Someone once told me not to plan for if I ever need to give Avery an Epi-Pen injection, but when – that she will likely need to have this life-saving medicine at some point, possibly many times, during her life. And then this episode happened a couple of months ago, and according to her Allergist, I should have given the Epi-Pen, but didn’t. I was scared and minimized her symptoms. Luckily, she 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 rode an ambulance with her to the hospital. Her food allergies are to eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts and melons. On this day we were enjoying shrimp – something she had eaten a handful of times and never had a reaction. She’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. That may be what happened here, although the jury is still out until we have her re-tested.
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 her handling them. Then, at the table eating the shrimp, my son asked for cocktail sauce (it was prepackaged with the shrimp on a mini-party tray). The truth is I wasn’t planning to serve it. Although I read the label and the ingredients looked safe – there was something about it that made me nervous. But I tend to second guess my anxiety around food allergies – wondering if I’m being too cautious. I went to get the cocktail sauce and both kids started dipping and eating shrimp like crazy. In fact, Avery said that she loved the sauce much more than the shrimp.
After a few minutes, I noticed her chin started getting blotchy, something than can happen from the acid in tomato-based sauces. I watched and waited a moment. I wiped off her chin with a baby wipe. And I saw it was getting worse. I told the kids we were done with the sauce and suddenly things started to shift. Avery’s mood changed, she got a bit whinier. She was annoyed that I was grabbing the hydrocortisone ointment to rub on her chin. And I saw her entire chin start to turn ruddy and red and little white bumps like mosquito bites pop up (hives). A red splotch appeared on her forehead that reminded me of when she had her first egg reaction when she was only twelve months. I saw one hive on her hand. I reached for the Benadryl, brought her to her bedroom and sat her on my lap on the rocking chair. She hates the taste of Benadryl and was not happy to take the dose. She coughed once after the medicine. She 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. She was busying herself with something at the kitchen counter and she was getting more agitated with me watching her and checking her face.
And then she started itching the outside of her neck, but I didn’t see any hives or streaking on her neck. This was a big warning sign. I asked her if her throat was itchy and she said yes. I took a deep breath. “On the inside or outside?” I asked. She said it was on the outside. But then she ran away from me and curled up in a ball on the living room floor. I was right on her tail. I asked her, “tell me how you are feeling” and she 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 her 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 her 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 her the Epi-Pen for the first time.
She was fidgety and agitated and I was staying as calm as I could, even though I felt my own adreneline rush through my veins. She was wearing her favorite fleece pajama pants with horses. 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 her sideways in my arms. She 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 her tightly in my left arm, and jabbed the Epi-Pen into her thigh with my right hand.
She 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 her 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 she got the full dose. With her crying loudly in my ear, I looked in the window on the Epi-Pen and it said it was 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 daughter has severe food allergies and is having a reaction. I just gave her 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 her up and walked around the house, while she 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 her shoes to me. The police arrived within 3-5 minutes.
Although those minutes seemed to last forever, in my heart, I knew that she was going to be okay. It was as though I had already saved her. Her anger with me and her loud crying somehow assured me that she was going to be okay. She was breathing, she was not coughing and her color was okay. Although I know giving the Epi-Pen is not a guarantee – I knew that by giving her the medication I was stopping the allergic reaction in its tracks. By the time the police officers arrived her face was about 80% clear.
The police asked me questions about what happened. Since she seemed stable, the police officer asked me if I wanted to take her 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 her 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 her face was 90% clear. As I explained the situation, again, they asked Avery if she still had a frog in her throat. She said that it was now as small as an ant. That was a very good sign – between this and her 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. She 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.
We still don’t know if it was the shrimp or an ingredient in the cocktail sauce. We’ll have to have another blood draw and RAST test to determine if she’s now allergic to shellfish. In the meantime, we are acting as if. Frankly, I’m nervous to give her any fish or shellfish, even though they are different categories.
Many of you left comments and questions on facebook – I’ll try to answer any questions that weren’t covered here in a follow up post. Thank you, as always, for your kindness, encouragement and support.
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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