Finding Out Your Kid Has a Life-Threatening Food Allergy… the Hard Way (Part Two)
(Continued from the last post)
After F had her second reaction to cashews, I knew that it was serious. The following day, I got off the air, pulled into the Old Navy parking lot in Mission Valley, took a deep breath, and called our pediatrician. He listened to my description of what happened, and as I relayed the events back to him, I started to feel like maybe I had UNDERreacted, if there is such a thing. So I made sure to let him know that her airway never seemed compromised when she was having her reactions, that she could breathe the whole time – that OF COURSE we would have called 911 or rushed her to the ER if it had really seemed serious.
“So, here’s the thing,” he began. “I don’t mean to alarm you. But the coughing and gagging you described? That WAS her airway being compromised.”
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that sentence, that moment, for the rest of my life. My heart felt like it dropped out of my body.
“We are lucky that there is a GREAT allergy group here in San Diego: The Allergy and Asthma Specialists. Call them. Meaning, when you hang up with me, you need to call them immediately and get F in and get her tested. If you can’t get an appointment within the next two weeks, call me back and I will make it happen for you. This is no joke. This is serious.”
He was right. It was, and it is. We got our appointment, we held F’s hand as they did a skin-prick test, we watched as three big welts formed on her back during the 15 minutes they make you wait while the test happens. We sat in her allergist’s office as he showed us how to use an Epi-Pen and explained anaphylactic shock. We learned that she has a severe allergy to cashews and pistachios and that anaphylaxis can kill people – it’s not just about hives or barfing or coughing, but it affects hearts and lungs and it gets really bad, really fast – that’s why epinephrine, administered QUICKLY – is so crucial and can truly be lifesaving. I cried. We left with an Epi-Pen prescription and a whole new outlook on, well, everything.
And here we are, almost two whole years and no allergic reactions later, and our life feels really, really normal. It did take me a while to wrap my head around the concept of a life-threatening food allergy at first. Thankfully, I found all kinds of great support and information and resources online, and I have relied on them time and time again. It felt weird at first to carry an Epi-Pen in my purse all the time, but now it is second nature. We’ve worked with F on recognizing cashews and pistachios and how to handle situations where there may be food that is not safe for her to eat. That is an ongoing process, but she seems to get it, and has been really good so far about asking questions and saying no to offers of food if she doesn’t know if it’s safe. We read books for kids about food allergies – Chad the Allergic Chipmunk is one of her favorites – and we even found an Arthur DVD about a nut allergy that she likes to watch from time to time. Anything to normalize it for her is a good thing in my book.
When she started kindergarten at a new school this fall, I was anxious and worried, even though we talked with her teacher, the school nurse, and her daycare providers about it. We have put her Epi-Pens in her classroom, the daycare room, and the office too. She even has a new buddy in her class with a peanut allergy, so his mom and I have teamed up on providing a stash of safe snacks for the two of them to choose from when there are classroom celebrations where other parents bring in treats. I’m so grateful to have an ally there.
I’m still learning how to navigate the social aspect of food allergy, though, and that has been a tough one for me. I’m not one to rock the boat, so sending an email to her entire soccer team when snacks for the games were being discussed was a big step outside of my comfort zone. What keeps me going, though, is this: would I rather some parent think I’m being a little obnoxious, or would I rather put F’s life in danger? That makes it a real easy choice, every time. I’m getting the hang of talking to other parents about it before playdates, and we still deal with our fair share of people who just don’t get it, or who don’t realize how serious it really is. That’s ok. I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe and healthy, regardless of what anybody else thinks. I can only do what is within my power right now, and educating our friends and family about her allergies makes me feel safer and better, like I’m doing everything I can.
I’ll worry about her kissing boys who’ve just eaten cashews or pistachios later.
Much, much later. 😉