Monday, October 6, 2014

Reining in my fears

The rain pelting my windshield, water splashing with each set of tires trudging through the puddles and wet leaves blowing across the roadways reflected the turmoil I was feeling. I was freaking out about the task ahead as I drove to my sister-in-law’s house with a bag of peanut butter cups in my car. Eleven years after my son’s diagnosis with a life-threatening allergy to peanut, it was time for me to face a food that could take my child’s life.

I was finally ready to feed peanut to my 6-year-old daughter for the first time in an effort to prevent the potential for her to develop a peanut allergy. Pamela, who has no food allergies, safely eats all kinds of foods when we eat out that contain wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, strawberries and watermelon, the other foods to which Joseph is allergic. That’s not to say Joseph’s allergies to these foods are any less serious than his allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. He has been hospitalized from anaphylactic reactions to milk. But I feel like it is easier to remove milk and the other allergens from Pamela after she eats rather than sticky peanut butter or nut dust. Joseph has broken out in hives just from being near someone eating peanuts and had an asthma attack from walking near an eatery where peanut was being cooked in a food court.

Pamela was tested for food allergies as an infant due to her higher risk of developing food allergies as the sibling of someone with food allergies. Everything came back negative. But I was concerned, especially in light of current thinking about when to introduce highly allergenic foods, that her avoidance of peanuts would sensitize her to the allergen, possibly setting her up for an allergy. Despite my trepidation, I knew I needed to give Pamela nuts. I was worried that my 11-year avoidance could also sensitize me to peanuts.

I certainly don’t want my daughter to find out that she is allergic to peanut by accidentally eating it and having an anaphylactic reaction. So after a recent negative allergy test, our allergist advised us that Pamela should consume peanut in some form a couple of times a month.

We decided to keep the peanut butter cups, along with a washcloth and toothbrushes, at my sister-in-law’s house so that we could clean off any peanut residue before returning home, keeping my house a safe zone for Joseph.  

I looked at the tiny peanut butter cup with disdain as I cut it in half for Pamela’s first taste. I put the other half in my mouth while I kept my eyes on my daughter, ensuring that she was OK. After lunch, we ate another peanut butter cup. Physically, we were both fine. Pamela said she liked the candy but that she felt so weird eating something that she has always known she is not even allowed to touch.

The turmoil in me subsided a bit. I was relieved that, as expected, my daughter did not have an allergic reaction, and I knew that we took the necessary steps to ensure we did not put my son in danger. We chose great company for our peanut consumption, too. I really appreciated having family there to calm my nerves while distracting Pamela and me.

When we got home, Pamela was full of glee as she jumped up and down in huge puddles, using her pink rain boots to splash as far and high as possible. Her carefree spirit lifted the cloud I was letting hover as we faced another allergy-driven challenge.