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When Lunch Is Life-Threatening for Our Son With Food Allergies

My husband is incoherent. He is trying to call the grandparents to let them know what is going on, but his voice is breaking with emotion and they cannot understand what he is saying. Maybe that is better. The scene at the hospital is not one grandparents should have to envision; not one we, as parents, should be forced to endure. Our three-year old is vomiting (again) and is suddenly covered from head to toe in angry, red hives. We worry his airways are constricting once more as the initial dose of epinephrine I injected at home wears off. A team of ER doctors works fervently to administer additional life-saving medications we pray will work.

My son is here fighting for his life simply because he ate lunch. He is allergic to wheat (among a long list of other foods) and today that simple ingredient could have taken him from us. It is the worst day of my life (and eventually the best). My son recovers. I am painfully aware not all allergy parents can say the same. I am sharing the details of our story because I want you to understand — my son is not a picky eater and I am not a helicopter mom by choice.

As school starts again this year, parents around the world are worried about the options available and whether or not the choices we have made are the right ones for our family. Allergy parents may have additional concerns as systems that have successfully kept our children safe in the past may not be an option this year. In some cases, lunch will now be served in the classroom. Teachers are being asked to take on more and more responsibilities. The thought of our children coming in contact with an unnoticed splash of milk, a stray crumb of bread or an undetected bit of peanut butter is absolutely terrifying for many of us. You see, if my son unknowingly gets one of his allergens on his fingers and then transfers that allergen to his mouth or his own food, that can be enough to send him back to the ER struggling to breathe.

When I hear people say, “Just use his EpiPen,” I want you to understand it is not always that simple. Yes, epinephrine that is administered quickly and correctly generally works; by that, I mean more often than not it saves lives. However, for younger children, success is dependent on an adult (in the case of school, an incredibly busy adult) recognizing the reaction and treating it quickly. If this does not happen, there is a point when treatment can come too late. And, even when treatment is given in a timely fashion, the journey from accidental ingestion to recovery is not an easy one. It is physically and emotionally painful for our children and as my husband and I experienced first-hand, pure torture for loved ones to witness.

As many head back to school in these unprecedented times, you may be asked to send a peanut butter alternative or to forgo the milk this year. I beg you to please skip the eye rolling and the Facebook bashing and JUST BE KIND. JUST COMPLY. My son’s life and the lives of so many others depend on your family’s small sacrifices. As allergy parents, we recognize you are going out of your way to make accommodations and we are eternally grateful. We thank you and we promise, if the roles are ever reversed, we will gladly return the favor.

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Image Credits: Emily Sorenson

Photo submitted by contributor.