I thought I had done everything right. That I had followed the recommendations, the newest science and was in the clear. My daughter was nearly 20 months old and loved to eat…anything and everything. This was a welcome change to my son who believes that snacks alone make up the food pyramid and has, at the age of 4, yet to try meat or vegetables.
I made sure to eat peanuts while pregnant (I mean…who doesn’t love a good bag of peanut M&M’s every night along with their trashy reality tv?) and started Everly on Bamba at around 7 months old. By 1.5 she was loving peanut butter on bananas, peanut butter on apples, peanut butter on her fingers, I thought we didn’t have to worry about food allergies. That’s the funny thing about life though; It always throws you.
I had just finished getting the kids dressed after showering and we were getting ready for some holiday fun and a late lunch. My husband Rich was complaining that he was hungry, never-mind the fact that we were leaving for an actual meal in ten minutes. I told him to grab a bar or some nuts and that I would be ready to go in ten minutes. As I came down the stairs I heard Everly come running excitedly towards me. When I took a look at her face, panic set in. “Honey…what has she had to eat?,” I asked. “Ummm just a cashew…she wanted to try it.” I tried not to panic. I tried so hard. “Ok. Take a picture of her face. I’m going to run upstairs and see if we have any Benadryl.” Only we didn’t. I had bought Benadryl when the kids both started eating solids in case they had any reactions. But that was over a year and a half ago and at this point everything was expired. “Babe…her face is bubbling,” Rich yelled up the stairs. I ran down and looked at my baby girl. She was bright red, puffy, felt warm to the touch, and her skin was starting to bubble all over. Once she began clutching her chest, we called 911.
Now, I’ve never called 911 before and I expected someone to hurriedly answer on the other end, making sure to send help right away. “We are sorry. All operators are currently unavailable. Please continue to hold. If this is not a life threatening emergency…” “Are you fucking kidding me,” is literally all I could think as I held on for minutes that seemed like hours, merely staying sane at the thought that if she’s not yet blue, she is breathing. Once help arrived, they were wonderful and made sure we knew exactly what was going on and walked us through every step. They transported us to the nearest ER, where Everly received Benadryl and prednisone, then some more. We waited and waited for her reaction to come down but it didn’t. Her ears started to puff and that’s when they mentioned an epipen.
She seemed to be getting better after the injection so I sent my husband and son (who wanted to play with every button and wire in that hospital room) down the street to grab some food. Shortly after they left, her reaction came back with a vengeance. She started to panic and after a thorough look at my poor baby girl, the doctor ordered a second injection. It had been hours since eating that one cashew. Luckily, this time it took and she slowly started to return to herself. The hives and redness began to disappear from her scalp and worked its way down to her toes (which weren’t completely healed until the next morning).
It hit me pretty quickly that our lives had changed instantly. I was now an epipen Mom and would always need to have two on me. I would have to make sure that everyone who is alone with my daughter knows how to use it, that I keep extra in the house, the car, my purse and eventually, school. That her classroom would need to be nut-free and that she would have to learn early on how to be her own advocate.
Since speaking with other parents in similar situations and meeting with allergists, it’s crazy to me how common this continues to be. With all of the hype around peanuts, we tend to forget other nuts that can cause an equally serious reaction. Perhaps if my daughter had ingested a cashew or pistachio (turns out they’re sister nuts) earlier on, she would have not had such an adverse reaction. But perhaps not. If it was a perfect science, we would know how to prevent anaphylactic reactions and epi pens would be a thing of the past instead of an ever growing future. As with some scary moments, there is at least a silver lining. Through Everly’s blood test we were able to test lots of different food allergies. One food in particular that came back somewhat high was milk. Seeing as she drinks a lot of milk throughout the day, I was shocked. Once we did some research, we began to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Her milk allergy was manifesting itself as a chronic rash (particularly in the diaper area) and horrible constipation. Although not giving up milk completely, we have since switched to Ripple, a pea protein alternative and are starting to see improvement after only a few short weeks.
The best bit of advice I can give on this (since the data seems to vary so much) is to always have Children’s Benadryl in your home and be sure to check the expiration dates on all medications regularly. Finding an amazing doctor helps as well. It took us a few tries but Everly’s allergist is full of knowledge and makes us feel empowered instead of afraid. And until a cure for nut allergies arrives, I’ll just need a few extra kid-free runs to the candy aisle come Easter and Halloween.