My eldest is allergic to peanuts. From the numerous tests she has been through, it’s probable she is mildly allergic to a few other nuts too. We don’t really know or experiment. We avoid all nuts. What we do know is that she is super allergic to peanuts. Like scary allergic. Throat closing, airways restricting, oxygen blocking allergic.
My sister has a peanut allergy too, so for me it’s always been quite normal to be aware of foods that may or may not contain nuts, although, in hindsight, my mum was definitely not so militant about it as I am. I operate a strict no nut household. None of us eat nuts outside of the house either. We only eat out at restaurants that we trust. Ones which take her allergy seriously and then we stick to a few regular eat out joints. If we have to go somewhere new, for example if we are invited to an event somewhere, we stick to the simples. Pizza. Chips. Cheese toastie etc. No desserts. If that place has a range of nut products on their menu, particular peanuts, or they don’t seem on top of it, Al will often choose not to eat at all. If that’s what her instincts tell her, I never pressure her. I want her to feel safe. Also, she must carry piriton and two epipens at all times. No epipens, no eating. As she’s getting older (she’s currently 11), she is much better at taking ownership of this. As a general rule though, the same way I make sure I have my keys, wallet, phone before leaving the house, epipens are a must. We can’t forget the epipens. We don’t forget the epipens.
An Epipen is an auto-injector which delivers Epinephrine aka Adrenaline. It works by narrowing blood vessels and opening the airways in the lungs. It’s most often used to treat anaphylaxis – a severe and/or life threatening reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy.
I think we do a good job of taking the necessary precautions. We have to. We know it’s serious so we are careful. Unfortunately, we have still had a few really scary experiences. Memories that haunt me. Stories in my mind where I imagine how we could have easily had a very different outcome if we didn’t have that epipen. It really is a life saver.
I actually am pretty sure I have PTSD from the first major incident we had in 2018. It was the first day of summer holidays. A gorgeously sunny Saturday afternoon of July. We had gone over to Bethnal Green to visit my friend Imran. We went to the park opposite his house for a picnic. I had made sandwiches for the kids and he had made smoothies for us. We sat down and as he passed me my smoothie, Al excitedly took it from my hand and had a big gulp. As she did so, I instinctively asked him about nuts. And he said he had put peanut butter in it. Oh no. Anything but peanuts. How? Why? No. Please. It was too late. She had already had some. Panic. Even just writing about this now, I’m feeling so uneasy. I can literally feel my body reacting. My stomach is in knots, my heart is speeding up. I am feeling very triggered.
Alysha said her throat was itching. I pulled out the epipen and whacked it in her thigh without hesitation. Dialled 999. Left the other two with Imran and made my way to the entrance of the park with Al. The ambulance was there within minutes. They checked her over and all her vitals were fine however because of the adrenaline, they advised us that they would need to monitor her for 6 hours. So off we went to Royal London Hospital.
All seemed well. We were even talking about going home soon as she seemed fine. Then out of nowhere she vomited.
They took us through to Paediatric A and E. After about two hours, we were called in for checks. All seemed well. We were even talking about going home soon as she seemed fine. Then out of nowhere she vomited. A huge projectile vomit. I had never seen such a violent, forceful, rejection of stomach contents ever before. The nurse said we should definitely stay for a bit longer and directed us to a bed. She lay down.
The first thing I noticed was the sniffles. Her nose was running. Then her eyes started watering and she sneezed a few times. Strange. Then, I noticed the wheeze. At first I thought I imagined it but I listened closer and there was definitely a wheeze. It was getting louder. I asked her if she was okay and she didn’t really reply. I quickly went and got someone to come and check on her. And it all went mad.
I’ll never get that image out of my mind as long as I live.
Before I knew it, the nurse had called a doctor. Who called another doctor. They were having their own conversation at speed asking for this and that, debating whether they should move her. Deciding there’s no time. They put her on oxygen. Nebuliser. Got a line in. Administered a steroid. Gave her another shot of adrenaline in her thigh. I remember holding her hand and her finger nails were blue. I’ll never get that image out of my mind as long as I live.
Within minutes she was okay. The medical staff were calm and said they were going to move her to the recovery room where the ratio of staff to patient is 1:1 so her heart could be monitored for the next few hours. One of the side effects of adrenaline can be heart related so that’s why they were doing this. By the time they were wheeling her over, not only were her fingernails looking better, she was also as high as a kite! Smiling and laughing at nothing and everything, stringing sentences together that made no sense but seemed hysterical to her. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so I did both. The doctor confirmed that she had indeed gone into anaphylaxis. We were so lucky we were already at the hospital and the amazing staff worked their magic so quickly. These kinds of reactions are rare. Usually anaphylaxis occurs within seconds or minutes of an exposure. But this happened hours later. A secondary reaction. The vomit re-exposed her throat to the allergen and her body went into overdrive.
She was absolutely fine after that. We were moved to a ward. Imran brought my car over along with the other two who went home with my mum. He also brought pizza for Al who got her appetite back after a few hours. We were given the option to go home around 1am; 6 hours after she had been treated for anaphylaxis or wait until the morning. We chose to go home.
She slept with me my in my bed. I spent hours hugging her, holding her, listening to her breathe next to me before I eventually fell asleep that night. Those blue fingernails flashing into my minds eye while I screamed inside for peace. The quiet and stillness of the night making me wish for the hustle and bustle of the hospital so my mind couldn’t wander like this. I vividly imagined awful, horrific scenes in my head, tortured myself over letting this happen, physically tried to shake the thoughts and images out of my head. I intentionally tried to practice gratitude for her health, the nhs, the epipen, my friends and family for the support. But the horrendous scenes managed to find a way to worm themselves through to the forefront of my mind again. The battle in my brain was relentless.
As time passed though, which it always does, we adjusted ourselves and moved on. We talked about it. How scared we were. How great that we always carry the epipen. We discussed what we could learn and any changes we could make. We continue on with life and the memories become distant. Gratitude wins the battle and the horrendous scenes stop making an appearance. But when that trigger is pulled, it’s pulled hard. My anxiety, worry and fear about her allergy and in essence her life, escalated massively since that episode. I prayed, hoped, wished for something like this to never happen again. But it did. And the next time, it was even worse.
To Be Continued…..