The dread. Every mother has it. Some have it stuffed so far below the surface that they rarely let themselves feel it. Some let it run wild, colouring every moment with worry. Some have found a nice balance of healthy fear and relaxed trust.
Every moment your kids are out of your sight there is some level of fear that something bad will happen to them. When they are at school, at a friend's house, at the park, at hockey practice. There is a split-second alarm when the phone rings. What if something happened to my child? Like the fear of the phone call in the middle of the night... What if... What if...
My call came on Tuesday.
...It is my husband - the school just phoned him. His first words are "He is okay." Meant to calm my worry, my heart leaps into my throat as he explains, "They had to give Jude his epipen. He had a reaction but he is okay. Go to the school. The ambulance is on its way." My worst fear... anaphylaxis.
Should I go straight to the hospital? What if I miss the ambulance? I don't want him to ride in it alone...I know the terror of the throat closing, breathing thick and strained. I know the fear of the needle - the injection of the adrenaline. I know the power of the adrenaline - shaking, heart racing. Fear on top of fear. He is my son. Only seven. The thought of him going through this pierces my heart.
I race to the school, park my van behind the fire truck and run into the school. He is surrounded by medics and staff, seeming to all talk at once. "He was so pale." "It was an accident." "He asked for his epipen." "He was so brave." "We're taking him to the hospital." "He asked if he was going to die. “I’m sorry." I just want to take him in my arms and hold him forever.
In the ambulance they hook him up to a bunch of machines. They check his oxygen saturation level, blood pressure, temperature, other things I'm not sure about. As we hurry to the hospital, I try to swallow my panic, I remember the other ambulance trips... the last one with Jude was longer - two hours to a larger hospital when he was almost intubated to treat his extreme asthma attack. The first ride was with his older brother Sasha, as he struggled to breath after eating eggs at age two. I try to refocus, listen to the paramedic.
She explains that the reaction seems to be in his upper airway - he ingested particles of the peanut that triggered the anaphylaxis. He needs the oxygen mask and Benadryl, but he is out of the initial danger of anaphylactic shock. I explain his medical history – hives and vomiting when he accidentally eats eggs or dairy. His asthma. Eczema. No, he’s never eaten peanuts. Yes, he always carries his epipen, inhalers and Benadryl.
We arrive at the hospital. Jude is calm - his heart has stopped the adrenaline-induced pounding. The oxygen mask is helping his breathing relax. He tells me he prayed. I promise him he is not going to die.
We stay in the hospital overnight. He is okay. He gets a two doses of Prednisone and another prescription for when we are discharged. He needs to be medicated and monitored for 72 hours, as there is a chance of a second reaction.
Eventually I hear the whole story. One of his classmates had a puffed wheat square made with peanut butter in her lunch by accident. He didn’t touch the square, he wasn’t sitting near it. His throat started to close and he asked for his epipen. His face was pale and his eyes were glassy. As scary as this incident was, there are positives:
I am thankful that he has a healthy fear of his allergies. He knows he can die because of a peanut. (A would-be aunt neither of us had the pleasure to meet died of an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts.) But now he has survived a reaction, and knows he doesn’t have to die if he uses his auto-injector and gets to a hospital.
I am thankful that he knows the allergy protocol. The teachers said as soon as he began to react he stayed calm and asked for his epipen. He knows when to ask for his inhalers. He always wears his MedicAlert bracelet and asks about ingredients before he eats anything.
I am thankful that the school reacted quickly and correctly. They did not hesitate to administer the epipen, and they called 911 and my husband right away. They have a no-nut policy that they do their best to enforce.
I am thankful that this episode will bring about more awareness about allergies. It is something our family is all too familiar with, but there are lots of people who need to learn and keep learning about the dangers of food allergies.
But the dread is still there. His allergy is so severe that he doesn’t even need to touch a peanut to have a reaction. It is scary that what is healthy to some is deadly to him. Peanuts are a poison that parade as food. Same for me, same for Sasha. None of us know when our time on earth will end, but the three of us, and millions of other allergic individuals, know that our time could come disguised as dinner.
So I read labels, ask questions, pray, tell my kids to keep vigilant, trying to reduce the danger and the dread. And I ask you to do the same. To keep my dread down. And to keep Jude’s hopes up.