February 6, 2012

Not so sweet dreams

A few nights ago, I awoke from a startling dream.

In the dream I am walking with my sons, Ryken and Callan, trying to find my way home through a school campus.  As we pass through a narrow pathway, I run into an old high school friend, something that I am wont to do in the randomness of my dreams.  I am so excited to see this old friend that I quickly engage in conversation and momentarily forget that the kids are with me.  Then suddenly the scenery changes and I am in someone's house.  I stop my conversation because I realize that it's a birthday party and cupcakes are being served.  I feel a sense of panic immediately, remember my kids, and shout out for Ryken not to take anything. He hasn't -- but looking past my high school friend, I see an empty cupcake wrapper in front of Callan.

Before I know it, I'm running to find an exit with Callan in my arms and Ryken trailing behind us.  I take a glance at Callan and he is moving his tongue around in his mouth, perhaps having a hard time breathing.  I take out an Epi-Pen twin pack and pull one injection out but I can tell that the pen's tip is bent -- no good.  I pull out the second shot and I can't get it to work right.  I check out Callan again and his eyes are closed, as if he's lost consciousness.

This is when I woke up from my nightmare.  It took me several seconds to orientate myself, to accept that this was just a bad dream.  I quietly checked out my boys who were fast asleep in their beds and tucked them in again, relieved that they were peacefully sleeping as they always do.

While the emergency was imagined, anaphylaxis is a real and daily danger for me and no doubt the same for many of our Get Allergy Wise readers.  This past month was particularly anxious because of real tragedies such as Ammaria Johnson's preventable death and Max's Roseland accidental ingestion of peanuts and near-fatal delayed reaction.  If you have yet heard about Ammaria and Max, take some time to read their stories and share them with others.  While extremely scary and sad, their ordeals can help us stay vigilant about our kids' safety.

Everyone can forget sometimes -- whether it's not carrying Epipen on their person, serving something to a person with food allergies, biting into a familiar-looking food before double-checking the ingredients-- but with enough safety nets in place, we can hope that an accidental exposure can be avoided and, at the bare minimum, a potentially fatal allergic reaction can be identified and treated effectively.  Here are a list of precautions so that you, your food-allergic child, and other caregivers should review periodically so that you will always be comfortable in a real emergency:

Ryken stricken with stomach pain
after eating salami that contained
milk on a camping trip.
  1. Know the signs of anaphyalaxis and think FAST: Face (redness, rash or swelling of eyes, lips, tongue), Airways (coughing, sneezing, difficulty with swallowing, speaking, or breathing), Stomach (pain, vomit, diarrhea), Total Body (rash, itching, paleness, weakness, swelling, dizziness, loss of consciousness, sense of impending doom)
  2. Epi-pen Review: Take out your Epi-pen trainer and go through the steps.  Do it as review but also to gain more comfort.  I model this for grandparents, babysitters, and I model this for my 6-year-old and have him practice as well.  While he doesn't feel comfortable yet with the responsibility of self-administering in the event of an emergency, he understands how important it is (for his and his brother's safety) to know how in the event that knowing adults are incapacitated. 
  3. Make sure your food allergy action plan is current and in the hands of all caregivers, teachers, and school office staff or nurses.  If you do not have one yet, make an appointment with your child's doctor so you can complete it together.  
  4. Retrain all possible caretakers on how to read labels.  Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has printable sheets for each of the top 8 food allergens that can help you identify ingredients to avoid.  Print sheets to keep handy at home, your cars, schools, and in caregivers' homes.  At our house, the rule is that the kids are not to eat anything new that mom or dad have not personally approved.
  5. Include kids in your own process of determining the safety of the foods they eat.  While you grocery-shop and when you're pulling something out of the pantry, model for them the safety measures you take.  When I read labels, I use my finger to slowly read each line.  When vetting new foods, I do a second read from bottom to top -- I read it in a different way to make sure I didn't skip anything the first time.  As I do this, I talk with my kids, narrating what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.  This educates kids who are growing up faster than we want to believe and can do themselves.
  6. Now that my 6-year-old is a strong reader, we share the responsibility of reading through labels.  I give him a package for reading, and I double-check it.  Kids shouldn't eat food that isn't checked by their parents, true.  However, it's important to start teaching older kids who can read how to ask about foods/read labels.  As kids grow older, they spend more time out of our care at school, extracurricular activities, or friends' houses.  We can't always be there to ensure that they are making good choices so it pays to empower them with safe practices as early as we can. 
  7. Arm kids and their belongings with allergy identification for those situations when caregivers can't be there and when kids cannot speak because they are too young to advocate for themselves or too affected by a reaction.  Check out allergy jewlery such as STATkids bracelets, Allerbling bracelets and stickers such as Allergy Alert Stick-ons Include basic information on who to contact in the event of an emergency. 
  8. Teach kids how to decline food; not only politely but in a manner that clearly gets the message across that they have food allergies. "No thank you.  I have food allergies.  My mom and dad need to check if that's safe for me." or "No thank you.  I have food allergies.  I have my own food."
  9. Do you eat out?  Invest in translations of allergy alerts for your favorite foreign cuisines.  Check out Select Wisely translation cards and Allergy Translation cards
As we prepare for the inevitable food-filled Valentine's Day class celebrations and birthday parties, it pays to revisit your safety measures.  As parents with kids with food allergies, I want my kids to enjoy these occasions just as others do.  And I want to do all that I can to prevent my nightmare from ever becoming a reality.
Allerbling food allergy bracelet

Fanny pack with Epi-Pen twin pack, Benadryl, and notes
on allergy symptoms, emergency instructions, and phone numbers.

Labeled lunch box which I need to update
since the boys do not have a kiwi allergy.
Select Wisely laminated allergy alert card
STATkids medical alert bracelets

1 comment:

  1. Sorry about your nightmare. Thank you for the always valuable reminders.