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This is anaphylaxis

Submitted by on Thursday, 21 May 2009 8 Comments

eggThey never believed me.

From the time Big Guy started eating solid foods, I insisted that it be done the “right” way – the way doctors recommend for any child, but particularly for one with a family history of food allergies. With a mother who has 20-plus food allergies, Big Guy definitely fell into that category.

Give him only one new food at a time. Wait a few days, see if he reacts, then move on to the next. I came home from  work one night to find six baby food jars in the garbage – only one had contained something he’d eaten before. We had the talk again.

The situation improved, but I still got the “Mean Mommy” and “control freak” looks when I told someone they couldn’t give Big Guy whatever goody they were dangling before him.

They still didn’t believe me.

One evening five years ago this month, though, they became believers.

Dad and I were thrilled at dinner that night, because it was the first time Big Guy had enthusiastically eaten the big people food. Only 10 months old, he already was a picky eater. He knew what he wanted, and if he didn’t want it he wasn’t going to open his mouth.

That night, he wanted shepherd’s pie, made with French cut green beans instead of mixed vegetables.

The beans were squirmy worms. The potatoes squished and squeezed in his chubby fingers. Some – probably no more than a quarter cup – made it into his mouth.

I popped him on the living room floor after dinner while I cleaned the kitchen, but I noticed a few minutes later that he was curled up on the floor and half asleep. Odd, I thought. He usually wants to party all night.

He didn’t want to splash during his bath – another oddity. I dressed him in new Winnie the Pooh pajamas and started reading. He was out before we finished the first book, and I put him in his crib.

Minutes later, there were shrieks over the baby monitor. I ran down the hall and found Big Guy clinging to the crib rails and crying in between volcanic eruptions of vomit, his eyes wide with panic. I handed him to Dad and started another cleanup.

Then Big Guy started turning colors – he wasn’t so much breaking out in hives as transforming into one big hive. There’s something going on here, and it’s more than a tummy bug, I thought. Seconds later he started gasping and choking, and I knew.

“Call an ambulance,” I told Dad.

“What? Huh?” he asked in a near stupor. It was escalating so quickly now.

Call an ambulance,” I screamed. “It’s a food allergy.”

A firefighter who lives up the street was listening to his radio at home and ran over, bare foot, the second he heard “baby can’t breath.” He didn’t have an Epi-Pen, but he was able to assess Big Guy’s condition and get the EMTs up to speed as soon as they arrived. The crew quickly gave Big Guy epinephrine and albuterol.

His breathing was better by the time we reached the hospital, though we had to remain there for hours in case he was attacked again. Anaphylaxis can be sneaky that way – you think you have it knocked down, but then it will rise up.

Within an hour, though, he had improved enough to be livid over the mask that administered the albuterol. He still was crimson from the hives.

One of the doubters – the one who’d given me the most grief – walked in. She took one look, turned and said, “I’ll trust you from now on.” I was too drained to bother with any of the million biting retorts that popped into my brain.

It took a week to get the test results back, in part because there were so much stuff in the simple casserole. I’d used canned tomato soup, and any manufactured product is going to bring up a whole laundry list of ingredients.

The test came back positive for an egg allergy – yolk and white, which is unusual. Big Guy had had egg before as an ingredient in custards, but he’d never reacted. Anaphylaxis is sneaky that way, too.

There was one egg in the entire two-quart casserole. Big Guy had eaten only about a quarter cup of the dish.

The Winnie the Pooh pajamas were never handed down to Boots. I couldn’t look at them again after that night.

I love shepherd’s pie, but I haven’t made it in five years even though I easily could prepare it without egg.

Anaphylaxis and food allergies are real. They’re not something parents make up to grab attention or feel important. They’re something that could have killed a baby – my baby – one evening about five years ago had his parents or a barefoot firefighter been just a step slower.

Sadly, though, they’re something some folks have to see to believe.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Kevin Duffy said:

    Ah, yes! We too have experienced the “control freak” mentality from various sources over the years because our daughter (not sure about the son) has inherited her mother’s severe nut allergies. We keep the epi-pens in stock and liquid benadryl and know the quickest way to the hospital emergency room — Thank God we have never had to use any of them — due diligence and our child’s own wisdom. Once I ordered her chocolate ice cream — had them check the ingredients even — but she could smell the peanuts. And yes, indeed, when we got the five-gallon container (know the restaurant owner), there on the bottom, it said “may contain peanuts” even though the ingredients list did not mention a word. Best to train the children to be careful of the wonder dads and moms who show up unannounced at school with “treats” for the kiddies — well-meaning, I suppose, but ill-informed parents who would have a heart-attack if a drunk driver were careening down their suburban street while their child rode a tricycle but think nothing of exposing my child to life-threatening food — curious thought process these folks have.

  • Debra said:

    … well-meaning, I suppose, but ill-informed parents who would have a heart-attack if a drunk driver were careening down their suburban street while their child rode a tricycle but think nothing of exposing my child to life-threatening food — curious thought process these folks have.

    AMEN, KEVIN! That’s a far better analogy than anything I’ve ever come up with.

    Amazing that she could detect the peanuts in the ice cream. I swear, on some level, the body knows these things. Big Guy loves chocolate but has had zip interest in the Coco Puffs his brother devours. Lo and behold, this week come to find out General Mills is adding a peanut warning to Coco Puffs.

  • Strawberry said:

    I hate food allergies. Hate them. Hated reading your post because it scares me to death. My one daughter has an egg allergy, and her sister has twelve food allergies, including egg. The possibilities scare me to death. I hate food allergies. Who in their right mind would think I would *choose* to live like this?

  • Debra said:

    That’s what I don’t get either, Strawberry. How could anyone believe that we want this?

    Yes, I want to prepare food and take it along every time Big Guy’s invited to a birthday party, because it feeds my need to be a control freak in the spotlight. Yes, I enjoy the pit in my stomach at the thought of changing schools next fall and fearing we won’t have the super-understanding and compassionate teacher and staff that we have at our current school. It’s such a glorious feeling I recommend that everyone try it.

    Reality: I’ve never had an enemy I dislike enough to wish this one.

    What’s funny is how often of late I go out of my way to avoid the attention, just so I’m not accused of trying to attract the attention. I could be famished to the point of drool running out of my mouth but I’ll simply say, “No thanks. I’m not hungry” if someone offers pepperoni or sausage pizza or seafood. Declining it because I’m allergic will either make the host or hostess feel bad, which I hate, or spur a long discussion, which can be even worse.

    Funny thing, though. Before my pork allergy reached anaphylaxis level, I could get away with picking meat off pizza and people just assumed I was vegetarian. I never got the reaction to that assumption that I get to admitting food allergies.

    Twelve food allergies has to be hard for a kid and for mom. I’m lucky that most of my 20+ are not anaphylaxis-inducing and I can tolerate them if I’m careful about eating in combination and on successive days.

  • Mother Hood said:

    We have an egg and mustard allergy baby. He’s 20 months old. We found out the hard way twice. His body and face broke out in huge hives and his eyes and mouth swelled up. Fortunately, his breathing was fine. We now have an arsenal of meds including epipens.

    Mustard is not considered a common allergen here. So, anything that reads “and spices, botanically base flavors, Natural flavorings” we avoid. Unless I can READ the ingredients for myself, it doesn’t go in his mouth.

    Thank you for this peek into anaphylaxis and how sneaky it can be. We don’t have a history of food allergies, so this is new territory for us. I’m sorry you and your son went through this.

  • Debra said:

    I hear you on the mustard allergy. Big Guy’s garlic allergy is in the same league. They don’t have to label for it, so they don’t. Virtually no manufactured food is safe. Or, at least, it wasn’t until I found a garlic-free ketchup a few years back.

  • Rose said:

    And spices is currently the bane of my existence! Is it really so hard to include exact ones? (Nursing baby gets hives if I have a hint of red pepper or any other nightshades.)

    Do you know the brand of the garlic free ketchup? My friends daughter is also allergic to garlic and I know she was commenting on the lack of ketchup.

  • Debra said:

    That’s what irritates the life out of me, Rose. The manufacturers either claim it’s “proprietary information” and refuse to release it – as if knowing if there’s a specific spice in a product is going to bring down their empire – or they don’t know because they buy spice mixes from someone and dump it in.

    The garlic-free ketchup is Annie’s Natural Organics. It’s a bit expensive – $4.29 for a 24-ounce bottle – but then that’s the world of allergic living. It tastes normal, though, which was more than I was ever able to pull off with homemade garlic-free.