Anaphylaxis

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.

 

Spreading Awareness

My friend Karla, who writes a column about parenting every Sunday for a local newspaper in Puerto Rico (Índice), wanted to write about Food Allergies. Since it is something that she hasn’t experienced with her daughter, she came to me with some questions and shared my story in her column yesterday. I am happy to be able to help create more awareness through my story.

To read yesterday’s column, visit:

http://www.indicepr.com/noticias/2015/03/22/style/38867/cuando-tu-nin-es-alergic/

 

*It’s written in Spanish*

I am THAT mom

Before we knew that Penny had food allergies, I would say that I didn’t understand what the term meant. I used to wonder why some foods were being banned in schools, and quite frankly, I thought that some parents were overreacting when their children were close to an allergen. Of course, I had no awareness, and as a consequence, I couldn’t understand. Now, the story is very different.

Last month, while dropping Paulo at his ballet class, some mothers were talking with the teacher about Valentine’s Day. All of a sudden I overheard someone saying that they hate how now everything has to be store bought and how we can’t have a good old Valentine’s Day with homemade cupcakes and treats. I couldn’t help myself and had to say something. I told them that I completely understood where they were coming from, for I, once, thought the same way. But I also explained to them that I have a child with food allergies and I am THAT mom- the one that is restricting their children’s diet in school.

It was the first time I openly talked to strangers about my child’s food allergies out of the context of her immediate safety and more about the real-life consequences of ordinary things. It’s not that I want to restrict your child’s diet or make your life more difficult than it already is. It’s about caring for others, understanding that the simple act of eating something with an allergen can make my child have a reaction and potentially an anaphylactic shock. It’s about understanding that a craving or a minor inconvenience is not more important than a person’s life.

On a separate experience, two weeks ago, we took our children to a Wildlife Park. There, we got on a tram and took a tour. By my side was this young couple with a toddler. The toddler was tired and hungry, and as a consequence was having a tantrum. A nice lady sitting in front of them offered them a snack and Juan noticed that it contained a peanut butter cup. For the first time, I saw him freak out about Penny’s allergies. Scared, he looked at me and told me about the PB cup. I took a deep breath, it was time to be THAT mom again. I reached out to the lady explaining Penny’s allergies and asked her if it was possible not to open the treat. Another first- asking a total stranger not to eat something with an allergen close to us. Instead, they asked me if it would be OK if they moved away. Of course, it was OK! They understood that all I wanted was my daughter to be as far away from that PB cup as she could. I thanked them a million times, and with a smile on his face the young dad said, “Of course, food allergies are a serious thing!” Honestly, this wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. I was prepared to listen to someone tell me to move away, or to “suck it up”. Instead, I found kindhearted people. This made our day. 🙂

Help me advocate for people with food allergies so we can have more positive experiences like this one.