One year ago today we found out our toddler has a life-threatening food allergy. I am sharing our story for three reasons. First, I thought it would be good for me as this experience has taken a greater toll than I previously realized. Second, to help someone else who is going through a similar situation. And finally, to bring awareness to severe food allergies.
I love to bake, especially when I have company coming. My younger brothers made the 500 mile drive for a short visit and I planned to make Mexican Wedding Cookies. The recipe called for pecans but all I had in the pantry were walnuts. While my 13 month old son napped, I made the cookies. I’ve never been known to hold off very long from dessert, so of course I had a cookie before dinner. It was honestly the best Mexican Wedding Cookie I ever had. The plan for the evening was to go into town for dinner. When my son woke up from his nap I made him a snack like usual - raspberries and a dime sized piece of the cookie.
As soon as he was finished with his snack my husband took him to the nursery to change his diaper so we could leave. He started coughing on the changing table, by the time he brought him back to the living room his face was breaking out in hives. My initial reaction was someone needs to go get Benadryl. But as we were standing there it was getting worse right before our eyes. The hives were spreading from his face to his scalp, he was coughing but now he was wheezing too. Somehow I recognized we didn’t have any time to waste. I thought about calling 9-1-1 but we live on the outskirts of town and I didn’t know how long it would take. The thought of just sitting there helplessly waiting was too much.
I turned to my husband and said “We have to go to the ER and we have to drive fast”. I grabbed my baby and jumped in the backseat, I didn’t even take the time to grab a diaper bag, my cellphone or buckle him in his car seat. He was becoming increasingly distressed and swollen. We drove 85-90 mph flashers on down the interstate with my husband calling from the driver’s seat “How’s he doing? Is he breathing?”. I tried to hold back my tears and keep my baby calm praying to God that we could make it to the closest ER, about 15 minutes from our house. His face was becoming more and more swollen, red hives covered his fair scalp, his eyes swelled shut, he seemed scared, his breathing sounded more labored and rattled. He sounded like a very sick hospital patient, not my 13 month old baby boy. There was a point I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it to the ER. It was the weekend before Christmas and it felt like it took forever to make it through the lights and traffic. He couldn’t see as his eyes were swollen shut and he wanted to cry which made his breathing sound worse. I just continued to hold his hand and try to speak calmly to him. I remember saying “Just breathe baby, we are almost there…Mommy is so sorry. I didn’t know”. We finally made it to the ER, I jumped out of the truck and ran in yelling my baby is having an allergic reaction.
Writing this is the first time since that day that I’ve truly relived the whole sequence of events. It felt like forever, but in reality it was only 20 minutes from ingestion of the cookie to arriving at the ER.
There are more parts to this story – the ER and hospital stay and life after. This is all I can share for now, maybe at a later time I can get through more. One year out and what happened still feels very scary. One year out and I still feel guilt for giving him that Christmas Cookie. I know this is so small in comparison to what so many go through with their children but this is our experience and it has been life-changing.
To the parents in the hospital after an anaphylactic reaction, the reality didn’t hit till we got discharged home. That is when the “what-if’s” crept in. What if I wouldn’t of made the right call, what if we were further away from help, what if I would of gave him more? I’d be lying if I said the “what-if’s” don’t still wake me up in the middle of the night. Try to not let them consume you because they did not happen. It will be life-changing but you will figure it out one day at a time.
I hope that by sharing our story this will bring awareness to severe food allergies. I hope that you can see food allergy parents are not trying to inconvenience anyone, we are simply trying to avoid another experience like this.