By Julie-Ann Sherlock

Crack! That is an all too familiar sound for me now. My knees scream pretty much every time I stand up. My (insert expletive here) knees also object loudly and painfully when I go up or down some stairs. Sigh! The joys of growing old, I guess. I am in my (late) 40s, so really, really, not THAT old, but it seems since I crossed the rubicon from my 30s, I am steadily falling apart. 

Gone are the days when I could nimbly spring from a low seat, bound up the stairs like a golden retriever and dance the night away in a club (remember them?) without a twinge or an ache. 

Sadly, this is the least of my post-prime worries. There’s a saying, “When you are over the hill, you pick up speed.” It’s true. The speed of grey hairs and wrinkles appearing, the rate of hair loss, the haste with which calories cling to your thighs from that tiny sliver of chocolate cake. Yup, you pick up speed, alright. 

These are all pretty standard “perks” of getting older and wiser (ha!). But some of us have extra “joys” to contend with. Hormonal levels change, causing sleep disruptions, irritability and dry skin. At the same time the immune system starts to deteriorate making you more susceptible to illness increasing the chance of reacting to allergens. That was my biggest issue — new allergies. 

Help! Those Nuts Are Trying To Kill Me! 

I was 40 years and four months old when I ate a walnut that almost killed me. I had eaten many non-murder-attempting walnuts before, so what the heck changed? 

As a baby, I had eczema, developed asthma as a child and suffered from pollen allergies all my life. In my 30s, I was diagnosed with idiopathic urticaria—basically, I was itchy all the time, and they didn’t know why. All these ailments are linked to allergies, but no one knew what I was allergic to. The immunologist I saw told me, “They will become apparent as you react to them.” Very helpful and reassuring. I was prescribed enormous doses of antihistamines to keep the scratching somewhat under control. 

Fast forward to that fateful day when the walnut went to war with my body. I started scratching within moments of eating the delicious salad of deep-fried brie, beetroot and walnuts. I took some more of my ever-present antihistamines. They didn’t help. 

I ended up driving myself to the emergency room to be told I was having an anaphylactic reaction. A warning to avoid all tree nuts and peanuts was issued, along with an Epipen

Wait! It’s Not Just Nuts?

This was the start of my game of Food Roulette, as my friend Yvonne christened it. A few months later, coconut joined the list of things trying to kill me and, shortly after that, sesame and poppy seeds. A tiny piece of any of these foods, including their oils, sends me straight to the closest emergency department. I have even had reactions just being in the same room as someone eating nuts! 

But hold up a minute. It’s not just food that tries to end my life. You guessed it…even things designed to keep me alive have made an attempt, namely, Penicillin. Yes, that fantastic antibiotic threatens to cut off my breathing. Recently, opioids such as fentanyl have joined the party. Dentist visits and medical procedures are so much fun without the good painkillers. Not. 

It Sure Ain’t Funny

Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening condition. It can cause the throat to close up, heart rate to drop and yeah, kill you. So, please forgive me, Uncle Roger, if I don’t think calling people with nut allergies “so weak” is funny. I love your comedy, but making fun of something so scary to us sufferers can make our lives more difficult.

I spend most of my time in Asia, where food allergies are pretty rare. Every time I decide to eat out somewhere, I have to speak to the restaurant manager. With the help of cards I have created in about 15 different languages, I explain my issues. If I don’t feel they understand or are taking it seriously, I don’t eat there. 

I have learned this lesson the hard way. Running out of a restaurant in India and trying to hail an autorickshaw to take you to the nearest hospital is not much fun. Especially since I tend to experience one of anaphylaxis’ stranger symptoms, an impending sense of doom, and I had just decided that it was my time to die. My allergies are probably about the only thing I take seriously in life. That is mainly down to one positive of getting older—not giving a feck about what others think of you. See, I am not a total negative Nelly! 

Getting older brings with it many “surprises” and health issues. I have the delights of menopause and probably incontinence waiting around the corner. Well, if a random nut doesn’t kill me first. For all my grumbles, I am embracing this ageing process as best I can. After all, it is better to be over the hill than the alternative of being six feet under it!