Penny started preschool. What can I say? I think it has been one of my biggest and nerve-wracking decisions, and as much as I would like her to, she can’t live inside a “safe” bubble. We are so happy to have found a school where her food allergies are taken seriously. The staff is always conscious about what’s going on, and the school even banned peanuts, tree nuts and dairy from her classroom. In the beginning, I think it was a big shock for a lot of people. They felt, I think, like they didn’t know what else they could bring for snack, but eventually, everybody found ways to feed their kids avoiding those allergens.
I am lucky enough to be a teacher in the school where Penny attends. This is a blessing, for I can always make sure that the food that’s served around her is safe and I can detect if anything is causing any reaction. In the beginning months of the school year, she had a mild reaction. Apparently, one of her classmates had dairy as part of their lunch and had not washed their hands properly causing Penny to get redness in her eyes. As soon as I noticed the reaction, I gave Penny her allergy medication (antihistamine), and watched for any other symptoms. Thankfully, she started improving, and the situation didn’t turn into anything big.
Well, two months ago, the story was a bit different. While Penny was in music class, I noticed that she was coughing a lot and was breathing with difficulty. I thought it was her asthma acting up to the winter season, so I immediately gave her the inhaler and allergy medication. There were no skin symptoms or any other sign that she was having an allergic reaction, so she went back to her class. I kept observing her breathing and didn’t notice major improvements, so I talked to one of my co-workers. As it turns out, that same person was earlier eating something with dairy and forgot to wash their hands properly. Then, held Penny’s classmate’s hand, who later, held Penny’s hand. As I’ve stated before, Penny can react to allergens by skin contact and this time the reaction started getting out of hand.
As soon as I understood what was going on, I immediately called her allergist. He suggested observing her closely because the inhaler and the allergy medication can mask symptoms of anaphylaxis. He also told me that if at any moment Penny’s breathing started to deteriorate again, I had to use the EpiPen and head to the hospital. I hung up the phone and went on with our day, as Penny’s symptoms seemed to be improving. I got off work, picked up my son from daycare, and on our way home, Penny got redness in her eyes, she started coughing again and looked like she was having trouble breathing. Thankfully the hospital was on our way, and at that time, less than a minute from where we were. I parked the car as soon as I could, got the EpiPen, told Penny that I had to give her a medicine to make her feel better, and injected her with the EpiPen. Within a minute or less all of her symptoms went away. The redness of her eyes started clearing up, and her breathing went back to normal. We rushed into the ER and explained to them the reaction. She was rushed in to check on her vitals, and fortunately, everything was getting back to normal.
After that, she was kept in the ER for several hours to make sure there were no biphasic reactions, and was later sent home with cortisone, and some other medication.
I think this has been the scariest experience in my life. I was frightened seeing that my child was having trouble breathing and I was scared about how she was going to react to the EpiPen. Thoughts kept running in my mind: Was one EpiPen injection going to be enough for her? Is she going to have a biphasic reaction? What if she starts getting sick again when we get home? Was she going to be O.K.? Gratefully, she was fine.
I think that every experience teaches us something, and in this case, I learned a few things, one of them being that I am stronger than I think. Also, that I knew exactly what to do and I used the EpiPen correctly. I learned that it doesn’t matter if people know about your child’s allergies, they can forget, so it is O.K. for me to keep reminding them to use safety measures. Most importantly, this experience reminded me that there is no better advocate for my children than myself.