Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies
Our allergic journey is anything but predictable. But until last week, I was relatively confident with my system for allergy management, and the second nature of my vigilance. As it goes, every person who looks after Lucas gets my thorough EpiPen tutorial and a line-by-line explanation of his Allergy Action Plan, which covers all the bases, including the difference between an anaphylactic reaction and an asthmatic one.
In addition to allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, egg and a host of other foods, animals and enviro elements, Lucas is asthmatic. But we don’t carry his puffers unless we’re traveling or going somewhere with animals, which we tend to avoid or really prepare for since he’s so severely allergic to dogs, cats and pretty much all our furry friends.
I also like to keep things simple for others. “When in doubt, give the EpiPen,” is a lot easier to digest than, “if his breathing sounds like this and if you think he ate something, give him this, but if it sounds like that without food, give him this .…”
The EpiPen treats both forms of respiratory distress. The puffer only treats the asthma. So it always seemed better to just send the Epi and keep the need for judgment calls to a minimum.
But here’s the story. Last week, the day after I trained Lucas’s new friend’s mom, we bumped into his family at the park. They were there with their Grandma and her dog. Until this moment, it never occurred to me to ask if someone has a friend or family member with an animal who visits. Turns out Grandma’s little Fifi is shedding fur and dander every day at a house where I was intending to drop off Lucas, sans puffers, Reactine, trial or warning.
The realization that my emergency preparedness was flawed was exacerbated by an incident two days later at another of his friends’ homes. The family had just moved and we were all over at their new digs for a swim and play. When the rain came, the kids adjourned to the basement for some air hockey and Wii time.
Next thing we know, Lucas emerges crying and wheezing, eyes blood shot and swollen, face pale, voice nearly inaudible as he complained about his breathing. To anyone else in the room, he’d appear to be having an anaphylactic reaction.
But it was immediately clear to me that he was having an asthma attack. We whisked him out the door and home within six minutes. Two puffs of his inhaler later we saw some immediate relief, though he reported he was at about a “6” within the hour (10 being normal breathing, as per our ranking system).
The Shedding Machine
Since I knew Lucas’s friend didn’t have any pets, I asked the mom whether the previous owners did – a question I would never have thought to ask before, but the best one I’d asked all day. “They did!” she said with a eureka exclamation.
But this wasn’t just a pet. It was one big, allergenic German shepherd who slept in the rec room shedding fur and dander by the pound for many long, doggy years. The basement, where Lucas’s troubles began, is the only carpeted place in the house and they hadn’t had it steam cleaned, at least not yet.
By bedtime and after two more puffs of his inhaler, Lucas had reached an 8 and my guilt had set in like steel-toed boot to the face.
I don’t send his puffers on playdates, yet never thought to ask about other people’s animals in the house. I was (and still am) sick about it, but it’s a good reminder (and thank God we were there). Honey agreed – “It is a good reminder.”
“A good reminder of what?” I asked, curious about which part he was referring to. “Of the fact that he has asthma, too.”
It’s true. We do tend undervalue the asthma in light of the life-threatening food allergies. But I’m also reminded that no matter how much forethought and vigilance we put into Lucas’s safety and no matter how long we’ve been at it, this journey continues to be one of trial and error, learning, evolving, experience. Even if there’s calm, it’s never static.
His Other Hazards
What’s more, we’re reminded that our kid is seriously allergic to animals. And like peanuts et al, they should be regarded and identified as a highly threatening hazard to his health and safety.
My action plan rushes through this part in an effort to keep the focus on anaphylaxis, but the truth is, animal sheddings are likely lurking in just as many – perhaps even more – places as nut remnants. And as I’ve now learned, a pet-less house can pose a threat if the right questions aren’t asked and proper precautions aren’t taken.
So now – as all things happen in threes – I’m faced with the third installment of last week’s pet dilemma. Another friend of Lucas, whose house he’s never been to on account of his two cats, has chosen to forego a birthday party to have two of his favourite friends over for a movie and sleepover.
Lucas is honoured and excited to be chosen as one of them, but I’m left feeling triple-stressed about the whole prospect, despite assurances that the house will be cleaned and the cats kept in the basement. I suggested to the mom – who is more than eager to accommodate in any way possible – that we come over a few times to test the waters before committing, but even that feels wrong now.
We wouldn’t take a try-it-and-see approach with a ‘may contain peanuts’ warning on a food label, so does it make sense to take a chance on a house of cats?
On the other hand, with the proper safeguards, I definitely do drop Lucas off at houses with peanut butter in them.
I’m flummoxed by this one.
1. What would you do?
2. Are there any other precautions I should be taking or questions I should be asking to avoid another unnecessary threat to my son’s safety?
3. Is sending puffers with strict instruction on when to use what, responsible or confusing and hazardous?
4. Does your child’s asthma take a secondary role to his/her food allergies?