Finding Out Your Kid Has a Life-Threatening Food Allergy… the Hard Way (Part One)
Over the past 10 or so years, the fact that food allergies have been on the rise had been on my radar, but I’d never given it much thought. I have a handful of friends who said they were allergic to shellfish or bees or you-name-it, but I’d never seen an Epi-Pen up close and I’d certainly never seen anyone go into anaphylactic shock. I think it just never seemed that real to me, or like that big of a deal. So, you’re allergic to something? You just avoid it, right? Hey, what time is the Chargers game tomorrow?
Then F had her first anaphylactic allergic reaction, and my attitude changed in a heartbeat.
J isn’t allergic to anything that we know of, and the only thing I’m allergic to is something in sunscreen, but that’s about it. We knew F’s preschool/daycare had given the kids a little peanut butter here and there and she’d been fine, so we figured we were good to go. So one night right before her 2nd birthday when she reached for her dad’s cashews and he looked at me and asked, “You think it’s ok?” I nodded. I mean, why not?
It crossed my mind that according to our pediatrician and just about every baby book I’d read, we were supposed to wait until she was 2 years old to introduce nuts, but we figured since she’d been fine with peanuts and neither of us had any food allergies, it was a no-brainer. She’s almost two! Nuts are healthy! Let her go to town. So, she did just that. She popped a cashew or two into her mouth. And all of the sudden, she was so sick it was scary.
Within 20 seconds, she was projectile vomiting.
Immediately after that, she developed red, splotchy hives around her mouth.
She gagged again and again, but that soon changed to just coughing. Her dad and I were at her side, and because she was breathing fine aside from the coughing, we just cleaned her up and watched her… and wondered out loud what the h*ll had just happened.
Now, F had been in daycare since she was tiny, so we’d been through more than our fair share of stomach viruses and random illnesses here and there. And because her reaction was so strong, so instant, so unexpected, and over so quickly, we were totally caught off-guard and we didn’t know what to think. Food allergy crossed my mind, but it just seemed so far-fetched. After about an hour, she was 100% normal again, so we decided it must have been a little bug, but that we should mention it to our pediatrician and see what they thought, just to be on the safe side. We did, and they suggested we avoid cashews for a while, and just go from there. Fair enough. That sounded easy.
For the next year or so, we got used to avoiding cashews. We don’t eat Chinese food very often, so we didn’t miss Cashew Chicken too terribly much; the biggest sacrifice we had to make was not buying them by the bag every time we went to Trader Joe’s. No biggie – we just switched to almonds. By the winter of 2009, we’d gone an entire year without any other exposure to cashews, and I began to second-guess her reaction as the memory started to fade. Was she REALLY allergic to cashews? Or was it just a random reaction to something her body was rejecting?
We got our answer in December of 2009, just before her third birthday. At a friend’s house for a party, there was a bowl of cashews on their counter that I kept pushing out of arm’s reach. A lot of people were in the kitchen, eating and moving things around, so when F came running up to get a snack, she grabbed some cashews out of the bowl that had – despite my efforts – ended up right in front of her. Luckily, I was right there, so I told her to drop the cashews, that she needed to choose something else. She dropped them back into the bowl, then grabbed a grape with the same hand, and popped the grape into her mouth.
Immediately, she began gagging. Hives broke out around her mouth. I freaked out. The dad of the family who was hosting the party is an EMT, so he grabbed some Benadryl while my friend AM helped me race F into their bathroom. We poured some Benadryl into her mouth and within 5 minutes, she was fine again… but I wasn’t.
To be continued next week…