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March 09, 2006

A different kind of tragedy

Not to say it couldn't happen or to make light of it in any way, but in hindsight the whole Peanut Kiss of Death story was a little too… perfect. That sounds awful, I know. But if you wanted to invent a touchstone event for a peanut allergy awareness campaign you could hardly come up with something more poignant than an innocent kiss between 15-year-olds. Of course the boy in the script wouldn't have been drinking beer beforehand, but there you go — this tragedy wasn't invented. But Christina Desforges didn't die from an allergic reaction or despite an EpiPen injection — she didn't even use her EpiPen, because, and I quote, "she didn't have an allergic reaction to peanut butter" — and for better or worse she won't end up as anyone's poster child:

"The Canadian Association of Food Allergies [which doesn't seem to exist except in relation to this story -ed.] intended to use the Desforges case to launch an education campaign," he [coroner Dr Michel Morin] told Associated Press. "I had to tell them the cause of death was different than first believed."

Basically everything about this story was wrong apart from the victim's name and the fact that she died. It's quite remarkable, really. It doesn't make anything easier for anyone involved, but it's interesting to wonder what that "education campaign" might have accomplished. That is, it's interesting to wonder how many places are still peanut-friendly because Christina Desfarges didn't die of the right thing — because the tiny number of people who die of peanut reactions in Canada have thus far refused to shuffle off in sufficiently tearjerking fashion.

Posted by Chris Selley at March 9, 2006 09:31 PM

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Comments

I suppose I wasn't a huge Nestruck devotee at any point in time, but his crusade against peanuts took on proportions of silliness almost immediately. "Teens need to know that there's no reason to be embarrassed about a food allergy"?

I'd love to hear what he had to say to gay or hermaphrodite teens, molested teens, teens with micropenises or flat chests, or teens with parents who liked 'Crash'.

It must be very comforting to be so utterly wrapped up in your own blossoming existence.

Posted by: Jason at March 9, 2006 11:51 PM

This certainly is a bizarre story... I'll be very interested in hearing what the final coroner's report says.

Re: "it's interesting to wonder how many places are still peanut-friendly because Christina Desfarges didn't die of the right thing." You're unfairly linking this story with the one of the girl who had a reaction to peanuts at the ACC. What places would they have tried to get rid of peanuts because of this? Boyfriends' mouths? An education campaign is just that: a campaign to educate, presumbably about the dangers of food allergies and how to respond to them.

As for Jason's asinine comment, I'll only add that Coroner Morin, who is clearing up the record here, said something very similar to my "silliness." See here:
"Nous ne sommes pas devant un cas de décès par choc anaphylactique, mais il est bon que les parents dont les enfants souffrent d'allergies informent les proches et les amis de la situation. Souvent, le jeune ne veut pas que son entourage soit informé de son état de santé",

Translated: "We are not dealing with a case of death from anaphylactic shock, but it is important for parents of kids who suffer from allergies to inform the people in their life and their friends. Often, the child does not want their entourage to be informed about their health problem."

Why? Because they're embarrassed. I wasn't a teen that long ago; I remember what it was like...

Posted by: JKelly at March 10, 2006 03:00 AM

Well, maybe there's something here I'm just not getting, or seeing, but I attended school with quite a lot of students with serious food allergies. It was always, always common knowledge, everyone knew, and it was never a big deal for them to disclose. It was always a relaxed, easy, and candid comment - "I'm allergic to that - and b, c, d, and e." People I was friends with were completely, absolutely open about their allergies, and people that I was only loose acquaintances with were the exact same.

I've never known anyone to have any discomfort at disclosing an allergy. Ever.

I don't know where you grew up - maybe different places are different, granted. But I had a customer at a restaurant who always, consistently insisted that no person within 5 tables of her could have nuts in their food. Embarrassment was never a problem for her.

I've got no problem with peanut-free cafeterias and birthday parties, but asking me to stop and feel the pain of the "embarrassment of teens with food allergies" is too much - other teens are far more in need of emotional consideration and attention. Allergic teens are in need of nut-free safe zones for their health, not a group hug.

Thanks for reading, I know this was long.

Posted by: Jason at March 10, 2006 09:04 AM

I can tell you a dozen stories about teens embarrassed by their allergies -- it rarely has to do with disclosing them. Usually it has to do with carrying around an Epipen and Benadryl everywhere, not wanting to inconvenience friends, having to wear a Medic Alert bracelet, dealing with all the jokes...

Teens are embarrassed by everything from acne to hair colour to their bodies. I was embarrassed like hell about the hipsack I wore in the summer to carry around my Epipen and asthma pump. Now, I don't give a shit what you think about my murse.

But, look. No one asking you to "stop and feel the pain of the 'embarrassment of teens with food allergies.'" Though, it'd be nice if you didn't deny it because of your own limited experience.

Food allergies aren't a huge fucking deal for society, but they can be a daily inconvenience and worry for those who have them. You wanta discuss more important issues, by all means go ahead...

Posted by: JKelly at March 10, 2006 03:20 PM

"I wasn't a teen that long ago..."

It shows.

"Food allergies aren't a huge fucking deal for society, but they can be a daily inconvenience and worry for those who have them."

I like to stir the pot by sending my daughter to play school with pea butter sandwiches. It caused a deliciously appropriate panic the first couple of times.

Posted by: Sean at March 10, 2006 05:24 PM

Embarrassment from having to wear a Medic Alert bracelet and dealing with all the jokes?

In a school FULL of serious food allergies, I never - ever - heard someone making a joke about a food allergy. Ever. We were all too busy making fun of REAL things to make fun of. My best friend carries an Epipen around with her at all times (for bees, not food), and it's never, in her life, been a source of "embarrassment" for her.

You're not black, you're not gay, you're not Muslim or Jewish, you're not Asian - you have a food allergy. Stop trying to plumb my heart for pity and sympathy. Some kids deal with difficult social issues at school - you don't get to hop on their wagon, sorry.

And someone who feels embarrassment over Medic-Alert bracelets needs to get out more. Come back when you have a hearing aid or a motorized wheelchair with a colostomy bag.

You're asking for me to feel sorry for you every time you try and tell me a tale of woeful tragedy - especially when you trail off in a pain-haunted ellipsis....

I'm just not buying it.

Posted by: Anonymous at March 10, 2006 06:42 PM

Can we get one or two examples of the "jokes" kids supposedly make in the schoolyard about peanut allergies? Like others here, I had friends who suffered from this, and I honestly wouldn't have known where to start making fun of them even if it had occurred to me.

"Hey, no-nuts, why don't you go... um, eat some nuts"?

Posted by: Colby Cosh at March 10, 2006 09:42 PM

I'm hesitant to answer your question, Colby Cosh, because these asshats think I'm whining whenever I answer a question.

The most common "joke" goes like this. You ask what the ingredients are in something; the joker tells you. Then, after you've taken a bite, the joker says, "Oh and peanuts..." There are no peanuts, of course, but they think it's hilarious... This or some sort of variant happens to me about once a month.

There's a lovely fellow named Sean, who commented above: "I like to stir the pot by sending my daughter to play school with pea butter sandwiches. It caused a deliciously appropriate panic the first couple of times." There are jokers like that everywhere. (Note to idiots: There is nothing wrong with sending your kid to school with a pea butter sandwich; you're a sick fuck, however, if you do it cause a panic among the elementary students.)

Anyway, I'm out of here. If you folks want to deny that kids and teens get embarrassed by their food allergies, well, have fun...

Posted by: JKelly at March 10, 2006 10:15 PM

Let's make one thing clear: Anyone who has suffered anaphylaxis would seriously consider trading in their fatal allergy for a colostomy bag or a wheelchair. It is one of the most heinous ways to die imaginable. Imagine choking to death for 15 minutes while your eyes swell shut and your nasal passages close off. It takes months for your body to recover, but perhaps worst of all is the mental battering you adminster yourself, no matter what the circumstances. "No, even though the restaurant assured me under threat of legal action that there were no nuts in my order, I shouldn't have had the broccoli soup." Imagine every time you eat out, I mean every single time, death or serious suffering looming over you. Nuts or nut essence can be accidentally added to almost every food imaginable: coffee, bread, mixed drinks (did you know Bombay Sapphire is filtered through almonds?), pastries, chocolate, pizza, pasta, salad, etc. Not only that, but someone eating nuts or someone who has touched nuts can set off a reaction, which although it usually isn't fatal, is still awful. Now I realize most nut allergies aren't this severe, but to read the hate mail spewed by people is to feel frustrated. No one is asking you to sacrifice the pleasure derived from eating nuts, only to be aware that sometimes this pleasure might cause others great discomfort. It is certainly the allergic person's cross to bear, but this is no reason to make things worse with your ignorance. A certain percentage of the population suffers from this: It isn't a choice, much like being black isn't a choice. If you think that comparison isn't fair, you've obviously never witnessed someone in anaphylactic shock. Swollen and red, they are very much a visible minority. As for teasing, making jokes about nut allergy sufferers makes about as much sense as making jokes about gay people or black people, That is, none. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Hell, it happened right here in this thread, when Sean thought it was hilarious that his pea butter sandwiches caused a panic at his daughter's school. If you think that's funny Sean, I have some pedophile zingers that will have you howling. No, you're right, that's not funny.

Posted by: Craig at March 11, 2006 05:04 AM

"No one is asking you to sacrifice the pleasure derived from eating nuts, only to be aware that sometimes this pleasure might cause others great discomfort. It is certainly the allergic person's cross to bear, but this is no reason to make things worse with your ignorance."

Oh bullshit. I'm an alcoholic. I actually had liver dysfunction by age 23 because of how much I drank. So I quit. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it is for me to see other people drinking? To smell it on their breath? The cravings it gives me?

I hate it.

So you know what I do? I don't go where people are drinking. This means there are a lot of restaurants and lounges I can't go to, but that's cool. My drinking problem is MY problem -- I'm not going to demand that the rest of the world changes its habits for me, or pity me because even the smell of booze makes me ill. It's my problem and I'll deal with it.

"That is, none. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Hell, it happened right here in this thread, when Sean thought it was hilarious that his pea butter sandwiches caused a panic at his daughter's school."

Your kid's allergies are NOT my problem. Deal with it.

Posted by: Sean at March 11, 2006 11:59 PM

"(Note to idiots: There is nothing wrong with sending your kid to school with a pea butter sandwich; you're a sick fuck, however, if you do it cause a panic among the elementary students.)"

Point of order, Mr. Speaker: I did it to cause panic among the teachers and school administrators who have NO BUSINESS telling me what I can and can't put in my kid's lunch bag.

Posted by: Sean at March 12, 2006 12:03 AM

So, you purposefully tried to cause panic among the teachers and school administrators at your daughter's elementary school... That's seriously disturbed, McCormick.

Posted by: JKelly at March 12, 2006 05:10 AM

...Swollen and red, they are very much a visible minority.

That's got to be the most elegant pisstake I've ever seen.

Posted by: Colby Cosh at March 12, 2006 11:11 PM

"So, you purposefully tried to cause panic among the teachers and school administrators at your daughter's elementary school... That's seriously disturbed, McCormick."

Not all of us are famous enough to pose with baby seal pups and must resort to other, legal, forms of protest.

Posted by: Sean at March 13, 2006 12:08 PM