I hadn’t had a reaction at school in 15 years and I only made the mistake of eating nuts once in my life. Yet here I was, standing in the hall, shaking to the bones as my throat started to close because the girl next to me snacked on cashews.
I left my Epi-pen in my dorm. Could I make it back in time? Should I run to the Health Center? Call 911? My roommates weren’t answering.
What if I passed out on the way there? My throat felt tighter by the second.
I left my backpack in class. I had to go back in and grab it.
Eyes followed me. My professor stumbled over her lecture as she watched me. I felt loud, clumsy, scrambling to get my things and get out. Was I making a scene? Did it really matter to me right now?
It wasn’t my fault. The girl next to me had eaten nuts, though she hadn’t known it’d be a problem. I hadn’t even known. I’d been allergic to tree nuts my whole life, but only if I ate them.
I ran to the dorm and woke my roommates so I wouldn’t have to die alone. My throat felt like I tried to swallow a cactus. It was hard to breathe around the panic. The Health Center felt forever away but when I came in, all the nurses had an urgency in their step. They could tell before I said a word. My voice was shaking as I tried to explain, as they whisked me to a private room, attached monitors to my fingers and read off the results. I got epinephrine shots in my leg. Swallowed the pills. Waited for my heart to stop racing. Waited to be in the clear again.
Before I went to sleep that night, I penned an apologetic email to my professor before letting the chaos of the day knock me out. I woke up to a sympathetic response, but she said I should’ve let her know beforehand that I was allergic. I should’ve been registered with the Accessibility Center.
Out of embarrassment, I booked an appointment with the Student Accessibility Services. Who knew they could register an allergy? I always thought it was for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. And I didn’t know professors even supported the SAS; I only heard of when they ignored accommodations.
I was nervous. I hated talking about my problems. I expected formality. I expected strict standards, high bars. It was casual, though. I relaxed as soon as I met the Accessibility Coordinator. She was the nicest school employee I’d ever met, all she wanted to do was help me. That was her whole job. If there was something that could get in the way of my studies, the SAS would do anything they could for me.
This—this!—was something I wish had been part of orientation. Knowing there was someone in my corner for food allergies or my mental health or anything of that sort. That would’ve been incredibly helpful from the beginning. College is a time when I thought I had to be independent. I should handle all my issues on my own, right? I was an adult now. But adults don’t need to be alone. College is a place to start building a life and part of that was having a support team. I didn’t just have to learn how to handle my major, I needed to learn how to handle myself.
High school always seemed like a means to get to college. They cared about my education, but with a hard line between caring about my intelligence and caring about me. It wasn’t a support system, it was more like a boot camp. A ladder to climb high and then get out. College is a garden, a place to grow, not just on my own but with support from family, friends and even the school.