I warn you now: this is one of those posts that I already don’t know how to write. Prepare for rambling.
Right before we took Eva in for her 18 month checkup (about 2 months ago), I gave her a nibble of a cheese and peanut butter cracker. I had read conflicting things about how starting too early with peanuts can give your kids allergies and waiting too long with peanuts can give your kids allergies. With no peanut allergies in our family, I took a leap and gave her a taste of PB.
Redness. Hives. Wheezing.
The pediatrician referred us to a pediatric allergist and yesterday I took her in for a test. The appointment takes a couple of hours and it was scheduled right on top of nap time, but she was a trooper and stayed awake. I chatted with the nurse who was doing the test and we went through all of the possibilities. The allergy test consists of a small scratch in designated parts of the body (for toddlers they use the back mainly) and each scratch has a different allergen. Some were chemical-looking oils that represented things like cats and dust mites while others were bowls of mashed up fruit like kiwi. The nurse makes the scratches and then waits 15 minutes. If there is any reaction, you can measure the allergy severity by how large the reaction is. Most toddlers don’t react to the majority of the scratches.
My guesses were a possible slight nut allergy and then more serious allergies to tropical fruits and melons (since that’s what I’m allergic to) as well as potential allergies to dust and grass. I opted out of testing her for all of the weeds and trees and general plant allergies (beyond grass) because each test is a little skin prick and we were already testing her for 27 things. I tried to opt out of dogs, cats, eggs, and other things that were already common in our house, but Eva has an eczema issue so it was suggested that we do them anyway.
I stripped Eva’s sweater off and the nurse made 27 pen marks on her back, to mark the place where each test would be. She did a quick scratch on my arm to prove that it didn’t really hurt (even though I definitely didn’t find it pleasant) and then got to work scratching rows of allergens into Eva’s back. Eva stiffened and her eyes watered, but she stuck her jaw out and refused to make any noise while the test was happening. It was a little hard to watch, but it was over quickly and then my instructions were to watch her and not let her scratch her back. The nurse noted that it was possible that no reactions would happen, but I wasn’t supposed to worry about it.
As the nurse left the room, I turned Eva to examine her back. Already, angry red splotches were appearing over some of the pen marks. Even as I looked at them, welts appeared and spread out across the swipes, raising up faster than I would have thought possible.
Eva didn’t seem bothered, but after 10 minutes some of them were starting to look really bad, so I poked my head out into the hall and called for the nurse. She came in, took one look at Eva’s back, and then rushed back out to grab another pair of hands.
She came back in with an extra nurse and some cream, explaining that most of the tests needed to finish or they would be invalid, but also noting that she’d never seen such a bad reaction to one of the swipes. She put some antihistamine cream on the worst welt and set a timer on her watch to make sure that she could administer Benadryl as soon as possible. Eva was patient and continued to play after she left, oblivious to the commotion.
When the test was over, they rubbed cream all over Eva’s back and gave her a dose of Benadryl. Then, the nurse explained that she had passed the results onto the specialist because toddlers with life-threatening allergies needed to see the doctor. At this point, nobody had explained which allergens had caused a reaction or what the reaction meant, but when I asked I was told I’d have to talk to the doctor. The nurse did, however, bring in a training Epi pen so I could learn how to deliver a life-saving dose of epinephrine to Eva if possible. I was trying to listen, but it was getting a little foggy because all I could think was, “What are you talking about? Why is Eva going into anaphylaxis? I don’t want to do this!”
After the Epi training, the doctor came in with a stack of papers and some rather serious news: Eva has severe allergies to a handful of things (including peanuts), profound allergies to a whole list of things (including cats and dogs), and mild/moderate allergies to others (including eggs). She’s not allergic, however, to grass, dust, or coconut…which might be the least helpful information ever because who gives a crap about coconuts?
What followed was a 30-minute talk about living in a nut-free home and getting rid of our pets and how Eva is never to be anywhere without an Epi pen. She gave me papers for the school and instructions for emergency care on an airplane and strict instructions about training all of our relatives and caregivers. Then I got sheets and sheets with lists of food that Eva can’t eat…things like chocolate frosting and pesto and Thai food. It was completely overwhelming and the doctor was trying very hard to be gentle and not freak me out, but all I could think was, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to stop eating peanut butter. I don’t want to get rid of our cats. I don’t want Eva to never be able to eat birthday cake at her friends’ houses. Do not want. Do not want.”
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I’m sure my reaction sounds selfish. After all, Eva is much more important than PB&J sandwiches or even our darling pets. It’s just that the lifestyle of parenting a child with allergies isn’t something I was prepared to adopt. After an extra dose of Benadryl and 26 hours since the testing happened, Eva still has little marks and bruises where the bad reactions were. I look at them and I’m just mad at her skin and at peanuts and at everything.
It’s really easy to rise above and think that at least it isn’t something more serious and we’re so lucky that we can control her environment, etc. Then I can hear the doctor saying, “You need to keep her away from all dogs and cats because it’s very possible that she could inhale dander and have an anaphylactic reaction requiring emergency care.” What? I don’t think we even know people who don’t have pets. So my gut reaction is, “That’s crazy, we can’t do that,” but the doctor stressed that Eva’s allergy to cats and dogs is not slight. It’s severe. It could likely close her airway out of nowhere someday.
It it absolutely impossible to keep Eva in a completely nut and pet free environment. Peanuts, especially, sneak their way into everything and anytime Eva goes into someone’s home or hugs someone who has cat or dog hair on their sweater, she’s being exposed to an allergen. Plus, there’s a whole argument for exposing kids to things like that to reduce allergies…a wonderful idea but one that has apparently been doing crap for my kid. Yet it’s our job now to make that Herculean effort to sweep nuts and pets out of Eva’s path somehow. Probably with magic.
We’re still adjusting. We’re in denial. Whiny, shell-shocked denial. I’m grateful that Eva is as healthy as she is, but I just did not think that we would be doing this. I also wonder if I gave her PB too early or if she shouldn’t have had the cats around her as a newborn. There has to be a reason this happened. I hate that I don’t know how to fix it.
If there’s anyone who is reading who has kids that were diagnosed as toddlers with severe allergies, could you get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org? We’re going to need some help here!
P.S. – I’m also looking for a new home for two wonderful cats. 🙁