Each year, my family takes a trip down to 30A in Florida. For as long as I can remember, we’ve picked up donuts from The Donut Hole to enjoy one morning of our vacation. Knowing my 3-year-old son’s allergies to eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts, my thoughtful brother and sister-in-law made a special trip to a bakery that sells vegan muffins (so egg-free) and other baked goods. They did their homework, asking the owner of the bakery about specific items and whether or not they contained my son’s allergens. They were directed toward several different nut-free, vegan options (or so they were told).
Excited to have found a special treat for my little guy to enjoy as we ate our donuts, we sat down for breakfast together. My son dove into his vanilla muffin along with the rest of his breakfast. Later, he got up from the table not acting like himself. When I asked him what was wrong, he quietly replied, “I don’t know.” We had just discussed the fact that it was our last day at the beach, so I assumed he was sad about that and didn’t push him to talk much more.
We proceeded to change into our swimsuits, lather up with sunscreen, and walk down to the beach. I was carrying my sleeping 6 month old, but when mom finally arrived with my 3-year-old, she commented that he was “moving at a glacial pace.”
He played in the sand for a little while with my dad and brother. A little later, he asked for a snack but didn’t really eat much. I knew something was up when he asked to sit in my lap. This kid had been sprinting up and down the beach all week! Something wasn’t right. He continued to become more and more clingy. At one point, he was sitting under the umbrella covered in a beach towel telling me he had a “feber” (AKA fever). He began asking me for medicine.
At this point, I also thought he might have gotten a little cool in the shade or that maybe he needed to go potty, so I began walking with him back up to our house. He didn’t want to walk, so I ended up carrying him the rest of the way. As we were walking, he began to scratch. By the time we’d gotten to the house, he was itching all over and clawing his neck, legs…really, his entire body.
Finally out of the sun, I was able to see his skin more clearly. It looked like he had a terrible, blistery sunburn. He sat on the tile floor and scratched while I called the bakery to re-check the ingredients of his muffin. Again, I spoke to the owner and was told the muffin did not contain eggs or nuts; however, this time he offered to have someone else check and call me back. I continued to observe my son while I called my mom to come up from the beach because I suspected an allergic reaction. My husband wasn’t able to come on this trip, so I called to let him know as well.
When the bakery called me back, I answered and began asking more questions about the specific egg-free, nut-free flavors the bakery offered. The woman who returned my call listed several options, but vanilla wasn’t one of them. When I asked about the vanilla, I was finally told, “Oh no. The vanilla muffin isn’t vegan. It contains eggs.” My heart dropped as I quickly hung up and went to get the Epipen. As soon as my parents walked into the house, we administered the Epipen amidst lots of screams and tears from my little guy.
Those moments and the ones that followed were so scary and heartbreaking. My son, already not feeling well, knew he was going to have to get a shot and was basically hysterical. As a mother, I was scared to death not knowing how quickly his reaction was going to progress. Many people don’t realize that allergic reactions can worsen over the course of several hours and that antihistamines (which my son takes every morning) can mask certain aspects of allergic reactions.
I was devastated, knowing he trusts me to never give him foods that would hurt him or make him sick.
We rushed, flashers on, to the nearest hospital. Though his heart was racing, my little guy was having a hard time staying awake. We watched videos and encouraged him to keep talking to us on our 15-minute drive to the hospital.
Fortunately, the emergency room staff was wonderful, and we were in a room within 5 minutes of our arrival. They administered a hefty dose of strong steroids and Benadryl and set him up on a heart monitor for the next several hours to watch for any rebound reactions as the Epipen wore off. Fortunately, his breathing was not compromised and his airways stayed open. We had lots of people praying for us by that point, too. I’m not sure what would’ve happened without his Epipen or morning dose of hydroxyzine. I am so thankful that I was with him and that my family, doctors, PA, and nurses knew how to care for him as well.
The bakery owner was very apologetic, tearfully offering to pay for all of my son’s medical expenses; however, this was a life-threatening emergency that could’ve had a completely different outcome due to this oversight and not taking our inquiry related to my child’s food allergies seriously enough. And this from the owner of the bakery! I was baffled, and it honestly makes me exponentially more wary of taking my son out to eat.
I recognize the extra effort that goes into researching the items that are served at bakeries and restaurants when patrons report an allergy and ask about ingredients. It’s additional time and work in a fast-paced industry. At the same time, I believe people not only need more training and awareness of the seriousness of food allergies, but our society, especially those who work in foodservice establishments, also need a little more empathy.
Though he has such a sweet attitude about it, it brings tears to my eyes to think that my son can’t just eat a regular piece of cake at a birthday party or enjoy our tradition of donuts at The Donut Hole. I hate that he can’t order whatever sounds good from a restaurant menu. It’s nerve-wrecking to know he has to rely on other people to tell him which foods are safe and which ones are not at this point in his life. It requires quite a bit of trust on his part, and it requires a ton of our trust in food service establishments.
I share our story in hopes that those who work in food service will see my son and others who have food allergies as real people who want to be normal, who want to belong, who don’t want to have to live in a bubble and eat at home all the time. I share it for friends and family members of those with food allergies to have a greater awareness of what allergic reactions might look like and how to react, knowing that my son’s reaction could’ve been much worse and progressed much faster. I share it so that others will understand the reasons why parents worry so much about foods served at school, parties, and other events.
There is no shame in asking lots of questions and reminding and re-reminding others about a loved one’s food allergies, and I’ll continue to model these behaviors (carrying the Epipen, asking questions, etc.) and to teach my little one how to take his allergies seriously, too.
Our story has a happy ending that includes memories of Veggie Tales videos and Minions stickers at the hospital, and I’m pretty sure my son is no longer worried he has a hole in his leg from the Epipen (yes, he asked). My prayer is that our story somehow prevents more stories of allergic reactions and gives additional insight about how to react with respect.
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- Easy to Make, Exciting to Eat School Lunches
- Food Allergy Alliance of the Mid-South