How to Save a Life
Have you ever stabbed anyone? I have.
I stabbed my friend and Allergy Amulet Co-Founder Abi Barnes with an EpiPen in the summer of 2007.
Abi and I spent that summer at Middlebury College, where I had just wrapped up my sophomore year. Alongside roughly 100 others, we immersed ourselves in an intensive Mandarin language program, pledging not to speak English for the program’s nine-week duration. Abi’s dorm was across the hall from mine, and we soon became good friends. We watched movies, went on runs, gossiped and joked, but always in this foreign tongue that consumed every part of our daily lives. We couldn’t even read in English, forcing several of us to secretly pass around an English version of the last Harry Potter book, which had just been released—no one wanted to attempt reading that in Chinese.
One particular summer day, we finished up our morning classes and walked over to the dining hall. We were now several weeks into the program, so I was used to seeing Abi meticulously look for nuts on the ingredients list of every item on the self-service buffet menu. She and I chatted away while she seemingly nonchalantly searched for ingredients that could kill her.
Among the various menu items was a grilled, flaky white fish with a brown sauce that we both opted for that day. Shortly after we sat down and started eating, Abi suddenly froze. “Oh my god,” she said; I was alarmed. Not because she turned pale, or had a look of panic in her eyes, but because she spoke English within earshot of other students and teachers.
《什么？》“What?” I said.
“Oh my god.”
Worried about Abi getting in trouble I asked,《你为什么说英文？》“Why are you speaking in English?”
“No seriously, I can feel it. It was the fish sauce. I didn’t check it. I know it. I can feel it. I need my EpiPen,” she said in a panicked manner.
“We have to go. It’s in my room.”
Abi grabbed my hand and we ran across campus to our dorm. Once in her room, she tossed me the EpiPen in its original cardboard packaging and said, “Read the instructions.” I learned later that it’s always better to let someone else administer the epinephrine needle. I also learned that it’s good to have someone with you—which makes sense, considering that someone having an allergic reaction could pass out.
At this point, we were speaking only in English. I remember my hands shaking while I held the instructions and found myself reading them over and over again. Meanwhile, Abi was popping Benadryl tablets like pink Tic Tacs. She extended her paper-white thigh to me and said, “You’ll need to do it with full force.”
So I took a generous upward swing and stabbed her. Bright red blood trickled down her upper thigh. We then rushed to the hospital.
Many hours later, when the hospital determined she was safe to leave, our friend drove over to pick us up. We got into the car and The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” came on the radio. We laughed and heaved a collective sigh of relief.
It wasn’t until days later when we went swimming in a nearby lake that I realized the force of stabbing her had left a black and blue bruise bigger than my hand on her thigh. I knew that food allergies were dangerous, but this incident with the fish sauce was a terrifying reminder of that fact. I remember Abi was completely wiped out after the ordeal, and to think that she has to constantly look out for dangers lurking in foods must be exhausting.
Fast forward a decade and I’m currently the Chief Operating Officer of a family-owned Japanese restaurant group in New York City. At each of our 15 locations, our staff is trained to manage food allergies. I’d like to think that we’ve educated our staff about food allergies since opening our first location in 1984, but the reality is that dining out is always a potential minefield for individuals like Abi. It makes sense that she came up with the idea for Allergy Amulet.
Stabbing Abi in the summer of 2007 will forever stay with me as a reminder of the importance of food allergy awareness and education. I also hope that incident will remain my first and last stabbing.
Abi’s longtime friend, Sakura Yagi, wrote this post. For additional information on the proper use of epinephrine, please read here.