I refuse to let nuts make me nuts. However, being a mom of twin 7-year-old boys with severe nut allergies has definitely tested my sanity. I just don’t think any mom should ever have to look in their son’s eyes and answer the question “Am I going to die?” because they are struggling to breathe from a severe allergic reaction to food. Living with allergies and the potential for anaphylactic shock is a part of our everyday reality. My sons’ survival depends on them learning to be vigilant and alert at all times. For our family, all nuts are completely off limits and considered enemy #1. There isn’t a nut in the world that is welcome in our home.
The stress, anxiety and depression that has accompanied living with allergic reactions, ambulance rides to the ER, doctors’ appointments and daily management of medicines has tested my resolve over the years. But severe anaphylaxis is very real to us, and my sons’ independence and ability to manage their health demands that I be strong, alert, educated and outspoken. Anaphylaxis is a very serious, life-threatening condition that involves severe swelling, a drop in blood pressure and collapse of the circulatory system. There is no room for error, so I’ve been challenged with helping them best navigate the emotions that come with the seriousness of their allergies and help them feel comfortable with being “special.” It’s my responsibility to teach them the importance of being their own advocate, speaking up and going without if necessary.
In 2009, Brady and Blake took their first big bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at age two. Within a few seconds after the first bite, Blake started to scream and scratch at his eyes. Literally within seconds, his lips and eyes began to swell. I looked at his twin brother who was still enjoying his peanut butter and jelly sandwich without any reaction. The next few minutes are somewhat of a blur. I’m sure I broke every speed limit law to reach the nearest Now Care facility. Blake was going into anaphylactic shock. We rushed past the front desk of the clinic into an exam room. His throat was swelling shut and he was struggling to breathe. Even the nurse and physician on call were shaken by Blake’s critical state. I cradled him in my arms, trying to stay calm but unable to stop crying. I was pleading, “Please hurry! Please do something! He’s not breathing!” At that moment Blake’s physician opened the exam room door and yelled, “CALL 9-1-1!” I remember thinking “this can’t be happening. My son is not going to die from a peanut butter sandwich.” But that’s exactly what was happening.
We have experienced so many gut-wrenching moments as a family with regards to nut allergies. I vividly remember the time we took the boys to their first baseball game when they were about 4-years-old. In the middle of the game, the entire stadium started chanting “NUTS! NUTS! NUTS!” in order to win a bag of peanuts tossed at them in the air. I look down to see Blake is turning sheet white, trembling and crying. Brady then stands up and yells, “Why are you trying to kill my brother! Stop it! Nuts can kill him!” My husband and I were shaken to the core and felt horrible for subjecting them to such a traumatic moment. I started crying and we both just scooped the boys up into our arms and left immediately. Blake was choking back tears and asked us “Why was everyone trying to hurt me?” I could have never anticipated that heartbreaking moment.
For the first few years, Blake was the son we worried most about protecting from nuts. But just a couple months ago, his twin brother, Brady, had an accidental nut allergy reaction in a restaurant. Brady’s anaphylactic episode was the first time I had to personally administer an Epipen. I have to admit, I spent years feeling anxious wondering if I could stay calm, not panic and give the injection. Yet as many moms already know, we can move mountains for our kids when faced with a crisis. So, I quickly discovered sticking a big needle in Brady’s leg was a “no-brainer” compared to the alternative. Now, the twins share an even stronger bond over knowing what it feels like to get a life-saving Epipen stuck in their thigh and an ambulance ride to the hospital.
Today, the nuts aren’t winning and I have hope. For only being 7-years-old, the boys are acutely aware of their surroundings wherever we go and don’t hesitate to ask questions before eating new or unfamiliar food. The boys and I are more educated and growing stronger emotionally. We now feel comfortable being the annoying guests who ask everyone about the ingredients in treats. I no longer feel guilty for leaving parties because people don’t understand the severity of our situation when they put nuts out in bowls for everyone to snack on. (Yes, even the nut oil on hands can induce an allergic reaction.)
We are grateful for friends, family and school moms that have truly embraced our situation and only provide nut-free snacks and food when we are around. I’m thankful for a school that provides them a loving environment and makes them feel extra-special to sit at the “nut-free” table. Being the Mom that says “no” to suspicious foods is now recognized as a loving gesture by the boys and not being the party-pooper mom. We are all really excited for the latest developments in research that offers hope for developing a cure to nut allergies. So, hopefully the next time you meet a mom with a child who has a nut or other food allergy, try not to label them as “nuts” and over reactive. It’s complicated and we are driven by love.