Imagine this: You have the power to see all the germs in the world. You’re with your children and you are going to take one of them to his karate class. All of a sudden you open the door to the waiting room and you see everything covered with germs, not only are they regular everyday germs, but potentially deadly ones. You scan up and down and side to side, and you see them everywhere: the seats, the tables, the floor and the corner where children play. You also see them on other people who are going about their day and waiting for their children to come out of their sports class, somehow, unaware of the dangerous germs all over the place. You think about leaving, but you are required to stay in the building while your child is in the class. So, you stay, and keep a close eye on your child so she doesn’t get infected. Now replace the germs with allergens and you’ll have an idea of what parents of children with food allergies have to deal with every time we step out of our home. However, unlike with germs, we cannot use hand sanitizer to remove allergens from our hands or even surfaces, so we go wipes in hand, and EpiPens ready for whatever life might throw at us: be it a child with allergen filled hands trying to share a toy with our child or our child sitting on an allergen-filled seat, basically a child just being a child. How would you feel in a situation like this?
Some people’s food allergies are not limited to the ingestion of the allergen; the simple action of having skin contact with a surface that has been contaminated by [insert allergen] can cause a chain of reactions. This is what happens in Penny’s case. So last Tuesday, when I went to drop Paulo off at his ballet class, that was exactly what happened to us.
I walked into one of the waiting areas and the first thing I saw was a child sitting in a chair with pizza-flavored chips. DAIRY!!! I kept scanning the room: there were crumbs of those chips spread all over the rug and who knows where else, and on the other corner a little girl eating goldfish crackers while playing with the toys that children share. More dairy! I took a deep breath, explained to Penny that we needed to move because there was too much dairy around us and it could make her itch (that’s her way of explaining that she’s starting to experience an allergic reaction) and decided to move away from that waiting area. I asked myself where to go; the other waiting area was not an option as it is designated for eating, that would have been more stressful. Also, it was a rainy day. Waiting outside meant waiting in the cold rain. So, I decided to move to the hallway, where we could sit and at the same time enjoy watching Paulo take his ballet class. Next thing I know, we had another child sitting by our side having chocolate milk. Anxiety started rising again. I tried to keep Penny by my side, but anybody who has a two-year-old knows what a challenge that can be. Then, the child with the chocolate milk decided to start walking back and forth in front of us, spilling her milk. At that point, not only was I frustrated and anxious, I was about to panic. Desperate, we put on our raincoats and waited outside for the rest of the class (about 30 minutes).
Why was I about to panic? Almost every time we visit this building we experience an allergic reaction, mostly hives that, in our case, luckily go away with antihistamine. Do we take precautions? Of course we do. Every time we go out, I wipe down the area where Penny’s going to sit, I bring her own allergy-friendly snacks, I wash or wipe her hands before eating, and I carry her medication, but there’s so much you can do. Food Allergies overwhelm me because, on one side, I’m trying to protect my food-allergic child and on the other side, I don’t want to deprive my other child of everyday activities. In this scenario, things would have been easier if people would have followed the rules and eaten in the designated area. That way, I would’ve just kept Penny away from them.
By the time I got home, I was emotionally exhausted. A feeling of helplessness covered me. It is impossible to keep my child protected in a bubble. Instead, I have to find ways to make our lives easier. What would you do if you were in my shoes?