Vacations After OIT
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Vacations with food allergies have always been intimidating and challenging. Unfortunately, any situation where someone else is preparing your food carries some risk, and on a vacation, you often have to rely on others for your meals. This year after finishing Oral Immunotherapy (OIT), we were looking forward to a new chapter of vacations, one where we didn’t have to worry about whether we could find a restaurant we could trust to prepare a meal safely.
Then there was Covid-19.
Needless to say, any plans we had for trips this spring or summer were severely altered. We had purchased plane tickets to go to New York City on April 6th. We had worked out with our doctor how we were going to do Riley’s OIT doses while we were on the trip, but we never had the chance to put those plans to use. We cancelled everything just before New York turned into a Covid hot spot.
We hoped the pandemic would be better in the summer and we would be able to visit family in Wyoming and California in July and August. We usually try to visit both sides of our family in the summer, but this year we still didn’t feel good about having big family reunions as the pandemic seemed to grow.
I felt robbed of the opportunity to go out and test our new OIT food freedom. We were so excited about being able to eat out at a local restaurant without grilling the employees about the contents of the food. We were anxious to visit family without extensive meal planning and oversight of every meal we shared at someone else’s house. We were excited to have a family reunion where Riley could eat all of the ice cream, cookies, fun treats and junk food that his cousins enjoyed. And we wouldn’t even have to look at a label. I felt it was unfair that we have had to worry about cross contamination for 13 years, and right when we expected a little relief, here we were worrying about contamination on a whole new level!
We decided to do a family trip with just our household. It helped ease the frustration and disappointment and frankly, was a needed change of scenery. We rented a house about 3 hours South of our home for several days. I didn’t feel comfortable going to restaurants or unfamiliar stores when we were there so we decided to bring all of our food with us. But this time, instead of buying ingredients to prepare allergy friendly meals on the trip, I went to the grocery store and Costco and I bought salad mixes, frozen lasagna, premade chicken alfredo, bakery bread, Costco muffins and macadamia chocolate clusters. I bought food that I knew we never could have eaten before. It was surprisingly easy to find options and surprisingly difficult to narrow them down. I was like a kid in a candy store, wanting to grab everything.
I brought food for our whole stay, something I probably would have done with food allergies in the past, but this time it was because of coronavirus and the purpose was different. I picked pre-made items that made “cooking” a breeze on the trip. Most of the meals only required that I take off a lid and put it in the oven, or open a bag and put it in a bowl. It may have actually been less work than eating out, and a bonus was that there were usually left-overs so also it covered lunch for the next day. I had to wonder – is this what normal non-allergic families did everyday? And even if it wasn’t something people did everyday, I’m sure they did it on a lazy day or a vacation before. I had never been able to do that. Food allergies usually mean everything is from scratch, or incredibly expensive, or doesn’t taste as good, or you had to make two different versions of dinner to keep everyone happy. You don’t get a day off for food allergies, not even on vacation. There is no lazy day for food allergies. But this time, it was finally different.
So what did our vacation look like after OIT? It looked like one happy and relaxed mom who did very little food prep on the trip. It looked like one very happy teenage boy who explored all kinds of new foods and flavors. It looked like life just got a lot easier.
Now don’t get me wrong, we weren’t 100% like a normal non-allergic family. We had to work Riley’s OIT dose into our schedule. There are several restrictions about not getting his heart rate up after taking his daily milk, egg and nut dose. He also can’t eat large amounts of his allergens within an hour of his dose (remember all of those premade meals I bought?). We had to plan a few days ahead to move the dose timing down incrementally to the evening because we didn’t want him to have to do a rest period for 2-4 hours after dosing in the morning. That could ruin the day’s activities. We made it work without it being too intrusive. It was a small price to pay to have the freedom to not worry about everything that goes into his mouth.
We will have the chance to try out more trips, dining out, and family visits next year, but at least we got a taste of what it is like to have some food freedom on vacation. It was pretty amazing.