Did you know parents are having “peanut butter parties” on the lawns outside of our local hospital? The purpose is to introduce their toddlers to peanut butter for the first time. They all sit and wait to see if there is any allergic reaction and figure they are safer if they are close to the emergency department. For many, this seems like a paranoid practise. You know, my thoughts have changed on the matter. I wish I’d done that. Instead, what started out as a normal morning, ended with a frantic mother driving her child to hospital.
I’d made some toast for our 16 month-old and decided on the spot I’d give her peanut butter. You see, our eldest girl has a cashew/walnut allergy, but can eat other nuts. She loves peanut butter. Our middle child has been exposed to nuts, but doesn’t think much of peanut butter and I was pretty sure our third child would have been exposed to peanuts what with eating food off the floor and inhaling a whole variety of snacks stored in our cupboard.
I sat down to drink my tea and within a minute I noticed huge hive-like welts covering her mouth. With speed they started to spread over her entire body. My heart started beating. I couldn’t believe our luck. I woke my husband who started packing me a bag and gave the baby Zyrtec. It was decided I’d drive her straight to hospital as we live less than 10 minutes away. In hindsight, we should have called an ambulance. The drive was one of the worst of my life and got even more distressing when my baby started to cough (a sign her airways were tightening) and then as I drove into the car park she began projectile vomiting out of her nose and mouth.
I looked like a “madwoman” as I pushed her through the hospital corridors to the emergency department, her in a nappy and both of us covered in vomit. She seemed calmer, but I knew it was more serious than I imagined when she was rushed into the Emergency Room’s operating theatre. An oxygen mask was attached to her now-screaming face and a shot of adrenaline pushed into her thigh. The whole experience was terrifying.
At that moment, our lives switched up a gear. I immediately felt ashamed of my thoughts of complacency when packing my eldest child’s lunchbox. The peanut butter was thrown in the bin, so were the peanuts. All items with “traces of nuts” pushed to the side of the cupboard or discarded. We’ve already got an Epipen in our house, now we have two, and we already do the “scan” when out and about for foods with cashews or walnuts in them. We don’t have family dinners at Indian restaurants because of the use of cashew nut paste in foods and pizza with pesto is a no-no. It’s been a life shift for us, but not like peanuts. It’s going to be a whole life change for us.
With one-in-fifty children plagued with a peanut allergy, I have now joined the brigade of parent’s pleading our case for nut-free environments. The “annoying” parents. Please forgive us. Please understand, it’s the uncertainty of the affliction. It’s the lack of control over the actions of others. At home we can control if peanuts, or products with traces of peanuts, pass our child’s lips. Once we step outside, our child’s life is at the mercy of circumstance. It’s no different to having a child without an allergy. Cars, accidents, bee stings, crime – we can’t protect our children (touch wood) from all unknown threats.
I suppose what I’m saying is please don’t judge us – don’t judge for just trying to protect our children. Don’t judge us when we lean over the counter at a restaurant asking if there’s nuts in the food or used in the kitchen. Please don’t judge us when we call your house before coming over and ask you to not leave nuts out. Please don’t judge us when you’re told by the school to not pack home-baked goods or muesli bars in your child’s lunchbox.
I am feeling very uncomfortable about having to be that sort of parent. I am feeling grief at a life we left behind as soon as my child had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. I might sound like I’m overreacting, and perhaps I am, perhaps she wont be as acute a sufferer as other peanut sufferers, perhaps we will be lucky. I bloody well hope so with all my heart. Perhaps we wont have to watch our child turn blue as her throat closes over after eating food in a restaurant which was cooked in a wok, which had previously had peanuts in it. But for some that is the reality. And at this stage we are unsure of the severity of her allergy. Until we know more, that is how we must live. Please understand.
* To all of the people on twitter who have provided advice on nut allergies, I thank you so much. I especially thank Vanessa Monaghan, my food allergy stalker, who writes about allergies at her blog Edible Issues. She immediately sent me a number of emails with nut-free food options. I am in love with her.
* And to the universe – we have had enough of hospitals. Please give us a break.