Zax came into our lives in October of 2008. He was a wonderful baby and, apart from a bit of eczema, was pretty healthy. Because of my own allergies (and particularly having heard the story of my own first experience with egg) we were very cautious about introducing new foods to him. We introduced one food at a time, spaced four days to a week apart, and watched carefully for any signs of allergy.
Things went fine until he was about 10 1/2 months old. I purposefully scheduled Zax’s first taste of scrambled eggs on a weekend when my husband would be home to keep me company. I also introduced the egg well before his first birthday, because there was no way his first exposure was going to be in his birthday cake. I wanted to know beforehand.
|It’s very hard to get a picture of red, blotchy skin
After a handful of bites, we began to notice that something was wrong. Zax was fussy, more so than with previous foods he simply hadn’t cared for, and was rubbing at his face. We stopped giving him the egg and cleaned him up, including changing his clothes. He was starting to get a bit red at that point, but strangely that ended at the neckline of his shirt, like he was only getting red where he’d gotten the egg on his skin. We monitored him and he gradually improved, eventually taking a nap and having everything cleared up at that point.
We called the pediatrician, who immediately referred us to the Colorado Allergy and Asthma Center. We set up an appointment and took him in.
It later occurred to me how ironic the situation was. I have food allergies, and to be honest I almost expected a reaction from him, yet I didn’t have the slightest idea of what to give him. I’d never browsed the pharmacy for children’s allergy medication, and I’m grateful that his initial reaction wasn’t worse. If he’d gone into anaphylactic shock, I probably would have given him my own epi pen before racing off to the hospital, but fortunately that didn’t happen.
The allergist performed a skin test for the eight most common allergens. Zax bore it well, and didn’t fuss much. His results came back positive for egg, which we expected, and also for peanut, which we did not. The kid had never eaten peanut so it seemed strange that he could already be allergic to it. When I considered my own history of false positives on skin tests, I knew that at some point I would want to challenge the peanut diagnosis, but that would have to wait. Several years, in fact, until he was old enough to speak and mature enough to describe how he felt. For the time being, we would consider him allergic to both egg and peanut.
Even though I’d known he was allergic since the day he ate scrambled egg, I still felt disappointed by the diagnosis. In fact, my first thought when they read the results was “Really? He didn’t get the memo that he was supposed to take after his daddy?” It was short-lived though, as I was already rearranging things in my head, thinking of how to incorporate these new foods into my existing food-avoidance routines.
The staff at CAAC seemed surprised by my attitude. Did I have questions? Not really. This is my normal, just with new foods. I knew that they would be appropriately labeled thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. I wasn’t even that concerned about finding substitutions for egg. I figured the internet would tell me everything I needed to know.
They brought in an EpiPen and tester and started to show me how to use it. I pulled out my own and said “You mean like this?” I declined to schedule a follow-up appointment a few weeks later, as they admitted it was just to address questions people encountered as they adjusted to an allergic lifestyle. I did, however, schedule a special appointment for them to test for and administer his flu shot, since the vaccine is incubated in chicken eggs.
Life went on from that point without too much fuss. Zax was still a baby, so we didn’t typically order him restaurant food anyway. Baking without egg proved to yield rather flat results (literally), but things still tasted fine.
We had a few incidents. At 20 months, a second cousin gave him a cookie which made him cough before anyone discovered he had it. At age 2 he stole a piece of pasta that had an egg-laden alfredo sauce, and that time, nothing happened. We hoped that meant he was outgrowing the allergy, but his next annual exam showed that his numbers had not diminished in the slightest.
At age 3, a few months after Kal’s birth, we were at JC Penny taking some family pictures. I had brought along some plain m&ms to ensure Zax’s cooperation and smiles in the photos. While many peanut allergic folks avoid plain m&ms due to their troubling “may contain peanuts” warning, we had had no problems with them. (My relationship with “may contain” products is complicated, and probably the subject of another post.) It was good we had them that day, because we needed a few
bribes incentives to get Zax through the pictures.
After the photo shoot, my husband and I were looking at the results while Zax watched the movie in the waiting area. After a while, he came running up to me asking if he could have some m&ms. Knowing that waiting was boring for a 3-year-old, and that we still had a while to go, I said “yes” and reached into my bag for the m&ms. To my surprise, instead of eagerly awaiting my offering, Zax ran off. He went up to a strange woman in the waiting area and held out his hands, and I watched almost in slow-motion as a very fat m&m disappeared into his mouth.
I charged across the room calling “Get that out of your mouth! What kind of m&m is that?” Zax obliged, looking rather shocked at my behavior. The woman looked sheepish as she told me it was a peanut m&m, and, “I did tell him to ask!”
I pretty much ignored her after that, because I was focused on Zax. The m&m he’d given me was still intact, but since those things break in the bag all the time, I figured the candy coating ought to have peanut residue aplenty. How did he feel? Was he doing okay? I didn’t want to scare him, and also didn’t want to guide him towards giving me certain answers, so I started asking all sorts of silly questions alternating with important ones. How did his nose feel? How did his mouth feel? How did his toes feel? His throat? His belly button? His eyes? His tongue? His knees? His chest? He was giggling by this point, and reporting that everything felt fine.
You have to remember that at this point, the peanut allergy was unconfirmed. He had positive test results but had never eaten any. So while I continued to keep a close eye on him for the rest of the day, and asking him how he felt at random intervals, part of me was hoping that maybe the peanut was a false positive after all.
Check back Friday for the rest of Zax’s story!