Gnocchi on Heaven's Door
We wound up at Porter's, on 7th Avenue and 23rd. It's a nice, roomy space, rather dimly lit, with what was, I guess, an Asian-fusion menu. A perfect place for a little romantic conversation--which we proceeded to have. We ordered an absolutely marvelous red wine. (Negroamaro Salice Salentino--not that I'm an expert, but it was incredibly sweet and unsubtle, which is exactly what I like in a wine; I hate wines that are smarter than me) We'd taken just a few sips when the waiter came around, and I passed, while my date ordered the gnocchi. (Asian waitstaff, Zen decor, gnocchi on the menu; I'm guessing fusion.) More chatting. It's clear we like each other. Things are warming up, and the gnocchi arrives. She offers me some.
"What's gnocchi?" I asked.
She said, "It's just pasta with potatoes in it. Oh, but there's a cream sauce. If you're allergic to milk, that might be bad."
I'm not allergic to milk; I'm merely intolerant of it. As regular readers know, I have a host of foods that don't actually kill me, but that I don't handle very well: corn, soy, garlic, and apples top the list. Milk I can handle in small amounts, just like peanuts and chocolate. The only full-on allergy I'm aware of is almonds, which I haven't actually tested since I went into anaphylactic shock a few Christmases ago. (I've never had enough money or medical coverage to say, "Just to be sure I'm actually allergic to almonds, let me just eat one while sitting in the emergency room.")
I've been nervous around strange food ever since, but I've never actually had an incident that couldn't be chalked up to generalized anxiety. There have even been two occasions where I've actually bitten into almonds I didn't know where there, and spat them out, and suffered no consequences at all except more panic as I fumbled for my Epi-pen and waited for my heartrate to normalize. So I've been at the point of wondering if the original anaphylaxis was some kind of fluke. Maybe it wasn't almonds, but some kind of spider bite or some reaction to the desert in general. All I know is, it happened once, and for as long as I've eaten things since, there's never been another medical incident.
"I can handle a little cream," I said. So I ate the gnocchi. (Technically, I ate a single gnoccho; Merriam-Webster confirms.) And immediately I got a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth, and my lips began to tingle. "Uh-oh," I added.
"Are you okay?" she said.
"Probably," I replied. When I went into anaphylaxis, it felt like a current shot clean up my spine and shoulders, like an electric shudder. That wasn't happening here. But on the other hand...
"My lips are swelling, aren't they?" I said.
"Oh god," she replied.
"Yeah, you know what?" I said, standing with remarkable outward calm. "I'd better get my Epi-pen just in case." And I strode frantically to the coat check, legs all noodly, and retrieved my coat and bags, where I keep my Epi-pen and my Benadryl.
I have found that Benadryl is often handy to allay my worries about anything I've eaten. If I have, say, a Take 5 bar, and I feel a little funny--probably because of the peanut butter and chocolate--I can pop a Benadryl and feel like I'm not going to die. Very handy on long subway rides if you don't want to start clawing at the sides of the train in an attempt to burrow to the surface. So I did some quick calculation: if Nonexistent Panic Attack = 2 Benadryl, Actual Death-Threatening Allergy = 4 Benadryl. Pop pop pop pop. I didn't even use water.
My lips kept swelling and burning and I thought (was it my imagination? It often is) there was also a little bit of swelling in my throat. Ack! So, Epi-pen at the ready, I lurched outside and called over my shoulder, "I need to get to a hospital!" And my date said, "I'll be right there!"
I hailed a cab and waited in the cold, passenger door ajar, while my date collected her things--and, it turns out, settled the bill, which is more conscientious than I'd have been in this situation. And as I waited, I stared at the Epi-pen in my hand. You know you're poor when you actually have to gauge whether or not to use an Epi-pen. "On the one hand, I might be dying," I thought. "On the other hand, these things are like fifty bucks." It's like I actually live out that old Jack Benny routine: "Your money or your life!" "I'm thinking! I'm thinking!" In the end, I put it away.
The nearest hospital, it turns out, was St. Vincent's at 14th and 7th, which I knew about because my friend Ryan wound up there two Thanksgivings ago. So it was only $5 away by cab, including the tip. I covered it, fearing to ask how much my date had just paid for undrunk wine and uneaten food. (The wine, at $8 a glass, was an easy twenty with tip. I bet she'd just thrown down two twenties to be done with it. Oy.) We sped into the ER, and then everything got taken care of. Except, of course, for the bill, which I worry about a great deal, since I'm unemployed and hence uninsured. (Good news, however: unlike my last anaphylaxis, I'm not paying for an ambulance this time. So I saved a good $500 right there.)
The upshot: It wasn't anaphylaxis, but it was (obviously) a severe allergic reaction, albeit not a life-threatening one. (The culprit? Probably pine nuts. I guess "tree nuts" are now my thing to avoid on ingredient labels.) So I still have my virgin Epi-pen, and they pumped me full of a steroid drip and then let me go after two hours. Also, the doctor (whose last name was Marvel!) said, "You took four Benadryl? You're going to be zonked out in, like, twenty minutes. In the future, even if it's actual anaphylaxis, you shouldn't take more than two tablets."
Oddly, though, I didn't feel tired for the entire two hours (my guess: adrenaline). And my new friend actually sat with me the whole time, cracking wise and sharing banter even as she started to get visibly slumberous. Then to top it all off, she called a cab and we CABBED it back from St. Vincent's to Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. (Not a hellishly long way, I guess, but it's more than I would ever normally ask a cab to do, and probably another $20.) Then she called today to make sure I was all right. She sounded happy to hear from me, and we plan to try again at a more non-lethal restaurant.
Anyway, now I know that I really am allergic to tree nuts, and it wasn't all in my head. As for my date, it's hard to know how to repay someone for life-saving AND patience, but I think I'll start with a nice bottle of Negroamaro Salice Salentino...
Labels: Dave Update