It happened when I gave him a bite of a cashew chicken dish I had made. He was two years old. He asked to try it, and I thought, "Why not?" No one that I knew of in either my family or my husband's family was allergic to nuts. My son was a choosy eater and I was always trying to find new things that he liked. He tried just one small bite and instantly vomited, which I didn't know was a sign of an allergic reaction. It happened so fast that I thought it must be related to milk he'd had earlier. Then he began getting hives all over his body, his ears swelled, and he began to have a dry cough.
I gave him Children's Benadryl and took him to the ER. I had just sat down on a hard plastic chair, thinking I wouldn't get up again for several hours, when they called us right in. That was my first indication that this was a serious issue. They gave him more Benadryl and told me I'd done the right thing. The ER doctor prescribed an Epi-Pen and gave us a referral to an allergist.
I was in a bit of shock. I couldn't seriously believe that my son really had a life-threatening condition. I didn't know what anaphylaxis meant. I'd never seen an Epi-Pen and I had no idea how to use one. When the allergist confirmed the allergy and asked me how I felt I remember saying, "I was hoping he wouldn't have to deal with this."
As a parent, we all want the best for our children. I remember when all of my children were born, feeling the huge responsibility and wanting to protect each one of them and have them be safe. The thing with a food allergy is that food is everywhere. You can't avoid it completely.
The first thing we had to do was rid our house of all nuts (in case of cross-reactivity) and everything with traces of nuts. The 'traces of nuts' concept is really where I run into the most confusion with other people. People don't understand (and why would they unless they have a child with an allergy) that even food without any nuts at all may cause a reaction because the food may have come into contact with nuts or been made in a factory that also makes other food with nuts.
I was relieved when I heard that Colin's child care centre and school were 'nut-free'. However, I soon realized this wasn't a guarantee. I still have to be completely vigilant, because parents and even some teachers don't fully understand what nut-free really means. There have been many school events in which the food provided has had traces of nuts. Every year I give Colin's teacher a bag of nut-free treats so he can have one of those when parents send in cupcakes or other snacks. If I can't read the label or know how it was made I can't be sure it is safe. Even seemingly innocuous foods like vanilla icing can have traces of nuts.
I've had a friend think I was overprotective because 'he will just get an allergic reaction' until I explained that anaphylaxis can result in death.
Birthday parties took on a whole new meaning. I have to check on every kind of food that is being served, and I always send a cupcake for Colin because very few bakeries will guarantee a nut-free cake. We are not able to go to many restaurants or get take-out unless I check all of the allergen information. Some places including bakeries still use peanut oil to fry pastries in.
I was worried that parents wouldn't want to have Colin over to their homes because of his Epi-Pen, but I've found other parents to be really good about this and very willing to accommodate him and I appreciate it.
Colin has to take his Epi-Pen with him wherever he goes. I also have one in his hockey bag, one in my backpack/purse and one in the school office.
I am grateful that Colin doesn't have anything worse to worry about. He is almost eight years old now and he does everything every other child does. We have never had to use his Epi-Pen and I hope we never will.