Once upon a time there was an adorable little Monkey toddler who was fat and happy and gurgly and loved creamed spinach. Yes! CREAMED SPINACH. From Boston Market. But I digress. The point is that he happily ate just about anything you fed to him. And anything he found on the floor. Or in the dog’s dish. (I suspect there will be a lot of digressions tonight.)
Then one day I accidentally fed him some poison, and after the excitement that went with THAT, a picky eater was born.
No, I didn’t hand him a brick of D-Con or make him a teether ring out of ant baits. I put him in his highchair and handed him half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My nefarious plan was… ummm… lunch! But he stuck his finger into the sandwich and smeared some peanut butter on the tray and then on his face… and started screaming.
It was loads of fun. There was a lot of screaming and crying; some of it was even from Monkey. He broke out in hives and his head swelled up like a melon and his eyes sort of disappeared and if I’d had some Ativan back then, it would’ve been VERY HANDY I THINK. In lieu of Ativan, I just completely freaked out, called the pediatrician, administered enough Benadryl to dope up a small horse, and held on to Monkey so tightly for the next several hours that it was a small miracle he didn’t die of asphyxiation resulting from my death grip rather than his newly apparent food allergy.
Blah blah blah, allergy testing, highly allergic to peanuts, oh and also all these other foods, SURPRISE!, blah blah blah, read all labels, cook from scratch, you’ll find other foods to feed him.
As it turned out, finding other foods to feed him wasn’t all that complicated, on account of he stopped eating just about everything. That was probably a valid response to what he’d been through. Regardless, I just had this sneaking suspicion that pop-tarts and french fries do not a balanced diet make, and I continued to offer him delicious, nutritious food alternatives that he threw on the floor with relish.
There were other changes after that, of course. Once your child has an anaphylactic reaction to something, you have to carry an EpiPen around so that in the event of another accidental exposure, you can jab a big needle in their leg and hopefully keep them alive long enough to get to the hospital. Good times! Especially since EpiPens are first cousins to Goldilocks, and can’t get too hot (epinephrine will cook) or too cold (firing mechanism will malfunction). That makes things like trips to the beach or afternoons sledding a bit more challenging. Plus it turns out that another of Monkey’s favorite foods–chocolate–becomes much more complicated if you’re nut-allergic. Things like cake and ice cream have a high potential for cross-contamination, making the safest plan for those seven billion birthday parties and “special treat” days at daycare baking and bringing our own treats.
It’s very overwhelming, at first. It feels like danger is lurking everywhere. It takes FOR.EVER. to shop for groceries, now that you have to stop and read every label. Monkey knew before he could speak in sentences that he was never to eat food outside of home without asking first if it was safe for him. He proudly showed off his Medic Alert bracelet to anyone who asked about it. “It say peanuts make me SICK” he would say with a serious face, as young as two.
Years went by, and Monkey outgrew all but the peanut allergy. We’re accustomed to dealing with it now, and it’s not that big of a deal. They used to think that no one outgrew peanut allergy. More recently they’ve found that as many as 20% of people will outgrow it, but still. Would you bet on those odds?
Next week, Monkey starts kindergarten. His allergist recommends a food challenge prior to starting elementary school, for his patients who were diagnosed as babies/toddlers. A food challenge is just what it sounds like: In a clinically controlled setting, you sit your kid down and feed them small amounts of the target food until they either go into anaphylaxis or the doctor declares them no longer allergic.
It’s like Russian Roulette! But with your child!
I was not all that jazzed about the idea of a food challenge. Go figure.
But it turns out that first they do a blood test, and the results of the blood test give them a pretty good idea of whether or not you’re likely to pass a food challenge. The doctor explained that anything over one number is considered allergic, but in fact there is a range between that number and another where 95% of patients will still pass a food challenge. This doctor not only has all the appropriate degrees and certifications, he also has a little cross-stitch sampler with his name in it hanging in the exam room. So what he says must be true.
Monkey had the blood test. A piece of paper came in the mail. The piece of paper said that his number falls into the “95% will pass the food challenge” range. Please call to schedule the test.
My first thought was: HOLY SHIT.
My second thought was: Oh man, I could buy generic granola bars!! (Behold the irony: Monkey doesn’t even eat granola bars. But Chickadee loves them, and there is just one expensive brand I’ve found that is nut-free.)
My third thought was: I am definitely bringing some Ativan with me for the food challenge.
This morning I called to schedule the challenge, and the nurse told me to please bring our own peanuts. Which, I’m sorry, I found… odd. It’s not like I have any peanuts here in the house. I can (and will) go buy some, I guess, but then if he reacts during the test, what would be the proper protocol at that point? Do I throw the rest of the nuts away? Offer them to the nurse? Suggest they keep the rest there in a sealed container so that they have them available to poison the next kid?
95% is a pretty encouraging number. But… I can’t wrap my brain around it. It seems impossible that suddenly he could eat whatever he wants. Suppose he scarfs down a can of peanuts, no problems. Could I really just throw away the EpiPens and start buying Chex Mix and Little Debbie snack cakes and Jif all willy nilly? (Ohhhh. We could have Nutty Buddies. I used to LOVE Nutty Buddies.) Or would I constantly be hovering, waiting for the reaction that might appear?
I might be obsessing a wee bit.
Monkey was very excited to hear he might not be allergic anymore, and once he confirmed that the food challenge wouldn’t involve any needles (I may have somewhat glossed over the part where if he has a reaction he’ll get the EpiPen in the leg as well as a nice little trip to the ER), he was pretty stoked about that, as well. In fact, he’s been nothing but optimism. Except, yesterday he got up into my lap and said, “Mama, I have a question.” I nodded, and he looked thoughtful before continuing. “If I’m not allergic to peanuts anymore… would I take my bracelet off?” (He has worn his Medic Alert bracelet since he was fifteen months old.)
“Well sure, buddy. You wouldn’t need it anymore,” I said brightly. His face crumpled.
“But I LIKE my bracelet!” he wailed.
I hope the potential loss of his treasured bracelet is the biggest problem this brings him. And I hope he passes the challenge, because now I really want to buy a jumbo box of Nutty Buddies. Though it does feel just a little selfish to be preparing to subject him to this and thinking all about SNACK FOOD. However, the alternative is to consider that he may go into anaphylaxis from something we fed him ON PURPOSE. So. I’m going with dreams of snack cakes, I think.
Either way, Monkey maintains that creamed spinach looks like puke and he’s never eating THAT again. I guess some things won’t change, no matter what.