Saturday, June 13, 2009

Life With An Allergic Kid

There are many things I regret having done in my life, and two of them involve my behavior as a new mother.

I will always wonder what might have been different if I had not taken the hospital's Baby-Massage therapists advice, and had not used nut oils to massage my infant, and also what might have happened if I had not eaten peanut butter while I was breast-feeding.

If I knew then what I know now, I would not have given my toddler Honey-Nut Cheerios, either!

Before I was a mother, it seemed to me that one of the worst things in the world (as far as parenting went) would be to have to read every word of all that tiny print on the side of every package in the supermarket. Every time.

Well, that is what I have to do. I'm grateful that the information is there. I could wish it wasn't often printed in black on brown, or otherwise hard to read... and reading the tiny print does not get easier with age.

What is "Annetto" and... is "Amaretto" nut-based, or isn't it? And do these fancy words have to look so similar?

And, it would be really nice if the cereal manufacturers would make up their minds which of three possible oils they are going to use, and stick with it... because we're allergic to coconut and sesame. (As well as English walnuts, Black Walnuts, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts... all nuts... and several more seeds. Also clams.)

How many kids in American schools either cannot eat the muffins and cookies, cakes and crackers, icecreams and other treats that their friends' moms bring in for every conceivable celebration, or take their lives in their hands and do eat the goodies?

It's really cruel.

A few times, a teacher or well-meaning mom will tell the allergic kid who is standing off to one side, looking sad, "Why don't you eat?"

"I'm allergic."

"There's nothing in here to hurt you. Go ahead."

"No. I can't."

Maybe someone decides to turn over the Mrs Fields box --more to prove the stubborn child wrong-- and right there in the tiny print is the proof that there really is a dangerous ingredient. So, what happens?

Mom is called. The allergic child is sent home. The allergic child misses the remains of another school day. It sucks! It truly sucks.

There is one manufacturer in all America (Bless you Arnold/Brownberry!!!!) who makes delicious, healthy wheat bread that my child can eat in safety. I still read the labels in silent dread that one day, they will change their recipe, or share the production line with a nutty bread product.

I worry what on earth we would ever do if there were a disaster of some kind, and we were forcibly evacuated to some area where we would have no control over what was available to eat and no one knew what the ingredients were.

I suspect that decision makers don't care. Our prescription coverage refused to pay for Zyrtec to help allergic children live a slightly more normal life years before it cut Viagra.

Because schools don't offer cool places to keep sack lunches (and some would like to encourage children to pay extra for school lunches) my child has eaten an apple and either a mayo and ketchup sandwich, or a cheese and mayo sandwich every schoolday for the past six years. (I've offered her yoghurts, cheeses, grapes, bananas... but they don't travel well, apparently.)

Last week, full of hope, we went to be retested. It's been five gruelling years of total abstinence from all vegetable oils except olive oil, from all baked goods except Ritz crackers and "Goldfish" and Doritos (but in every case... eat one, wait two hours, if nothing happens, eat a few more...wait... and if all is clear, enjoy the rest of the package.)

Many children grow out of allergies. Usually not peanuts.

By the way, many oriental recipes use peanut products as glue. There's peanut in samosas, and in spicy (fabulous) fried chicken slivers. We found out about peanuts because there was undeclared peanut sauce in a chicken and tortellini dish. You'd think chicken/tortellini would be safe!

Some chefs like to use peanut butter as binding in their home made hamburgers. Peanut oil makes gourmet fried potatoes/chips....

Hotels --especially in California-- specialize in muffins and "continental" breads. Room service will swear up and down that there are no nuts in the muffins, but break them open and you'll see nuts (if you are lucky!). You can't even trust cheesecake. I've known chefs put almonds in the crust.

Testing is horrible.

The child sits on the doctor's couch, and bares her back. The nurse swabs her back to clean it. Then, using a black Sharpie, she writes numerals up and down the back. Each number is the numerical code for a potential allergen.

There's the Control, the Histamine, and maybe eighteen or more.

Next, the nurse jabs with a hollow stick about half the size of a cocktail sausage stick and injects a tiny amount of the allergen into the back by the appropriate number. Twenty sticks.

Now, we wait for fifteen minutes, as the itching gets worse and worse in all the spots that a reaction takes place. There's the red flare. There are blisters.

At the end of fifteen minutes the nurse measures the dimensions of the blisters. Some blisters are the size of a York mint. Then, she measures the flares, which can be the size of a business card!

After that, the numbers are cleaned off the skin, antihistamine creams are applied, Zyrtec is taken by mouth, and gradually the itching and burning and stinging pass.

Two days later, there is still a tiny welt where the peanut allergy blister was. Meanwhile, there are also blood tests. Some things are worth double checking, some things cannot be checked with a skin test.

There are some cookies that I can make from scratch. It looks like I'm going to be doing a lot more cooking and reading of fine print, because my kid hasn't grown out of anything.

I wanted her to talk about what it's like to be allergic, only to discover that talking publicly about it is too hard for her. She yearns to be normal. Because of her allergies, people around her make her feel like a freak.

Take care, Moms!


Allergy Mom said...

Don't beat yourself up about the nut oils, pb while nursing, etc. The night before my highly allergic son was born by emergency c-section, I ate coconut shrimp at a restaurant with a thick carpeting of peanut shells on the floor, if it makes you feel any better! Libby

Rowena Cherry said...

Hi, Libby,
Thank you so much for your comment. Oooh, coconut shrimp!!!! How yummy.