29 Sep Living with a life-threatening allergy
I have always been what others would consider to be an “overprotective mom” to my two boys. Being a worse case scenario thinker has made me “one of those moms”.
When my son was suddenly diagnosed with an anaphylactic peanut allergy at the age of 6, this pre-disposition instantly transformed me into a one person army defending his peanut-free safety.
As a 6 year old with a new a life threatening allergy, my son was virtually defenseless. This was all new to him and those surrounding him. Sending him to school for those first few months was like sending him into a war zone- I didn’t know where the enemy could be lurking. All it took was a classmate who had eaten peanut butter for breakfast, inadvertently getting too close to him. The smallest molecule of peanut leftover in a baking pan could easily cross contaminate the “peanut free” cupcake of the boy eating lunch next to my son. The “peanut free” hot lunch being brought in by the school was being cooked in a kitchen filled with peanuts. These were all realities that could (and have) send my son into a life threatening anaphylaxis.
As I drop him off at school everyday, I feel as if I am leaving him in a minefield.
I am always conscious of the lunch hour and can breathe just a little easier knowing that we made it through another day with no call from school.
I do all I can to increase his safety including going into the schools and camps and training the teachers, lunch monitors and counsellors how to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis which can easily be mistaken for many other common ailments. My husband and I have developed a 15 minute presentation on how to administer both the Epipen and the Allerject Auto-Injectors. I attend lunchtime at school, policing the other kids’ lunches, making sure that they adhere to the nut safe policy of the school.
I am the volunteer mom on each and every field trip which includes wiping down the bus seat before my son gets in, not knowing who sat there previously.
We have all seen the allergic kids at birthday parties not being able to participate in the regular birthday cake and treats. This means preparing an alternate treat that is fun enough to compete with the special treats being offered at the party- every time.
Obviously, my son’s safety cannot depend on his mother for the rest of his life. Everyday is a learning experience for him as he grows up and begins to truly understand the complexities of his new food allergy. Despite knowing that h can’t eat what the other kids are eating, he is sometimes still not able to remember not to grab from the bowl of chips in the middle of the table. He can’t yet wrap his 7 year old head around the fact that despite the pizza being “peanut free”, he is not able to eat a piece until he knows and trusts the chain of production. Everyday I am on a mission to better prepare him to be his own best advocate for his safety. When I hear him tell his friends that he can’t eat a certain food because it’s not safe or does not know who made it, I know that I am doing my job and that one day very soon he will be able to fend for himself.
However, until that day arrives, I must depend not only on myself being as available as possible to keep him out of danger, but also on my community at large.
Unfortunately, I have come into contact with many fellow parents who obviously do not understand the implications of my son’s allergy. Time and time again I am told that I am being “over the top” or that I should “just relax”. I wish that these parents understood the anxiety I live with and the real life consequences of just the smallest of cross contamination. Until you are in this situation yourself, you are in no place to judge the parent of an allergic child. On the other hand, I am often overwhelmed at the kindness and understanding I receive from parents who go out of their way to accommodate my child’s special needs. It is these people who make our lives safer, easier and more normal. It is to these people that I say “thank you”.
Donna Litvack is mom to her two boys, Zane, 9 and Milo, 7.