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A tricky conversation that went well

Submitted by on Wednesday, 22 December 2010 No Comment

Big Guy was looking over my shoulder last night as I was writing a post about 13-year-old Katelyn Carlson, the peanut-allergic Chicago girl who died from anaphylaxis after a party at school.

He often does that, but this time he got more than he bargained for when he saw the words “death” and “allergy” paired in a headline.

“You mean people can die from allergies?” he asked, stunned.

“Yes, they can, babes. That’s why it’s really important to be careful about what  you eat.”

He’s long known that peanut can make him break out in hives - it happened while he was at kindergarten after he ate a cereal bar that had not even a hint of a peanut warning. He also knew that peanut can make his throat swell and his tongue get tingly – it happened a few months ago as he sat next to someone who was eating Asian at a mall food court. He was too young to remember what happened, but he’s heard the story many times about how a food allergy sent him to the hospital when he was a baby.

But death? That notion had never occurred to him. Not that at age 7  he’s really sure what “death” means, but he’s certain it’s not good.

“So that girl died from eating peanut?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“Yes she did, babes.”

“That settles it. I’m never eating peanut butter.”

“Or anything else that has peanut in it,” I added.

“Why did she eat peanut if she knew she was allergic?”

“She didn’t know she was eating it. They’d had a party at school with Chinese food, and everyone told her it was safe. Remember the cereal bar that we thought was safe?”

“Why did they have Chinese food? Why didn’t they just have an ice cream party?”

“That’s a good question, and it’s one that you should remember to ask if anyone ever suggests it at your school,” I said.

“Couldn’t she tell that she was eating a peanut and spit it out?”

“The food might have had peanut oil in it,” I said. “Not all people who are allergic to peanut are allergic to peanut oil, but you are.”

“Am I as allergic as she is?” he asked.

“I don’t know. None of the stories say how allergic she was. But you’re really allergic to peanut. Remember the mall, when you got sick just from smelling food?”

“That’s it!” he declared. “If my friends try to get me to go to a Chinese restaurant, I’m not going to budge.”

There are times when he stubborn streak comes in handy, I thought. “Good plan,” I said.

And although I hadn’t planned it, we accomplished a lot with that short conversation. It ended with renewed awareness that he has a potentially life-threatening condition, but the information didn’t scare him. He instead came up with plans to protect himself.

We didn’t discuss his EpiPen or the emergency kit that he knows we take everywhere, but at this point I’m OK with that. He’s too young to self-administer anyway. He’s not too young, though, to start taking responsibility for taking care of himself.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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