July 25, 2011

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley: Review

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I was anxious to get my hands on Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales of an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley as soon as I found out about it. Having a child with a serious life threatening peanut allergy, I was curious to know how the author, a woman with many food allergies herself, manages to survive in a world where just about everything edible could kill her. Sandra Beasley's allergies are so severe that even coming into contact with milk, eggs or wheat could trigger a reaction. She eats Benadryll like M&Ms.

Sandra peppers anecdotes about birthday parties, vacations, weddings and cocktail parties with the science of food allergies. She discusses a wide variety of topics such as the discovery of allergies, the inventor of peanut butter George Washington Carver, the theories of why food allergies are more prevalent today, travelling with allergies, being a Foodie with allergies, and the people researching a cure for allergies. 

In some ways she reassured me, and in others she gave me more to worry about. Obviously, a person can get to adulthood with food allergies- Sandra did. And she wasn't particularly careful all the time. In fact, she would at times ignore an attack because she was embarrassed and didn't want to cause a scene. She admits that she should have used her Epi Pen more often. This really bothered me! Of all the times to look for attention, that is most definitely one. I hope my child has the sense to get help when she needs it. I wonder how many gray hairs she gave her mother over the years. 

Luckily (I suppose you could say), my daughter has just one allergy. She doesn't have asthma or even the seasonal allergies I suffer from. I often tell her that she is lucky to know what she is allergic to and that she can avoid it. I have a friend who has had anaphylactic reactions and still doesn't know what caused them. Still, she is fearful. I tell her that she can do what everyone else does but she just has to be more cautious. I also try hard to hide my own nervousness whenever she is in a situation beyond my control. We both need to learn that she's at an age where she can speak for herself and learn to listen to her own body. I want her to fully enjoy her life, to be a part of the world. Isn't that what everyone wants for their kids?

Sandra did not reassure me about the teen years. I dread them! Not only do I have to give 'the talk' but also remind her not to kiss anyone who's had peanuts recently. Add to that the fear of drinking leading to careless eating. (My husband thinks we should tell her beer has peanuts in it. ;) ) Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

Though I do not agree with the author on some of her opinions about peanuts (an allergy she does not have), I did agree with her on the portrayal of allergies on TV and movies. Allergies are a sight gag. The guy with the bloated face during a date, the girl who is sabotaged by a peanut. They get the laughs and everything turns out okay. THIS IS NOT THE REALITY, PEOPLE! They'd be in the hospital, or worse. (PS- I'm never reading Mr Peanut. That book would put me in the hospital).

Although food allergy awareness has changed since Sandra was a kid, she still runs into people who don't get it or don't understand that they can't just wipe that parmesan cheese off her plate and hand it back to her. Don't Kill the Birthday Girl adds to the dialogue and is an interesting look at how one person deals with having severe allergies while just trying to be like everyone else. I'm glad I read it. It gave me a lot to think about.

If you'd like to know more about life threatening allergies, check out the Anaphlaxis Canada website.

Visit Sandra Beasley's website as well. 



Thanks to Random House for sending me this review copy.

Highly recommended.

Ratings:

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6 comments :

  1. We're glad that you found Sandra Beasley's book interesting and were able to relate to it on such a personal level. Many thanks!

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  2. My younger sister, who is now 20, has severe nut allergies and has had them since birth. She has had a few serious reactions over the years, but none in recent memory (knock on wood). She also has asthma and a slew of other allergies (she's allergic to most antibiotics as well), so her health was a large part of our childhood. It was hard for us to find things to keep in the house that weren't cross-contaminated.

    The worst was when my mom was working with schools. It was the mid-90s, and information about food allergies wasn't as "out there" as it is now. When the school made Torrie's classroom "nut free," it was insane. Parents called the media and they made my mom out to be some kind of crazy woman who wanted to tell everyone else what they couldn't feed their kids. What my mom did for Torrie was the first in Michigan, and now it isn't uncommon for schools to be completely nut-free.

    Torrie made it through the teen years. She had moments when she was embarrassed by it-going to restaurants and getting her to ask if they used any nut products in their food was always tough-but she made it through. As long as you constantly educate your own child on what can happen, I think you'll be fine.

    As for the book, I think I am going to have to give a copy to both my sister and my mom. I think they would both love to read about someone else's experiences with this kind of allergy (and who am I kidding, I want to read it too!).

    (sorry for the long comment!)

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  3. Food allergies are scary! When my son was in college he had a friend who tried to commit suicide by eating something he was allergic to. My son had to call an ambulance and he said it was terrifying. I'm anxious to read this book.

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  4. Random House of Canada- Thanks!

    Allie- Don't be sorry! Yes, I'm so glad that times have changed and people understand the dangers more. It must have been so hard for your Mom and sister: your sister for having to deal with the allergies and your Mom for just trying to protect her daughter. I'm so glad to hear Torrie did well!

    Kathy- How scary! The author mentions a similar incident involving Benadryl. It's scary how creative someone who wants to hurt themselves can be.

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  5. It's truly fascinating how others reaction to an individual's food needs/choices. Although I don't have a food allergy, I do have IBS, and thus must avoid certain foods or I will be very miserable for the next couple of days. People always act like it's sort of like....their business what you eat and why, when really it shouldn't be. PLUS things like someone just wiping an unwanted food off the plate or pushing it to the side then handing it back to the person is so insulting and idiotic it's just baffling!

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  6. I had very severe allergies through high school and college. It can certainly be managed, but it is amazing how unaware some people are about the potential dangers -- of a waiter not really asking the chef if there is an ingredient in a dish, for example! Books like this get the word out there. Good luck to you and your daughter!

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