Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Life, forever changed by peanuts

It came on so suddenly, I hardly knew what was happening.  

Yesterday, while I was shopping at Trader Joe's with my 15-month-old son, Carson, he started whining for a box of crackers he saw on the snack aisle. I opened the box in the checkout aisle, and gave him one: a tiny little organic peanut butter cracker. 

Actually, a tiny little organic peanut butter cracker that could have ended his life. 

He put the cracker into his mouth and instantly spit it out. Then he played with it until it disintegrated in his hands. By the time I buckled him into his car seat, he was rubbing his eyes. I thought he was tired. We drove a few miles down the road to pick up Jason, my husband, at work (he works at a hospital), and when I turned around to look at Carson I almost screamed. 

My little baby was blotchy and red. There were purple hives all over his face and down his neck. His eyes were swollen. His hands were red and blotchy. 

I knew in an instant: He was having an allergic reaction to peanuts. 
We rushed him to the clinic, across the street, where they had an Epi Shot waiting. Because he didn't swallow the cracker, it wasn't necessary as his reaction was much lighter than it could have been. They gave him an antihistamine, instead, and a referral to an allergist. 

Later, when we got home, and I had a chance to wind down and process what had just happened (Note: This whole experience didn't even phase Carson. He was all puffy and swollen and red with this huge grin on his face walking into the clinic. He smiled at all the kids (who looked back at him a little horrified) and tried to say "fish" when he noticed the aquarium in the waiting room), I realize what a life changing thing had just happened. 

While about 20 percent of kids can "grow out of" peanut allergies, the majority have them for life. So, Carson is going to have to learn, from an early age that he has to be extra diligent about what he eats; that a kiss from someone who has just eaten a peanut butter cookie could be the kiss of death (yes, I will be interviewing his potential girlfriends for their ability to take this seriously); that he can't have any peanuts on the airplane, or sit next to someone who has (breathing in the vapors from the bag could be very harmful); and that carrying epinephrin with him at all times is a new way of life. 

And with this new reality, Jason and I find ourselves blaming ourselves. Did we introduce peanut butter too soon? Most experts say after 12 months, it's OK, but to be safe, wait till 3. What was I thinking? Was this just hereditary? My mom's late father had food allergies. Maybe a connection? According to some troubling statistics, food allergies in children have more than doubled in the past 10 years? WHY? What the heck is going on here? 

I've thrown out all peanut products in our house, including cooking oil, and any other foods that were "processed in plants that contain peanuts." I've made an appointment with an allergist. And tonight, when we went out to a restaurant, I spoke to five staff members, from the waiter to the manager, about whether there was any peanut ingredients in the building. Luckily, it was a pizza place, and the answer was no. 

But mostly, we're just reeling from this shock to the system. I've decided that when I explain this all to Carson one day -- when he can understand what I'm talking about -- that I'll tell him about Superman. But instead of peanuts, he had Cryptonite. Not a bad analogy, eh?

So, if you are a peanut-allergy sufferer -- or have a child who is -- please drop me a note. I'm new to this, and a little scared. 


Gabs said...

Hi, I'm Gabrielle and I found your post via a Google Alert I have set up for 'peanut allergy'. My 3 year old has a peanut allergy and I blog about it over at http://peanutfree.blogspot.com. Take a look - I think it will be helpful (along with the links to other allergy blogs listed in my blogroll)

I know EXACTLY how you feel, and believe me, you are NOT alone. It is totally overwhelming at first, but you really do learn to live with it. Once you know if your son has other allergies, you'll know exactly where you stand. You just adapt - but realize that this is an allergy that people are very aware of nowadays. With food labeling, airlines taking notice, restaurants taking notice, things are much better than they were just a few short years ago.

If you have any questions, or just want to vent (or cry) to someone who understands, email me at peanutfreemama@gmail.com.

k/ kpublicrelations.com said...

Oh, Sarah. I am so sorry for your scare and hope that all will be well for you all. Keep us posted on what you find out and know we're thinking of you three. Blessings. k

Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah,
Welcome to the club no one wants to join :)
Like Gabrielle, I receive google alerts about food allergies as I have 2 boys allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, and 2 children allergic to nothing. I feel for you - when my 1st son was 11 months old he had his first reaction, and now he is almost 12. It took me years to piece together all the correct information about the reality of severe peanut allergies, but being diagnosed new today is so much easier. Check out www.foodallergy.org first, then slowly go from there. You do not have to know everything today - just remember to bring your benedryl and EPI Pen where ever your son is and quick use of the EPI pen keeps him safe immediately. Over and over again I have been told that not using that EPI pen is what gets your child in trouble. I love the books by Dr. Scott Schierer (sp?) and I would start there as his is truly the expert in the field. Also, take it all in slowly and calmly and enjoy motherhood! You will get all the small food-allergy related stuff as time goes on.
The one thing I have learned with parenting is your children take you in directions you did not know you needed to go...
Write back if you have questions, too, at rachelima@comcast.net.
PS: I love your writing - i will keep reading your blog!

greenlady31 said...

Hi - I'm another mom of a PA child who surfed in via google alerts. My son was diagnosed at three, and he's now nine. I can promise you it does get easier!

The previous posters had some great suggestions. I would also check out the message boards at www.foodallergysupport.com It's a great place to ask those questions that families not dealing with food allergies would never understand.

The boards include a couple of threads where parents try and figure out if they somehow caused a peanut allergy. You can really drive yourself crazy with that question, but the bottom line seems to be no one knows why peanut allergies are on the rise.

Take care and best wishes!

greenlady31 said...

Hi again! I was just reading your pen pal project page (fantastic idea, by the way!) and wanted to alert you to a peanut danger that you probably haven't thought of.

Many dog foods have peanut ingredients. Here's a message board thread on finding safe dog food:


Don't mean to freak you out, but reading your latest letter made it jump out at me. :-)

But really, it does get easier!

tellicherry said...

When my son was 2, he's now 4, he had full allergy testing done. That's how we learned he was allergic to peanuts. Luckily he has never had a reaction, but we carry an Epi pen wherever we go. We don't let him eat foods with peanuts or tree nuts in them, but have been told we don't need to be hyper vigilant about avoiding contact with things that have been around peanuts.

My son knows he can't eat peanuts or foods containing nuts and has learned to ask if he is not sure. I can tell you that Halloween will be fun. Every house we went to this year he asked the person handing out the candy "Does this have nuts or peanuts in it?"

We use Sunbutter in our house as a peanut butter substitute, including cooking and baking. There are so many children at his child care with peanut allergies that the child care has stopped using peanut butter and uses Sunbutter. I recommend checking it out. http://www.sunbutter.com/

sal said...

i am so so sad this happened to you my dear friend. it reminds me of the time i came home from the hospital and i was told that taking Percocet for my c-section pain would be safe for my son (i breastfeed) and later learned - after he wouldn't wake up from a nap and I thought he was dead - that it DOES. My love and hugs from one mama to another.

Tamara said...

Hi. I have been reading for a while, I think I found you looking for local blogs as I am in the Seattle area. My son also has food allergies. This is the first time I have commented.

I think this is the author that a previous commenter mentioned.

Understanding and Managing Your Child's Food Allergies by Scott H Sicherer

This book is incredible and really helped me a lot, since I felt like I had 1 million questions I could not get answered.