October 28, 2013

The Day Tristan's Food Allergies Went From Serious to Life Threatening

There's a reason I went pre-med at university but never went to med school.  During my first anatomy lab with the cadaver and the overpowering scent of formaldehyde, I knew I wasn't doctor material.  Or maybe it was making the first incision on the rat that was still warm in Bio 1A. Either way, the mere fact that I'm squeamish at the sight of blood should've tipped me off.  But obviously, I'm glutton for punishment.

The first time Tristan needed a shot of Epinephrine for an allergic reaction that I deemed "severe" enough to warrant an injection was also a huge turning point for me and for him.  Before that, I had been his biggest advocate, educating teachers, parents, family, and friends about his food allergies.  But I could always end our conversation in the statement: "He has an Epipen, but luckily, we've never had to use it."  I couldn't say this any more.

Now I end the conversation with, "He has Epinephrine, it's with him at all times, and whenever in doubt, give it to him.  Here's how..."

I've now lost count of the number of times I've injected him.  The first few times were adrenaline-filled, characterized by shaky hands and tears on both sides.  But after seeing the instant relief it has given him, I wonder why I ever hesitated.  Yes, it's hard to prick your child with a needle. Yes, it's inconvenient to go to the ER--nobody wants to spend an evening there when you were just a few hours away from tucking your little ones into bed.  Yes, it can save your child's life.

It's not as dramatic as the scene in Pulp Fiction; I'm definitely not in the habit of stabbing anyone in the heart with a needle.  That scene has likely scarred many of us for life.  Luckily for us, you just put the end of auto-injector on the outer thigh and push.  No one even ever has to see a needle.

It's not as bad as forcing your child to vomit because he's swallowed poison, or setting a bone back into place.  Think of it as throwing a drowning child a lifesaver.  You wouldn't stand on the pier, pondering whether your child is actually drowning, or if after a few more strokes he'll get the hang of it.  Even if you didn't know how to swim, you'd likely jump right in and do what you could.

So I know the majority of you are still in the "...but we've never had to use it" category.  And I hope with every ounce of my being that it stays that way.  But if you ever find your child in the need of Epinephrine, please please please don't hesitate to throw her a lifesaver.  Follow your doctor's advice about when to give it. I don't know how many times I've heard moms tell a story about treating their child's allergic reaction and ending with, "I didn't give the Epinephrine, but I probably should have."

In the wake of Natalie Giorgi and Giovanni Cipriano's deaths, and all those awesome food allergy resources out there about when to give Epinephrine, we need to rethink our action plans and make sure our caregivers are trained.

As an added bonus, Tristan has been injected with the new auto-injector the Auvi-Q, and swears that it doesn't hurt.  After one administration of the medicine, he asked, "Did the needle go in?"  I responded, "Do you feel better?"  He answered, "Yes!"  Well, there you go.  It's worth checking out, especially with the coupons out there.

I frequently think about how raising kids with food allergy is a process, and has a huge learning curve.  I don't know why it takes us so long to change our habits, take less risks, or be more vocal advocates.  What I do know is that I didn't sign up for this; otherwise, I'd have gone off to med school with likely a very different life.  Who knew a huge part of my life would be devoted to managing my child's life threatening medical condition?

Your courage rubs off on your kids.  So give the Epinephrine, and teach our kids what they need to know to grow up food allergic.


  1. Well put, said, and stated. You GO, Sarah.

  2. I completely agree with all that you have said. We should not be afraid to us an Epipen if our child is having a severe allergic reaction. My son has severe allergies, like I do so I know exactly how it feels when you are having a bad reaction. I would like to think that if it came to it I would be able to inject him with Epinephrine.
    Claudia Rosenburg | http://www.allergypartners.com

  3. A little while back, I had a very similar experience. My daughter is terribly allergic to peanuts. Well, she was at a class party, and one of the kids had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich right before. They were playing a game, and somehow, his hand, that he did not wash after eating, touched her face. She instantly fell to the ground and couldn't breathe. The teacher administered the epi pen, and I got the call saying to meet her in the ER. That was one of the scariest days of my life. Since then, I have had many experiences like this, but that one, being the first one, still brings me to tears.


  4. Food allergy is caused by an abnormal immune response to food. Two main categories of food allergy are IgE-mediated and non IgE-mediated, and some allergic disorders have characteristics of both. Reactions involving the skin gastrointestinal, respiratory, or cardiovascular systems may develop. In severe food allergies, anaphylaxis is possible.