When I Made a Mistake as a Food Allergy Mom
Last April, while on a short spring break vacation to Hershey, PA, I made a mistake. A mistake I don’t usually make. One that could’ve sent my 6-year-old son to the hospital. Or worse, to an early grave.
My son was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies at the age of 4. He must avoid all nuts and Stevia to be safe. He also has environmental allergies and asthma, which further complicates things.
Given this information you may think it wouldn’t be a good idea to take him to “Hershey’s Chocolate World” in Pennsylvania. But as I became informed about food allergies, I realized I could not keep my son in a bubble. He must live his life and enjoy the wonderful things life has to offer.
We have been going to Hershey, PA since my son was a baby. It is like a second home to us. It is our place for fun, relaxation and family time. When we learned our son had life-threatening food allergies to all nuts, we panicked. We also thought we would never be able to go back to our favorite vacation destination. A destination filled with chocolate and nuts.
We slowly learned we can keep him safe there thanks to the chefs at the “Hershey Lodge” and “Hershey Hotel,” and the food management team at “Hershey Park.”
Whenever we go away, we have these six basic rules:
1. Always bring the Epipen auto-injectors everywhere we go. We keep them at room temperature to ensure their efficacy. We bring backup Epipen two-packs in case anything goes wrong, or in case more are needed in an emergency.
2. Always wash my son’s hands before he eats. If we can’t get to a sink quickly, we use baby wipes which are effective in removing allergens. Hand sanitizing gel does not remove allergens.
3. Make sure he knows not to eat anything we do not give him. We read all labels of food we give him and do extensive research before eating out/trying new foods. This includes all food samples.
4. We try to wipe down his table before he eats, or put down napkins under his food.
5. We tell him often to try to keep his hands out of his mouth, nose and eyes to avoid contact with allergens.
6. We only stay at places which are in close proximity to a hospital, with a quick ambulance response time.
We have been living by these basic rules for years now, and so far we have kept him safe.
I am especially vigilant when it comes to his food allergies because I have a food allergy myself, and almost died from anaphylactic shock after eating shellfish at the age of 28. I know what it feels like when your throat begins to close and you feel death approaching rapidly. I also know what it feels like when the epinephrine starts to work, and you are able to breathe again.
I never want my son to go through that, so I do the best I can to try to keep him safe.
I sometimes fail though, because I am human.
I failed last week at “Hershey’s Chocolate World.” When we go there, we always avoid the chocolate making activities, and always tell our son to say, “No, thank you,” to any offered treats or samples.
After the fun free ride that takes you through the chocolate making process, they always offer a free sample of chocolate. I always tell them, “No, thank you,” on behalf of my son, and am teaching him to do the same. This time after I said, “No, thank you, he has nut allergies,” the nice woman offered him a “Twizzler” instead. I know from experience “Twizzlers” in a box or package from “Hershey” are safe, but different sizes or samples are not. For some reason — maybe because I was all caught up in the vacation fun — I took one for him. I wanted him to have something and I momentarily forgot my rules.
As I stood there watching him take a bite, I realized what I had done, but it was too late. He took a bite of the “Twizzler,” then immediately spit it out because he didn’t like it. Moments later, he complained of his mouth feeling strange and his belly hurting — both which are classics signs of a food allergy reaction.
I felt panic start to set in as my heart raced. I had tears in my eyes as I realized what I had done. I felt like the worst mom in the world, but I had to keep it together for my son.
I told my husband we had to sit him down on a bench and watch him closely for a while, Epipens in hand. We monitored his breathing, checked for any hives or tongue swelling. We made sure he was not acting strangely or panicking.
He said he could not get the bad taste out of his mouth, so we gave him some apple juice. That seemed to help.
After 15 minutes he seemed fine, so we breathed a sigh of relief, though we weren’t totally out of the woods. A reaction could take hours to occur. And biphasic reactions could happen days later.
I kissed his cheek and gave him a big hug, then kept him close the rest of the day.
My baby was safe and all was right with the world.
I had to forgive myself though, and quickly get back in the game. The game of keeping my child safe, while educating him how to keep himself safe. The game we are always playing, even while on vacation.
The game that never ends when there are food allergies.
The game we must win.
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