Italy (Guest Post by Amanda Fenolio)

[Amanda was a law student, friend, and guest in our house in Italy when Benjamin had an anaphylactic reaction there. She submitted this guest post.  For related recollections of this day see Hayley’s post, and Jennifer’s posts here and here.]

I first remember Benjamin because he sat in on my contracts class during my first year of law school.  His dad was teaching the class, and I recall that in our next class session, Professor Nichols said that he and Benjamin discussed the class on the way home.  We law students were really impressed, especially since we were not always grasping the material.  I also remember hearing later about his deadly peanut allergy, and how the law school student body president, Zaylore, had jumped over a table to stop someone who had just eaten peanuts from picking up Benjamin’s pen.  I didn’t realize the severity of the allergy at the time, but this story certainly made an impression. 

The summer after my first year of law school, I decided to study abroad in Rome through our law school.  Professor Nichols and Professor Wiebe were the two professors from our school who went to teach a class, and they each brought their families.  Four of us law students took a weekend trip to Assisi and Florence together, and happened to meet the Nichols’ family in both cities.  What a small world!  I recall that the four of us were dazzled by the intellect of Benjamin and his sister Natalie, as they beat us in games while we waited in the train station. 

I also remember the night Benjamin had to be rushed to the emergency room after an encounter with cashew powder in the tomato sauce.  Three of us girls, Jennifer, Hayley, and myself, who were roommates, had been invited over for dinner at the Nichols since we happened to live nearby, and we had gotten to know the family pretty well.  We began our delicious home-cooked meal, and as soon as Benjamin had tasted the pasta, he said that his lips felt funny.  All of us knew of his peanut allergy and were very concerned. 

We tried to hide our concern because we didn’t want to alarm Benjamin even more and make things worse in case it was a false alarm.  Unfortunately, Benjamin got even sicker, so his parents gave him an EpiPen and rushed him to the ER.  What a scary moment!  We were so worried, especially since none of us spoke fluent Italian, and we were guessing that the doctors might not speak much English.  The three of us tried to keep Natalie occupied by playing some games so that she wouldn’t be worrying about her brother as much.  I think we also played games to keep our minds off the frightening events. 

Professor Wiebe and his family lived in the same building as Professor Nichols’ family.  After receiving a call from the Nichols’, Professor Wiebe’s wife came to take Natalie for the rest of the night.  We, of course, thought this would be good because she could be with others near to her age.  The three of us proceeded to do the dishes, and took the pasta with us. 

We didn’t know at the time why Benjamin had the allergic reaction.  The Nichols family had a list of all the possible nuts in Italian, so they were always careful to check ingredients.  The cashew powder was an obscure term, but when they showed the label to people fluent in Italian, the Italian-speakers instantly knew what the problem was.  We all thought, “Who puts cashew powder in tomato sauce?”  I guess Italians do.

All of us are very happy that Benjamin survived his encounter with the pasta.  After seeing Benjamin’s reaction to such a small amount food, I am much more aware of the severity of food allergies.  I can’t imagine what would have happened if not for his fast-acting parents, and their knowledge of how to use EpiPens.

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