Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Other Side of the Fence

It's amazing how life can mold and change you in astonishing ways.  It can open up your perspective and attitude in an instant, changing your very opinions.  Circumstances of life do this.

Years ago I remember being shocked and annoyed when I heard that schools were removing peanuts from lunches and banning any peanut products from the school grounds.  Peanuts?!  I grew up eating a PB&J sandwich every day in my lunch for school.  I love peanuts!

In my narrow perspective, I didn't understand why the rest of the kids had to "suffer" because there might be a kid with an allergy.  And I scoffed in my mind what they defined as an "allergy".  I had definitely known people who used the term loosely describing anything from "feeling funny" to indigestion to full blown anaphylaxis.

So, of course, God threw me a curve ball.  My child is allergic to peanuts.  On the RAST scale (a diagnostic blood test), he scores a 5 out of 6.   That means Hayden's body produces a very high level of allergen specific IgE (anitbodies to a specific allergen, in his case peanuts).  And in the real world - not a blood test - we have seen this in action several times.

Let me put this as clearly as possible:

My son is severely allergic to peanuts.

After just one (ONE) Reese's Pieces as a baby he broke out into hives.

After just one bite of a peanut butter cracker last year, I had to take him to the hospital.  He was vomiting everything he drank/ate up (including the benedryl which he needed) and his entire body was covered in hives.

This weekend after church, his entire neck was covered in hives - and he didn't eat anything known to have peanuts in it.  We can only assume what we ate for lunch or something else he consumed had been contaminated with peanuts.  Whatever it was, it was only trace amounts, yet still he reacted to it.

I have a confession to make:

I live in fear every day.

As Hayden gets older, he is exposed to more and more opportunities to accidentally ingest peanuts.  Even in situations that I have felt he was safe, there have been "slips".

This kind of "slip" is not an oops.  It could mean that my son might die.

He is aware of his allergy, but he is also four.  And he trusts that what you serve him is ok to eat - although now we have gotten him to the point of always asking if something has peanuts in it.  (He even asks me!  As if I would give him peanuts, HA!).  But there is also a certain ignorance about what does and does not have peanuts in it.  Many products, although they do not directly have nuts in them, are made right along side peanuts and the manufactures admit (right on the package now) that they may have peanuts in them.

And in other situations, people simply "forget".  Hayden attended an AWANA Christmas event where they could "buy" treats with their AWANA dollars - and Hayden came home with a candy cane filled with REESE'S PIECES.  My heart dropped.  What if he had opened this before I saw it?  This was not a parent-involved event.  I wasn't there.  They had assured me at the beginning of the year that they served no peanut-foods.  His allergy is clearly indicated on his enrollment.  He was wearing his medical bracelet indicating his allergy.

Their response?  We can't watch every kid.

He's four. What am I supposed to do? Not let him be involved in anything?

They said I could stay and help him next time.  And yes, I gladly would have...if I had known that the environment wasn't safe!  I had trusted in their promise of no peanuts.

My next confession:

I trust no one any longer with the safety of my son.

Not to say I don't let Hayden join in activities.  I most certainly do.  But I'm the parent pestering each time about what they are serving for snack, what they are doing, if food is involved, if other kids have food, etc.  I'm the one bring up allergies in meetings for ministry and over emphasizing care and responsibility for allergies.  I know I come off as a nut sometimes.

But don't you see I have to?  What if I didn't?  What if there was one time that I forgot?

My last confession:

I do my part and let God do His.

My part is being an advocate for allergies.  And not just my son's but all allergies.  If we serve something at church, I'm there to think through the allergens and post what we're serving so the parents can approve it.  I rummage through the snacks for special events.  I ask to remove peanut products.  I'm annoying I'm sure, but I do what I need to do to keep Hayden safe - to keep them all safe.

And God takes care of my son from that point on.  Yes, I had been assured his AWANA program was peanut free.  I did my part.  But God kept Hayden from opening that candy.  He watches over him when I can't.  And I trust Him.

So please excuse me if I get a little crazy at snack time, ask to see the packaging, or want to know what's being served - these are the things I must do.  My hope is that I can build a little awareness about the subject and this knowledge can help us keep all our kids safe and maybe one day help with the fear that we as parents have to live with because of allergies.



Anonymous said...

Might want to read through this. It's a very helpful interview on dealing with children with allergies.

Just Me said...

Yes, this is a great description of our life as well and the changes we make for Hayden to live as normally as possible. :)

The birthday cake example is definitely one we've worked through. Just this year we did a joint party with two other four year olds and instead of the cupcake the others were served I brought cupcakes from home for him to eat. He very often has reactions to store purchased and even box cakes because of the trace peanut ingredients in them.

Andrea said...

I've never mentioned this to you, but having you around to blaze the way with Lil L also having peanut allergies has been uber-helpful. Granted, I don't think she is as sensitive as Hayden, but it is something we have to watch out for.

Just Me said...

Yes, and it's so important to limit their exposure no matter how severe their allergy is, since often their reactions worsen with each incident.