Brian Brennan has been an “allergy dad” for more than 20 years. But last year, Brian had a sudden reaction to shellfish — the first food allergy reaction in his life. The experience changed the way he views food allergy and his understanding of his kids’ lives as they manage their food allergies.
“We were out for dinner. I had shellfish, fish, vegetables and the usual with my meal. Towards the end of the meal I started feeling nauseous. On the way home I started to get very itchy and feel more nauseous. I realized my skin had turned red. I was definitely showing signs of anaphylaxis. We know it well. We have been around it all our lives.”
That night, Brian walked out of the ER with a prescription for an EpiPen, a referral to an allergist and a heavy dose of anxiety.
“That was a bit of a surprise for me. I understood the symptoms but never really thought about the anxiety related to having a reaction.”
Brian remembered how years earlier one of his sons has struggled with anxiety following a reaction on holiday. “During that time, my wife Annette was quite in tune with Jason’s anxiety. I was less in tune, I think. I didn’t really understand things from his perspective.”
Jason had overcome his anxiety, but it took time. Now Brian found himself referring back to that trip as he waited for his own allergy test results and navigated a new world of eating out. As luck would have it, Brian had a business trip to seafood capitol New Orleans shortly after his reaction. “That’s when it really struck me — the full magnitude of what a food allergy is about.”
As he ate his carefully-ordered salads and his colleagues gobbled down oysters and prawns, Brian discovered the delicate balance between being careful and being consumed with fear, all within a social setting that, to everyone else, seems relaxed.
“That experience helped me bridge the gap between being the parent of an allergic child and being a person with allergies — and there is a difference.”
Brian has two sons with food allergies and a daughter who does not have food allergies. His children were “shocked and quite concerned, and also very helpful and sympathetic.” Brian talked with his sons at length about the anxiety that can come with allergies and a new diagnosis. They gave him some crucial advice, based on their own experiences.
“It has made us closer,” says Brian. “I understand more clearly what my children and others go through.”
Brian is a member of Food Allergy Canada’s Board of Directors and his wife Annette is one of our community outreach educators. Special thanks to Brian and his family for sharing this story, and for working hard on behalf of people with food allergies!
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