Someone once told me not to plan for if I ever need to give Avery an Epi-Pen injection, but when – that he will likely need to have this life-saving medicine at some point, possibly many times, during his life. And then this episode happened a couple of months ago, and according to the Allergist, I should have given the Epi-Pen, but didn’t. I was scared and minimized the symptoms. Luckily, Avery was okay. But, he walked me through the symptoms closely and made sure I was very clear on what to do if it happened again.

Which brings us to June 24, when I acted much more swiftly and gave my child the Epi-Pen, called 911 and we rode an ambulance to the hospital. His food allergies are to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and melons. On this day we were enjoying shrimp – something I thought he had eaten previously and not had a reaction. He’s also been tested for fish and shellfish with no reaction, so I assumed it was safe. I’ve recently learned that you can develop a new allergy to any food at any time.

The kids were excited – shrimp cocktail is a special treat and we were having a blast. Avery helped me rinse the shrimp and take off all the tails at the sink. I didn’t notice any problems from handling them. After a few minutes, I noticed Avery’s chin started getting blotchy. I watched and waited a moment. I wiped off his chin with a baby wipe. And I saw it was getting worse. Avery’s mood changed, he got a bit whinier. He was annoyed that I was grabbing the hydrocortisone ointment to rub on his chin. And I saw his entire chin start to turn ruddy and red and little white bumps like mosquito bites pop up (hives). A red splotch appeared on his forehead that reminded me of when he had the first egg reaction when he was only twelve months. I saw one hive on his hand. I reached for the Benadryl, went into the bedroom and sat him on my lap on the rocking chair. He hates the taste of Benadryl and was not happy to take the dose. He coughed once after the medicine. He wanted off my lap.

At this point I started looking for my phone and making sure I knew where the medicine kit was. I was preparing myself that the Epi-Pen might not be far off. I was remembering the last time. He was busying himself with something at the kitchen counter and was getting more agitated with me watching him.

And then he started itching the outside of his neck, but I didn’t see any hives or streaking. This was a big warning sign. I asked if his throat was itchy and he said yes. I took a deep breath. “On the inside or outside?” I asked. He said it was on the outside. But then he ran away from me and curled up in a ball on the living room floor. I was right on his tail. I asked, “tell me how you are feeling” and he said, “I just feel like I have a frog in my throat.”

And I knew. In that moment, I knew what I needed to do.

My heart was racing, but my mind was clear. I would not fail this time. I would not hesitate. I carried him back into the kitchen and somehow, secretly, slipped the Epi-Pen out of the case and hid it in my hand. I grabbed my phone.

Back to the rocking chair in his room. The wooden chair with white cushions and footstool where I nursed my babies for hours on end, sang thousands of sunshine songs and read story after story after story. Now the chair would serve a new purpose. It would become the chair where I held Avery when I gave him the Epi-Pen for the first time.

He was fidgety and agitated and I was staying as calm as I could, even though I felt my own adrenaline rush through my veins. He was wearing his favorite fleece pajama pants. And even though everyone says it’s okay to give an Epi-Pen through pants, it didn’t feel right to do it through fleece. So I pulled them down on one side as I cradled him sideways in my arms. He pulled it back up, crying. Keeping my hands out of sight, I popped the safety cap off with my thumb, pulled the pants back down again on that side, held him tightly in my left arm, and jabbed the Epi-Pen into his thigh with my right hand.

He screamed out in pain.

I felt a click and then the Epi-Pen auto-injector popped back up almost as quickly as I pushed it into his leg. I was supposed to hold it in for 10 seconds but it was impossible. I don’t know if it was nerves or if the device was stronger than me, but it popped back up way too quickly. I questioned if he got the full dose. With crying loudly in my ear, I looked in the window on the Epi-Pen and it looked used. I didn’t see or feel any liquid dripping out. I knew I had a second Epi-Pen if I needed it.

I picked up the phone and called 911. “I need an ambulance right away. My child has severe food allergies and is having a reaction. I just gave him an Epi-Pen. Please send someone now.”

She asked me questions I could barely hear through Avery’s angry sobs. Loudly, almost angrily, I blurted my address. She asked more questions. I remember saying something like, “I’m not going to stay on the phone with you – just send an ambulance.”

I knew there was no way I could stay on the phone – I could barely hear her. And I couldn’t leave Avery alone. I picked him up and walked around the house, while he cried. Unlocking and opening the front door. Finding my purse, my iPad, safe snacks and other things we might need at the hospital. I calmly explained to my 6 year old son what was happening and that I needed his help. He got dressed and brought Avery’s shoes to me. The police arrived within 3-5 minutes.

Although those minutes seemed to last forever, in my heart, I knew that he was going to be okay. It was as though I had already saved him. His anger with me and loud crying somehow assured me that he was going to be okay. He was breathing, not coughing and his color was okay. Although I know giving the EpiPen is not a guarantee – I knew that by giving the medication I was stopping the allergic reaction in its tracks. By the time the police officers arrived his face was about 80% clear.

The police asked me questions about what happened. Since he seemed stable, the police officer asked me if I wanted to take him to the hospital myself or if we wanted to ride in the ambulance. I was confused and told him I didn’t think they should be giving me that choice. I needed him to be under medical supervision – and there was no way I’d be able to drive in that situation. They gave Alex a sticker that looked like a police badge.

The paramedics arrived and the police explained the situation to them. At this point I noted that his face was 90% clear. As I explained the situation, again, they asked Avery if he still had a frog in her throat. He said that it was now as small as an ant. That was a very good sign – between this and his face clearing up, I knew the Epi-Pen was doing it’s job. The paramedics, both women, were very sensitive, kind to Avery, and complimentary to me. They both said that the scary part was over, “Good job, Mom” and that I did the right thing.

I gave one of the police officers my cell phone and dialed my kids father and asked him to call and explain that we were on our way to the hospital. We walked out the door and a neighbor was standing outside worried. I’ve been that neighbor before – I know how awful that is to wonder what’s happening. I asked one of the police to go talk to her and tell her what happened and that Avery is going to be okay.

It was 8 minutes after I had called 911 and I hadn’t let go of this child. I was on a mission to get into that ambulance and get on to the hospital.

I could write a lot more about what happened next – the drive to the hospital in the ambulance, the experience with the staff at the hospital. But the fact is that the toughest, and most memorable part, was what happened at home. He did have another dose of epinephrine at the hospital and some steroids. They kept us nearly four hours for observation. The fear is that the reaction will come back after the medicine wears off. Luckily it did not.


You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.

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32 Responses to “our first epi-pen, ambulance ride, hospital visit for food allergies”

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for sharing this Missy. Knowing when to use the Epi and being brave enough to do it is a scary part of being a parent.

    Joe had one small exposure to peanut butter last summer and irritation with extreme anxiety was his biggest symptom. At the time we had the gut feeling his attitude was related, but didn’t realize until later that it was a common symptom of exposure.

    I’m so glad this turned out well for you.

    • Missy says:

      Thanks Sarah – it’s a scary situation to be in. I’ve heard the person having an allergic reaction can have a feeling of doom or dread – because their life is in danger. 🙁

  2. Barb says:

    Great job, Mom! Glad to hear Avery is okay and you’re heart rate has returned to normal. Thanks so much for sharing this story and making it so real and vivid. I’m passing it on to my non-allergy friends to help them understand why I’m cautious and why it’s important to always carry the Epi.

    • Missy says:

      Thanks Barb – she’s okay, but in terms of my heart rate, if anything, it’s made me even more paranoid about food, trusting my instincts and trying to control the environment (which isn’t always possible). Thanks for reading and sharing the post. xo

  3. Missy, this is certainly a horrific story, with a wonderful ending. Those thoughts, feelings and worries are always with food allergy parents on a daily basis. Will I react soon enough? Will I administer then Pen properly, etc. You my friend, are like many of us, you’re Super Woman! We brave each day not knowing if it will “the day.” Give your cape an extra snap this morning before you put it on. You’ve earned it! Thank you for sharing your story so that so many of us know that we are not alone. Blessings to you and your family always!

    • Missy says:

      Thanks for the supportive comments Kristin. So happy to know you and other amazing food allergy mamas who have been there. xo

  4. Trina says:

    Good job mom 🙂 Glad to hear all is ok.

  5. Erin Herold says:

    You are one strong and brave Mamma. Xo – e

  6. abby says:

    you did an awesome job, missy. i hate that you had to give sweet avery the dpi-pen but thank goodness that you did. your story brought back so many crazy emotions of our first epi-pen/ambulance ride/hospital observation experience. i hope we never have to go through it again. the paramedics asked us, too, if we wanted to take the ambulance or if we just wanted to drive him to the hospital. i was so confused because the docs had always drilled into me that we take the ambulance to the hospital in case the dpi-pen had worn off or there were any more delayed symptoms. my husband and i were a bit upset that they were even asking and one of the paramedic said if he were us he would just drive. bo, too, just like avery looked unbelievably better by the time the paramedics were there and ready to take off fir children’s…but i knew that as soon as i declined the ambulance he would have another reaction or something so better safe than sorry. also, i did the same thing as you when injecting the epi-pen….there was NO WAY i could hold this epi-pen in my squirmy toddlers leg for 10seconds so i know i didn’t even get close to that but the paramedics did say that they say hold it for 10 seconds just so that people hit their kids with it hard enough for the medicine to come out and so that some people don’t pull away too soon because as we all know it’s kind of a blur in the moment and we are nervous, scared etc.. It’s scary and emotionally draining to watch your little one go through that. I hope that you never have to do that again. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Missy says:

      Thanks Abby – glad to hear I’m not alone on the situation or specifically in the epi-pen administering. So happy to have other moms who can relate share their experiences. Really good not to be alone on these matters. Thanks again.

  7. kristine j says:

    As a mom with a child with a food allergy, reading this post was extremely emotional for me. I’m seriously typing this through tears and sniffles.
    I’ve never had to administer the epi-pen and I’m honestly scared for the day that I will have to. Because as you said, it’s not if, it’s when. I know it will happen. I’ve had to call 911 and I did that through muffled tears. While we waited for the ambulance she was telling me to give him Benadryl and to “stay calm” are you kidding me?! How can I stay calm when my child is barely crying, has lips as big as sausages, rubbing his face/throat and has hives all over.
    I’m so proud of you for keeping your head on much better than I’m sure you ever thought you would.
    I feel like I could say so much more and at the same time I have no idea what to say. I’m so wound up from reading this that I feel like rambling and being quiet all at the same time. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Missy says:

      Kristine – the truth is I usually avoid reading these types of blog posts because they make me too upset. But how are we to learn when we don’t know what could happen, what it looks like, etc? We can’t stick our heads in the sand, right?

      I remember being SO PROUD OF YOU for calling 911 when your kiddo had that reaction. I remember thinking how strong you were and that I felt weak compared to you.

      Just reading YOUR comment made me tear up. Thank you for your friendship and support. I wish I could hug you right now. xoxoxo

  8. kristine j says:

    I also wanted to add that we were asked the same thing about the ambulance. I asked why they would even ask me and give me a choice and the paramedic actually said the reason they ask is because if you drive yourself then you don’t pay for the ambulance to come out, but if you ride in it then you’re charged the service for the ride.

  9. kristin says:

    I was recently introduced to your blog through a friend with a child with food allergies. Your story brings it close to every parent’s heart. It will increase awareness about the importance of food allergy issues in a way many stories can’t. My songs in the rocking chair were sunshine songs, too. It must have been so difficult to administer the EpiPen. Thanks for the inspiring story.

  10. Sara says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I too…am reading this with tears in my eyes. I have an 8 year old that has allergies to peanuts, soy, wheat, dairy and eggs. He has outgrown some of them, but my fear is always…what if it comes back? He still is severly allergic to peanuts and I always wonder/if and when we will have to use our epi-pen. When he was a baby he ate a Nilla wafer, and I will NEVER forget the panic that when through me when he started swelling up. Fortunately, Benedryl worked for us, but as things were happening….I was so scared. I am glad that your little one is okay.

    • Missy says:

      Thanks Sara, I totally get that fear. I’ve felt it a few times now and it can be really unsettling as a parent. There are times I’ve worried and wondered and second guessed. Now I feel much more confident that I can “do it” and I know that you can, too.

  11. Autumn says:

    I would have been terrified! Good job, Mama. My daughter has an allergy to coconut, and now that more restaurants are using coconut oil for cooking (even Waffle House is doing this now!) I know that we have to be even more careful. I hope you find out what caused the reaction soon. Your better-safe-than-sorry approach of eliminating all fish for the time being is a smart move. ((Hugs))

    • Missy says:

      Thanks Autumn – I bet coconut is a tricky one, esp since it’s not one of the top 8. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the support. hugs to you, too!

  12. Homa says:

    I am so glad Avery is ok. Your post brought tears to my eyes but it reminded me to not be so terrified of using the epi. Hugs.

  13. Sara Jane says:

    Hi, I’m also a food allergy mama. My 2 year old is allergic to milk, bananas, kiwi, oranges, tree nuts, egg. More things have shown up on skin testing, like peanuts, oats, etc. but those are the ones we’ve actually seen him react to. We’ve already had to give him the epi-pen 3 times (and there were other times we later found out we should have as well). We lived a mile from the hospital so I always just drove him there, even though I was a nervous wreck not knowing how he was doing in the back seat (rear-facing car seat). My question for you is did they allow your son to ride in the ambulance with you as well? That is my big fear as I also have a 4 year old, wondering how that would work. She’s been witness to all of his reactions which has been quite traumatic. Thanks for your post!

    • Missy says:

      Hi Sara Jane – sounds like you are a pro on this front. Thanks for sharing. I know that fear of driving a kid having a reaction (her first big one at age 1 yr) and that was awful! She passed out from crying so hard (fell asleep) and I was afraid she had quit breathing! Never again!

      In terms of the ambulance – yes, they allowed my son to ride along. There was no other option. They have benches on both sides of the back of the rig, so you could arguably fit both parents and another child or two back there if needed. In my case, as a single parent, it was a no brainer that Alex would go with us. They have seat belts on the bench, too.

      The emotions for the siblings are tough… as you know. Really the scary part was over by the time we got to the ambulance. I think the ride was good for him to be with us, as she was stable at that point and there was nothing I was worried about him seeing that would be more traumatic.

  14. Nancy Lyons says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Missy. It’s so well done and thorough and I can’t even imagine how totally stressful and terrifying the actual experience must have been. But posts like this help to educate moms like me who also live with food allergies and dread the day our mettles will be tested. My little guy has only had one reaction – once. And I didn’t use the Epi Pen though I probably should have. Reading about your experience is a really good reminder for me and I can’t thank you enough.

  15. janine b says:

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for your blog. I think i was meant to read it. I have just got back from hospital – my daughter had a severe reaction and talked about the frog just like yours did. It is the worst reaction she has had so far and i hesitated about the epipen. Wish i hadnt now. It is so hard to know when is the right moment. Life is so precious. Thank god she is ok . Keep blogging!

  16. Amanda says:

    Thank you for writing this! I have not had to use the epi yet on my 7 year old that has t/n and peanut allergies. I’m thankful that you wrote this with the detailed descriptions so I can have some sort of an idea of what to expect. I’m glad all turned out well for you. =)

  17. Melissa says:


    Thank you for this post. We just found out that my daughter has a severe peanut allergy after trying it for the first time, and a trip to the ER. You’ve truly put my mind at ease about the Epi-Pen. I’m nervous that I may have to use it, but I know I will if she has a reaction.

    Thanks again!

  18. Ali says:

    I gave my 16 month old son an epi-pen injection in the car. I had given him Benadryl when he started developing a rash after eating eggs, but the rash started coming back so I called his pediatrician and loaded him and his sister in the car for an appointment. I grabbed the epi-pen on the way out the door. As I was driving I kept looking back to make sure he was breathing okay. I couldn’t tell for sure but I thought he was having trouble so I thought “better safe than sorry” and I stopped the car. I unbuckled the bottom part of his harness, pulled his pant legs down, hesitated for a moment as I tried to make sure I understood the directions and was doing it right, then stabbed him in the leg for ten long seconds. Then I buckled him back up and listened to him cry as I drove to the hospital instead of the doctor’s office. He looked totally normal when we got there and I wasn’t sure if I was crazy to give him the epi-pen, but then we ended up staying there for three hours through two steroid injections. I’m still not sure if I was over-paranoid or if I saved his life, but I have peace of mind knowing I can do it again if I have to–for him or someone else.

  19. […] our confidence for quite some time. If you haven’t heard the story, you can read about it here.   Today Avery’s in her first day of “KinderKamp” – wearing her own […]



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