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Nervous Systems: Part 3

The third installment of six or so parts. Previously: Part 1, Part 2.

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Panel 1: Image of a flower.

Text: Until I turned 14, the word “allergy” held a pretty specific meaning. I would get bad hay fever in the spring, but it wasn’t bad enough to really impact my life substantially.

Panel 2: Several people run in terror from a huge, evil anthropomorphic peanut.

Text: I seemed to have escaped the now-common childhood scourge of peanut allergies. (Somewhat ironically, peanut butter was one of my favorite foods as a child.)

Panel 3: A box of “super-costly food item,” with text specifying that it is gluten-free and nut-free.

Text: In the popular imagination, food allergies also seem to conjure up pretty specific class associations.

Panel 4: A blonde “super mom” stands, complete with a cape.

Text: The image of the well-off, overinvolved mom has, in some ways, become shorthand for the “anxious” mother who is hyper-conscious of her kids’ needs and health.

Panel 5: Image of comedian/writer Katie Notopolous.

Text: The stereotype of the wealthy, anxious mom may be an easy one, but actual food allergies exist, and they tend to really suck for those who have them.

Speech bubble, Katie (direct quote): …we all know nut allergies can be serious, but we all secretly suspect that it’s a hypochondriac ‘first-world problem.’

Source note/footnote: Katie Notopolous in the LA Times, 2011. See Netburn 2011.

Panel 6: Image of hipster-y writer/commentator Joel Stein.

Speech bubble, Joel (direct quote): Genes certainly don’t cause 25% of parents to believe that their kids have food allergies. Yuppiedom does.

Text: As a person with food allergies that could kill me, I am skeptical of the pop-psych construction of the “anxious mom” who somehow uses “allergies” to be overprotective of her children.

Parenthetical text: Immune system responses tend to not work by proxy, but try convincing some people of that.

Footnote: See Stein 2009, “Nut Allergies: A Yuppie Invention.”

Panel 7: Anna responds to Katie and Joel, rolling her eyes as she does so.

Text: And, like many other not-immediately-apparent health problems, they [food allergies] are subject to doubts because they are not always visible.

Speech bubble, Anna: Ah, making fun of people with life-threatening health conditions! Sick burns, dudes.

Footnote: Unless the person with the allergy eats that food, of course.


Panel 1: An album of photos labeled “Vacation Photos: Paris”

Text: Paris, France, 2001: At age 14, I went on a family vacation to the city of lights.

Panel 2: Various photos show Anna and her family in and around Paris—at lunch, at the Eiffel Tower, and at tourist destinations.

Text: We spent most of the week doing normal “tourist” things.

Panel 3: Anna and Patrick sit on a boat, looking bored.

Text: Mid-week, we took a “lock tour” of the Seine. It was over three hours long and featured a lot of water and hydraulics.

Speech bubble, Patrick: Let’s go to the main deck.

Panel 4: Anna and Patrick goof around on the main deck. Anna closes her sweatshirt hood with her drawstring so that only the tip of her nose is visible.

Text: My brother and I spent most of the day goofing off.

Speech bubble, Anna: Look

Speech bubble, Patrick: Hahaha. Let me get a picture!

Panel 5: Photo of Anna in the sweatshirt and completely closed hood, giving the thumbs-up.

Speech bubble, Patrick: Perfect!

Panel 6: Anna lies on the couch, sick and groaning in pain, as her mom asks her a question.

Text: On the third-to-last day of our trip, my mom, dad and brother wanted to go a local flea market. I wasn’t feeling up to it.

Speech bubble, mom: You gonna be okay by yourself?

Speech bubble, Anna: UHHHHH…

Panel 7: Anna lies on the couch.

Text: I spent most of the day resting, leaving the couch twice to eat, and once to go to the bathroom. I hoped I didn’t have the flu.

Panel 8: Anna’s mom asks her if she wants anything to eat.

Text: After the others returned around 5:00, my mom suggested that we go out for dinner. I declined; they left, and I laid back down.

Speech bubble, mom: Can we bring anything back for you to eat?

Speech bubble, Anna: No thanks.


Panel 1: Anna, sweating, fans herself.

Text: A few minutes later, I began to feel extremely warm.

Panel 2: Anna walks around the apartment.

Text: I headed to the bathroom to try to cool off.

Panel 3: Water runs out of a tap.

Text: For some reason, I thought a cold bath would solve my problem; I turned on the tap and began to disrobe.

Panel 4: Anna’s mom knocks on the closed bathroom door.

Text: My mom had forgotten her jacket, and after getting it, decided to come check on me.

Speech bubble, mom: You okay in there?

Panel 5: The bathroom, from a bird’s eye view. Anna is on the floor, groaning.

Text: She found me almost totally stark naked and on the bathroom floor.

Speech bubble, mom: Oh my god.

Panel 6: Anna’s face is completely swollen, obscuring her eyes.

Text: Then she saw my face.

Speech bubble, mom: We NEED to get you to a hospital.

Speech bubble, Anna: UHHHHH

Panel 7: Anna’s dad and brother look alarmed as she appears.

Text: My dad and brother were shocked, too.

Panel 8: Anna’s dad reads a map, attempting to find a hospital.

Text: Off into the Paris streets we went, in search of a hospital

Speech bubble, dad: It looks like there’s an E.R. [emergency room] up the street…


Panel 1: Patrick puts Anna’s sweatshirt hood up, then closes the drawstring so that she cannot see her swollen face.

Text: But not before some precautions.

Speech bubble, Patrick: Wait

Panel 2: Patrick pats Anna’s shoulder.

Speech bubble, Anna: Thanks

Speech bubble, Patrick: Don’t look in any mirrors!

Panel 3: A young man sits at the front desk of a convalescent hospital

Text: The hospital “up the street” turned out to be something quite different.

Speech bubble, young man: This is a…convalescent hospital, madame. The medical center is up the street. Do you need taxi?

Panel 4: Anna sits in the emergency waiting room (E.R.), next to a rough-looking guy with a huge knife wound.

Text: After a quick cab ride, we landed at the E.R. near the city’s center. It was after 6 PM on a Saturday night, to boot.

Panel 5: A concerned-looking E.R. nurse signals her colleagues with a quick gesture.

Text: The admitting nurse took one look at me and wordlessly signaled something to the other staff.

Panel 6: Anna panics as a nurse sticks an intravenous (IV) needle in her arm.

Text: In less than 5 minutes, I was whisked away to the back, where more nurses tried to stick an IV in my arm

Speech bubble, Anna: NONONONONONO

Panel 7: Anna’s swelling becomes less severe; she tells mom that she feels better.

Text: Things improved after that, and the swelling started to go down—my to my and mom’s relief.

Speech bubble, Anna: I feel better!

Speech bubble, mom: Good!

Panel 8: Anna and mom wait for the E.R. doctor.

Text: The nurses phoned the staff’s only English-speaking doctor; it was his day off, and it took a while for him to get to the hospital.


Panel 1: Anna looks concerned as a nurse talks to another patient in the next E.R. cubicle.

Text: There was no shortage of interesting sights, however. The guy in the cubicle next to me kept trying to remove his pants—much to the staff’s annoyance.

Speech bubble, nurse: Monsieur, PLEASE put your pants back on.

Panel 2: Anna’s dad and brother watch a young woman vomit in the waiting room.

Text: My dad and brother also witnessed some interesting things in the lobby.

Panel 3: The doctor talks to Anna’s parents.

Text: Finally, the hospital’s English-speaking doctor came to check on me. After more IV drugs, he spoke with my parents.

Speech bubble, doctor: She has had…how do you say? Allergic reaction.

Panel 4: As Anna sleeps soundly, her brother tries to wake her up.

Text: He [the doctor] also recommended a full round of skin tests back home. Normally, this would have freaked me out, but thanks to all of the IV antihistamines, I was too out of it to care.

Speech bubble, Patrick: Anna, wake up! Hey! [Snort] It’s time to go.

Panel 5: Anna sleeps on the couch while listening to music.

Text: I spent the rest of our trip sleeping on the couch and listening to music.

Panel 6: Anna’s mom looks over the Emergency Room bill.

Text: A few weeks after we came home, the hospital sent us a bill…for $70.

Speech bubble, Anna: Quite a bargain!

Speech bubble, mom: Yeah.

Panel 7: Anna’s best friend, Brigitta, provides her allergist’s business card.

Text: My best friend, Brigitta, recommended the allergist she’d been seeing for her asthma.

Speech bubble, Brigitta: You may have to wait a while to see him.

Speech bubble, Anna: No prob.

Bottom text: The allergist’s wait list was rather long.

Panel 8: Anna and her mom wait in another emergency room; Anna’s face is fully swollen, and she is upset.

Text: In that period of time, I went to the E.R. Again.


Panel 1: Anna lies on an E.R. bed, face swollen, as an IV drips into her arm vein.

Text: And again.

Speech bubble, Anna: THIS IS BULLSHIT.

Panel 2: Anna and her dad wait in the emergency room again.

Text: And again. It never stopped being scary.

Speech bubble, Anna: AHHHHH

Panel 3: A nurse at the allergist’s office does the “scratch tests” on Anna’s back.

Text: My full “scratch tests” a few months later revealed many sensitivities—including a severe peanut and tree nut allergy that seemed to be the culprits of my E.R. visits.

Speech bubble, Anna: Ow ow ow ow

Panel 4: An assortment of allergy meds, including an epi-pen and several types of antihistamine pills.

Text: I was put on new allergy meds, given a prescription for an Epi-Pen (a self-contained needle to be used in case I stopped breathing), and instructed to take Benadryl with me everywhere I went.

Panel 5: Anna looks sadly at a plate of cookies. The cookies have a sign near them that reads “Cookies! Sugar or peanut butter.”

Text: I studiously avoided peanuts and tree nuts; anything on the same plate as those items became a no for me.

Panel 6: The carpet is removed from Anna’s room.

Text: When I kept having attacks, my parents suspected a dust problem; I moved to another room in our house. We also got rid of my new room’s carpeting.

Panel 7: Anna is frustrated during yet another allergy attack.

Text: The attacks still happened, but a bit less frequently.

Speech bubble, Anna: DAMMIT

Panel 8: Anna looks forlornly at a B-minus grade on an essay.

Text: I began to feel even worse when I could no longer pull off a 4-point-0 GPA [grade point average], thanks in no small part to my time spent in the E.R.

Speech bubbles, Anna: NO! A B-minus?