The World Around Us

My Only Wish, To Eat a Fish…

Country: Canada by Marlowe


Fish. Seafood. Fruits de mer. These have been words I’ve avoided on cans, packages and menus for close to three decades, and for good reason. Here’s a tale of love lost, the culinary kind.

Back in the day

So I’m 12 years old and my dad is a salesman for the Canadian Automobile Association, putting food on the table and holding up the roof. On weekends, and to give us something to do, we’d spend Saturdays or Sundays at the various malls my dad used to plied his sales skills on passing patrons. If the mall had arcade games, I was playing them. Otherwise, I was bored.

In any case, one mall deep in Mississauga had an awesome fish and chips booth in the food court. I’d eaten there countless times, but this day would be different. After stuffing a double portion of fish and chips down I felt a tickle in the back of my throat. This progressed into a crushing pain in my chest, vomiting and hives all over my body. I’m not sure happened next but I remember taking a bath in oatmeal that night.

So it’s a year later and me and the fam are at Red Lobster. I’m munching unsatisfiededly on something fried when my dad says I should have my mom’s leftover piece of fried fish. “Dad” I say “you know I’m allergic now”. “That was a year ago”, he replies “you’re not allergic anymore”. The insistence that I try goes on for five minutes until I relent and eat the fish. Guess what happened? Fortunately, there was a drug store nearby, where the trail of vomit led with my father coaxing me on. This reaction was worse and my dad couldn’t convince me after that.

Late 2015

So it’s much later and Lisette and I, having moved into a new building, are at the building’s Holidays party in the lobby. Fear of a reaction has made me cautious over the years; here I’m shown the only item containing seafood and avoid it. Fortunately, there’s plenty to choose from and I choose a sandwich that resembles chicken salad from a serving platter. Having enjoyed the first few bites, I then see the super pointing at the same platter and saying “that’s tuna”.

So, I’d just eaten tuna and we’re in high alert as head to Mt. Sinai hospital, waiting for the tingling tongue, crushing chest pain and other symptoms. Ninety minutes later, I’m talking to a underwhelmed doctor that I feel nothing, nothing at all. Am I not allergic anymore?

Summer 2016

It’s many months later and I’ve been through several referrals, several skin tests and a blood test. Now I’m sitting at Toronto General with a piece of cooked salmon in my lap. Purchasing it had been strange, cooking it on the stove top had been stranger and putting it in my mouth after 20+ years was downright unnerving. I had imagined a  nurse looming with epi-pen poised to inject at the first signs of trouble, but it’s just me and the allergist (and no visible epi-pens).

The “Food challenge” as it’s called involves one eating a piece of the allergen, waiting 10 minutes for a reaction and progressing to larger portions until there’s a reaction or they declare that you’re not allergic.  First they put the oil on the inside of your lip: no reaction; a tiny piece: no reaction. An hour later I’m eating pieces the size of my thumb and I’m none the worse for wear. Not allergic!

By the time I leave the hospital I’m also starving so eat the rest of the salmon fillet with great zeal. I am one happy camper. Scenes of battered fish and chips with tartar sauce dance around in my head. This is going to be great!

Update, Fall 2016

I’ve eaten salmon a few times now since then and it turns out that it’s not so cut and dry. Small portions of salmon, say smaller than a hardball, don’t bother. However, if I eat more than that, fairly intense chest pains ensues. All in all, I consider myself lucky. I no longer have to worry about severe reactions from salmon and can have the occasional bite.