For most of my life I've been keeping a secret from everyone I know. I've managed to fool my family, my wife, my friends, my colleagues, I've even managed to fool myself. Until today. Today, after two and a half decades of deceit, I was forced to confront a terrible secret that has shaken the very foundation of my identity.
I'm not allergic to nuts.
I had an appointment with an allergist today in Walnut Creek. The main purpose of the visit was to determine whether I'm allergic to fish and shellfish (spoiler: I'm not). Dr M and I figured this would be a good thing to know in advance of our trip to Hawaii after the bar exam. So I went in for a full allergy skin-prick test. I told the doctor that I had been allergic to nuts and peanuts all my life, and yet for some reason he decided to go ahead and include all the nut tests in the work-up (along with representative samples of grass, weeds, trees, fish, dander, dust, and mold).
When the time came for the pricking, I laid patiently on my stomach while the nurse tore her attention away from my gym-toned physique long enough to apply twenty or so toxins to the topmost layer of skin on my back (sadly, she chose not to test guinea pig dander). She returned twenty minutes later and told me that I had a bunch of positives - mainly grass and trees. But I also had a lot of negatives.
Pine nuts: Negative.
Surely, this was poppycock. In 1999 I ate pesto for the first time and had a violent reaction that could only be explained by pine nuts. The first time I ate at Smart Aleck's I broke out in hives, no doubt because their stupid hippie veggie burgers were loaded with nuts. The doctor had made a mistake.
So they tested again. They gave me an undiluted dose of pine nut on my forearm, so I could see for myself. Five minutes passed. Nothing. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. Nothing. No reaction at all.
Still skeptical, the doctor told me to go get another test at the Tang Center lab. He also gave me something to take for my constant throat clearing, which was good. He also told me that I was severely allergic to dust mites (or, more precisely, dust mite poo) - in fact, I'm more allergic to dust mites than I am to peanuts. I'm not allergic to fish or shellfish at all. He didn't test insect venom or horse dander.
Cut to a few hours later, when Dr M and I are enjoying a much-delayed Italian dinner at Lo Coco in Berkeley. I order pasta with two giant meatballs. One meatball later, meatball number two crumbles open to reveal several whole pine nuts. I had just eaten pine nuts. A whole giant meatball's worth.
It was time to get to the bottom of this once and for all. At Dr M's suggestion, I forked an entire pine nut, put it into my mouth, chewed, swallowed, and lived. No tingling in the throat, no swollen tongue, no irrational compulsion to eat everything in sight to get rid of the taste.
Since returning home I've eaten two almonds. Almonds taste pretty good, it turns out. Make that three almonds. Also, since leaving the restaurant Dr M has been naming every food she can think of that has nuts in it that I can now eat. Fresh pesto sauce, walnut chocolate chip cookies, almond butter, Almond Joy!
This is all very strange to me. I'm not sure I know myself anymore.
The good news is, I'm still allergic to peanuts. That's one thing I'm not giving up.