The Upside of Downtime


My Allergy journey in the time of Covid


Written in Spring 2021

By Austin Clinkenbeard


One year ago today I was in the Emergency Room in Mission Hospital being told by the Doctor that I would need immediate chest surgery to access my esophagus.

He thought he detected a tear in my throat large enough for fluids to be leaking into my chest cavity. Something potentially life threatening, I was put on anti septic medication immediately with the assumption that the water and pedialyte I had been drinking for the three days prior was floating around in my chest rather than in its proper place. my stomach.

My pain was immeasurable and it took a second dose of fentanyl to finally take the edge off enough for me to fully comprehend what was happening. I was about to have life changing surgery and faced a high chance of infection and complications.

I laid in the ER for hours, nurses checking in on me and wheeling me to test here and there. I had one of them text my wife what I was facing. She was so brave for us all and is truly my guardian angel.

The curious thing was the scans couldn’t detect any liquid leaking from my throat into my body. It had been several hours now, they couldn’t get the chest specialist on the phone since this was about 4am and he was technically off duty. After a while this delay turned into a blessing instead.

Another round of scans showed that the liquid dye they had me drink was processing though my system as normal. It meant the tear in my esophagus wasn’t as large as they had initially thought. I would likely heal on my own with a temporary two week all-liquid diet

The process that landed me here is a complicated and ongoing one. I’ve been struggling with previously undiagnosed stomach and chest issues my entire life and in a very real sense this was the ultimate way of forcing me to deal with them head on. I had always ignored or assumed it was normal to be in near constant pain, completely exhausted and drained on a daily basis, never knowing what meal would trigger it.


I assumed it was normal to be in near constant pain, completely exhausted and drained on a daily basis, never knowing what meal would trigger it.


More acutely, my job at the time had refused to follow Covid protocols. The hand sanitizer ran out immediately and the sink had broken the week before, They refused to fix it. Management said we could all share the upstairs restroom instead. No work from home strategy or social distancing was implemented.

My anxiety and nerves peaked like they never had. I knew it was insane to quit my job right as the world went into global lockdown and an economic freeze took gripped Wall Street. However I also knew, in no uncertain terms, that continuing to go into a workplace that put me in contact with several dozens of random people each day was untenable and unfair to my wife and family. When I presented my managers with the idea of working from home since I had unknown stomach issues I didn’t even know what risk category I fell into, they said I could social distance from my new wife and entire family instead.

I am incredibly fortunate to have been in a position to attempt to negotiate a work from home option with my job while actually staying home thereby negating my chance of infection. I know so many, including my coworkers, were forced to go into work to not lose their houses.

The detente between my employe and I went on for a month, them refusing to allow me to work from home and me refusing to come in until they followed Covid guidelines. I stood my ground. Eventually they fired me.

The day after they fired me I was in an ambulance being driven to the hospital.

That day capped off a week of my body refusing to function. I couldn’t eat and after a few days couldn’t even drink pedialyte or water. I knew something was seriously wrong. My chest pain grew each day until I couldn’t take it anymore. I had my wife call EMS that night. The emergency room nurse told me I was extremely dehydrated to the point of collapse.

The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me because there were several things going on at once. They noticed my stomach and esophagus hated each other and didn’t connect properly. This creates one host of symptoms and problems but that didn’t explain other reactions and pain I was having. I had allergy testing a few years back but it showed nothing on my skin.

The breakthrough came a month or so later on a follow up visit to a specialist who  sat down and truly listened to my story of experiencing symptoms for decades. Based on what I told him he was convinced that the allergy tests had missed something, Lactose intolerance was also basically confirmed, adding to my trifecta of issues.

My allergy results shocked me. I reacted to nearly everything on the test: Wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, shrimp and white fish needed to be eliminated from my diet immediately.

This specialist had decided to test my blood instead of using a skin scratch method. I can bathe in peanut oil or handle sesame seeds with no irritation, I just can’t eat them. My skin doesn’t react to allergens but internally I do. This was the source of the pain, heaviness in my chest, temperature swings and numbness: an intense undetected internal allergic reaction.

It also happens that soy is in damn near everything. From mayonnaise to frosting, checking labels is a crucial part of my daily life now. I went from never thinking about what I ate to scrutinizing every ingredient. It also explains in part why I felt so much better abroad, soy isn’t pumped into such a variety of products in the places I visited. 

Wheat has been difficult too. At the beginning of the pandemic I started making breads and pastas from scratch, now things like burritos and fried foods are off the menu. Thank the gods for corn tortillas though!

The collision of my career, my health, the foods I can make and eat, the global economy and pandemic made me truly take stock of where I am headed and what I want to do. I am extremely fortunate to have made discoveries and connections and found a path during this downtime that I know many of us have struggled deeply with.


The collision of my career, my health, the foods I can make and eat, the global economy and pandemic made me truly take stock of where I am headed and what I want to do. I am extremely fortunate to have made discoveries and connections and found a path during this downtime that I know many of us have struggled deeply with


The combination of stress from worldwide change, anxiety from my job refusing to acknowledge reality, the long term process of my health and the acute symptoms I was experiencing as a tear in my esophagus all landed me in the hospital via an ambulance but also gave me silver lining of finding the source of my discontent and pain and hopefully will allow me to move forward into a brand new career that compliments with my goals, my health and my wife.

I have found the upside of all this downtime: change.

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