The Emergency Room. Just thinking about those words gives me anxiety. Although my family has been to the emergency room for various reasons, I want to share with you what it was like when Kenna experienced a food reaction causing her to go to the ER. This was our first serious reaction, and it could have been prevented.
Kenna was eight. To be honest, I am surprised (and happy) that we made it that far before Kenna had a serious reaction. I felt that an allergic reaction is always lurking in the darkness, just waiting to surprise us. Now that Kenna was old enough to read and accurately convey to others the risks associated with her food allergy, I thought it might get easier. As I mentioned in previous posts, it is a whole new ball game trusting other adults/peers who might not have a clue what it means to have a food allergy. With all my worry about other adults/peers, I neglected to take a hard look at how I might be the one who accidently hurts my child.
It was Easter and we were getting together with extended family members. We love holidays and always look forward to these parties. I was asked to bring a side dish and I decided to bring potato salad. Recognizing all our family allergies, I made three different potato salads (one free of top 8 allergens, one regular, and one fat-free). The regular potato salad was put in a large bowl and the other two salads were smaller and put into labeled containers. We were late, and making three potato salads took longer than I anticipated. In my haste I mixed up the labels on the allergen-free and fat-free potato salads.
At the party, I hurriedly dished up three kids as they begged for food. Again, I was rushed and did not even take a second look when I served the wrong potato salad to my egg-allergic child. Had I taken a good look, I would have noticed. I gave her the fat-free potato salad (with hard-boiled-egg-whites in it). Kenna was sitting next to her dad and after one small bite she started to complain of an itchy throat. This is the first sign of reaction for her. Looking at her plate, we could easily confirm that a major reaction would be coming. Kenna felt afraid and started to cry. I cannot explain the feeling of despair, grief, remorse and fear that I felt as her mother. I am supposed to be her protector, but I was the one who caused the allergic reaction. Although it was an honest mistake, I could not hold back my feelings. I started to cry along with Kenna.
Kenna started complaining of a stomach ache pretty quickly. We had her lay down and gave her some Benadryl. We were unsure of what was to come or how bad it could get. We knew this would be the worst reaction Kenna would have had (to date). I had an epi-pen ready and reviewed how to use it if needed. We decided to leave the party and head home where Kenna would be more comfortable. At home, her reactions progressed. She started vomiting, continuing to complain of an itchy throat, full body rash, and fever. Thinking that a bath would comfort her, we had her sit in a warm bath. (Research now tells me that warming up her body is a bad idea.) After a little while, the vomiting subsided and Kenna started to feel slightly better. We were not sure if feeling a little bit better was because of the Benedryl and we feared that once the medication wore off, her reactions would spike again.
After consulting family members and an on-call nurse, we decided to take Kenna to the Emergency Room to have her reactions evaluated, and see if she could get better medication. At the ER, Kenna was treated with some steroids and she continued to feel better. We were advised that it is better to give the epi-pen in a situation like this than to wait. If two or more systems are affected, the epi-pen should be used. We won’t be hesitating next time.
This experience was real eye-opening for me. I had gotten comfortable with making different versions of one food item (keeping them separate and labeled). I had forgotten that although others may not know as much about Kenna’s food allergy, it is most likely that she will have a reaction at home, or with family members since that is where she spends the majority of her time. I also have come to accept that I make mistakes and have tried to take a step back and simplify food choices. For example, instead of having two different types of mayo (and other condiments with egg), we now only have one. Instead of taking three potato salads to a party, I only take one side dish that works for my family’s spectrum of allergies. It is trickier to find good-tasting recipes that don’t include gluten, egg, or milk, but knowing that every dish I make is safe for my child makes it all worth it.