My 3-year-old daughter almost died last Thursday.
That’s not hyperbole; that’s for real. And I’m telling you what happened because it just might save your child, or someone that you care about.
Here are the random things that saved my daughter’s life last week.
1. My 3-year-old daughter happened to come home from a playdate about 10 minutes after she was served peanut butter crackers. (She’d tried them for the first time there because, hey, we didn’t think she had an allergy.) That was when she first vomited, on the floor of my kitchen. Thank goodness she was home.
2. When she vomited that first time — there were five more to come — a huge green booger ballooned out of her nostril. She asked for “the booger medicine,” which is Benadryl. I gave it to her, thinking I was helping to treat a fast-acting cold. Though I did not realize she was having an allergic reaction, by giving her an antihistamine, I helped her survive, without knowing it.
3. I called my pediatrician. After I figured out she’d had a peanut butter cracker on the playdate, she told me to sit tight and watch her for any more problems. I hung up the phone, and then saw my daughter’s hand go under her pants. It was being with her, and seeing her scratch her legs, is what alerted me to check her there — and not just her torso — and to see the bubbling, growing hives all over her hips and thighs. Then she vomited three more times.
4. Thank God I had an EpiPen Jr. in the house, and had practiced how to use it. It belongs to my other daughter, who is allergic to pistachios and cashews. Because of that, I had practiced with old EpiPens and knew how to administer one — because I will tell you that when your kid is on the brink of death, you aren’t going to be able to read the instructions. You just rely on muscle memory: you hold your child down, flick the top off the EpiPen that isn’t hers, stab her in the leg and hold it there, counting aloud to ten. You do this, by the way, while trying not to die yourself of fear and panic and worry. (Watch this video to teach yourself — because if you have a kid coming to your house with a known allergy, you need to know how to do this just in case.)
5. My mother came in the car with me to the hospital. I now know from this experience that it is best to call the ambulance after you’ve given an EpiPen, because there might be a biphasic reaction (you might need to administer a second EpiPen) and you can’t be driving and watching your kid simultaneously. My daughter, who typically falls asleep in car rides longer than two minutes, was watched and cajoled and engaged by my mom all the way to the hospital, as I drove while trying not to cry.
My daughter and I were very, very lucky last week. When I even think about it, I reverberate with gratitude. I am so unspeakably grateful that circumstances fell into place so that she is still alive today.
Please feel free to share this story with others, and please take from it that if you have a child who is very young, you actually might not have any idea if they have food allergies. I’m guilty of having been blasé about this in the past, but here’s the thing: If your kid hasn’t had an allergic reaction, it may not be that they don’t have allergies — it may just be that you have been lucky. Every year in the United States, 150 kids die from allergic reactions. In a room of 20 kids in America, 1 of those kids has food allergies.
I have no food allergies, and neither does my husband. My daughter goes to a nut-free nursery school, and our house is nut-free because my niece has an equally severe peanut allergy. Before last Thursday, if I had been asked whether my child had any food allergies, my answer would have been no. I now know the more accurate answer would have been, “none that we know of.”
Please err on the side of not serving known allergens on playdates with younger kids — the risks are just not worth it. Because even if your kid’s playmate didn’t have a reaction, it’s possible she could bring home peanut-covered hands to a house where her sibling has an allergy, resulting in equally scary circumstances.
Yes, peanut butter is delicious. But no matter how much your child likes a snack, it’s not worth the risk.