his hands for far too long. I identified with a fictional germaphobe so much I recorded my own scenes with him in my brain to identify with!

Or did they actually film that part? I guess since Seinfeld is streaming exclusively on Hulu we’ll never know!

Again, I felt this way long long before the pandemic.

I used to wish I could wear a mask at the airport (I tend to always catch something on the flight home), and I did wear a mask on a trip when another member of our traveling party caught a cold in Japan in 2018.

This was all before the pandemic. Now everyone has a little box of wipes in their car and a little vial of alcohol in their wallet. I hope that’s all here to stay. I wouldn’t mind not catching a cold for the rest of my life.

However, it seems the pandemic may have brought along something worse too. Well, I mean, for me personally. Obviously, 500,000+ dead Americans, a stock market crash, record unemployment, and a housing bubble are things we’d all* rather not have happened last year.

Personally, the pandemic seems to have had one more strange outlying effect.

Ever since my EoE diagnosis in 2018 I’ve become a hypocrite. After purposefully not drinking for so long in my twenties, I willingly indulged in my 30s. Then at the tail end of my 4th decade, I found out that I have an autoimmune disorder that is (in theory) exacerbated by consumption of wheat and alcohol (among a larger list of things, but those don’t play a part in today’s story). At first, I put up a good fight, drinking non-alcoholic beer even at the Sapporo Museum. (of course, this was already ignoring the no wheat rule, wasn’t it?) I started to pick and choose my poison – literally, since wheat and alcohol produced toxins that scar my throat. Lite beers with friends became an acceptable threat, negotiable harm, but no more beers at home in the fridge.

On our first weekend after becoming “fully vaccinated” Sam and I happened to pass by a BevMo – and I couldn’t resist buying a 4 pack of Bitburger Radler.

An aside about Radler: As a concept “Radlers” are the same thing as what Americans commonly call “shandy” – beer mixed with another drink, most often lemonade. They appear to be far more popular in Europe and, in fact, that’s where I first enjoyed one. Walking the streets of Switzerland you could purchase a radler at a convenience store and walk about enjoying it in the sunshine. Which we did and quite enjoyed.

So I suppose seeing the same product in a Glendale BevMo my thoughts of “freedom” from a year spent in isolation and my memories of our Euro-trip smashed together into the promise of this beverage. The Radler was, I suppose, the Gadsden flag to my trailer park. (an intentional metaphor that gets even more appropriate as the story goes on…)

I waited another week to fly that freedom flag. On Friday, May 28th, Sam and I treated ourselves to dinner at a local Asian Fusion restaurant we frequented in the Before Times and had pined for throughout the “lockdown.” Back at home afterward I decided to complete the day by having a Radler for “dessert” as we watched a movie.

About ten minutes after finishing the beer I started to feel strange. This is not that abnormal, considering my variety of allergies. Prickly lips after accidental sushi-avocado consumption or even after a pitcher of lite beer was not uncommon in the Before Times. However, the radler was only a 16 ounce can, only 40% of which was beer. Ordinarily, consuming 6.4 ounces of any beer would not even produce a blip of discomfort.

But the discomfort mounted. My eyes watered, I started sneezing. I had to sit upright on the couch. My sides started to feel weird. When I went to wipe my eyes I noticed something else: my eyelids were swelling.

Uh oh. That’s new. No amount of accidental avocado or even intentional Chocolate-covered Macadamia ingestion in Hawaii made my face swell up. My natural anxiety started to wrestle for control of my brain. Don’t overreact, dude, just google it… (a bad idea for medical advice, I know, but this was all happening in a matter of minutes) and… “swelling in the face is often a precurser for anaphylaxis, you should visit a hospital immediately.”

I’m not crying, you’re crying! Actually, nobody was crying – I was sneezing and sneezing while my tear ducts exploded. So…I guess technically I was crying?


An hour later a nurse was sticking a long needle in my butt to inject a raft of Prednisone, with a topper of Benadryl in my shoulder.

“You look like a completely different person” Sam said as we waited for discharge after the shots.

Why did this happen? The doctor couldn’t offer any concrete answers. A look at Bitburger’s website (which, admittedly, I should have done before consuming the product) confirmed one thing: the beer was made with barley.

Barley is one of the most volatile substances for my body the last ten years or so. I learned about this allergy the hard way by determining certain beers caused more internal distress than others and then checking the ingredients. (why can I drink “lite” beer? because cheap beer is often made not with wheat or barley, but rice, which my body has no beef with) I did not expect a drink with only 40% beer would use expensive barley malt for the beer content, but here we are. Live and learn. That’s what I get for being lured in by authentic German beer quality.

But, wait, the symptoms were still new and different. I’d never (as an adult, anyway) had a swollen face before, so what’s that all about? There are a few options, and none of them are good:

  1. there have been reported cases of long-haul covid making allergy symptoms worse. It’s possible I contracted covid last year but did not experience any symptoms.
  2. Allergies can worsen with age. I do already have a bad barley allergy, maybe it’s just naturally getting worse.
  3. Perhaps over a year in isolation with tightly controlled food sources reset the “levels” for what my body will react to. Since I was getting a low-grade poisoning from accidental (restaurant) ingestion of wheat/avocado/nuts on a regular basis before it degraded the reaction. (example: I didn’t even have soy sauce for a year, which has a small amount of wheat in it) This is actually done sometimes in a planned fashion called immunotherapy to “cure” food allergies to varying degrees of success. I got a version of this as a child with regular shots. Not sure if that made things better or worse (it’s not like I had a twin with the same allergies that didn’t get the shots to compare to), but according to my mother I used to react to the smell of peanuts – something which (at least in the Before Times) was little more than an annoyance on the many SouthWest flights I’ve taken for work.

Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things. Either way, the result is that I have to navigate food much more carefully than before. A real bummer for socializing and travel, and the folks that will be joining me to do that.

Although if this would keep me off those 5am Kaiser Permanente BUR-OAK flights I’ll see it as a silver lining!

*except for Americans who believe empathy and liberty can’t coexist.

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