Consuming With Caution

By Melissa Face

Consuming With Caution

The waitress points to the green bracelet on our toddler’s arm. “What are you wearing?” she asks him.

Evan looks up at her and proudly states, “It means I don’t eat nuts. ’Cause they make me sick”.

“Oh my,” responds the waitress. “Well let’s find you some dinner without any nuts.”

My husband, Craig, and I explain that Evan has a tree nut allergy. We carefully study the menu and ask about the ingredients in sauces, gravies and salad dressings.

“What about the chicken salad?” I inquire. “Can that be ordered without almonds?”

“Sure,” she says. “Our chicken salad is made to order. So, would you like it with just carrots and apples?”

“Yes, please. That will be fine.”

Our food arrives a few minutes later. But before Evan dives into his lunch, I take a bite of his chicken salad to make sure there aren’t any nuts. For us, there is no such thing as being too careful.

Our initial discovery of Evan’s allergy was a terrifying one. My husband, Evan and I were at Busch Gardens enjoying a pet show. Evan sat on my lap and ate some raisins from a bag of trail mix. He ate and watched the animals perform their tricks. Afterwards, we walked to one of our favorite spots where we like to sit in the shade and watch a couple of the roller coasters. Then, we decided it was time to get some lunch.

Craig and I agreed on the smokehouse where we could share a brisket and chicken platter. While we were standing in line, I noticed that Evan was scratching the back of his neck. I looked closer and saw that he was starting to break out. Then, Evan coughed, a loud, hoarse cough.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

“No,” said Evan, as he stared at me with a confused expression.

Then, Evan vomited in his stroller. I asked the people in front of me to please let me out of line. I needed to get Evan into the sunlight so I could better assess his condition.

Once outside, I saw that the red spots on his neck had spread to his belly, arms and face. He was breaking out in full body hives. I told Craig to get the park EMTs while I gave Evan a teaspoon of Benadryl. The EMTs were with us in moments and ushered us toward the first aid station.

At first aid, a nurse took Evan’s blood pressure and temperature and listened to his lungs.

“His lungs sound clear,” she told us. “But his lips do appear to be swelling. This definitely looks like an allergic reaction. What would you like us to do?”

I quickly considered Evan’s appearance, the fact that he was getting new hives despite having a dose of Benadryl, and his total state of confusion about the ordeal.

“Call an ambulance,” I told the nurse. “I want to take him to the hospital.”

The ER doctor assessed Evan and asked for a recount of the episode. She seemed concerned that Evan was continuing to break out.

“He has had the maximum dose of Benadryl for his size,” she told us. “I’m going to try a steroid and some Zantac. Combined, these two drugs are quite effective in eliminating hives.”

The stress of the situation and the drugs made Evan very sleepy. After a few moments, he was resting peacefully on my chest. When he woke up, the hives were gone, and he was singing and laughing like normal.

Weeks later, an allergy skin test and blood work revealed that Evan was allergic to tree nuts, specifically pistachios and cashews. It was the trail mix snack during the pet show at Busch Gardens that caused him to become so sick. And I was the one who gave it to him.

Evan has an allergy treatment plan, and we don’t go anywhere without Benadryl and an EpiPen. But even with emergency medications, mealtime is a stressful event. Having a child with a food allergy complicates everything from dining at restaurants and attending birthday parties, to shopping for groceries and leaving him with caretakers. There is a new element of worry that causes us to study product labels and interrogate waitresses and fast food workers.

Evan’s allergy bracelet is an additional precaution that we took to help inform others and to help educate Evan about his medical condition. We are teaching him to never accept food from people he doesn’t know and to always ask, “What’s in this?”

Our world is a treacherous place for those who have food allergies. So many products that do not contain the specific allergen are still made in facilities where they might be present. Plus, there is the factor of human error.

Just the other day, I was looking at some cookies in a bakery. They appeared to be sugar cookies and were marked with a label that said “PLAIN.” On closer examination I noticed that they had a whitish colored nut in them.

“These cookies are marked plain, but they look like they have nuts in them,” I told the employee.

“Oh yes,” she said. “They have nuts, macadamia nuts. Plain means that they don’t have icing.”

I told her that the store labeling was misleading and dangerous and we left.

Evan and I later stopped at our favorite store where we ordered a soda and a soft pretzel. We sat down together and ate our snack.

“This is good, Mama,” Evan said. “It doesn’t have nuts?”

“No, baby, it doesn’t have nuts.”

“So it won’t make me sick?” he asked.

“No. It sure won’t.”

“Good.”

We enjoyed the rest of our pretzel and I put my worries aside, at least until the next outing.

About this writer

  • Melissa FaceMelissa Face lives in southern Virginia with her husband, son and daughter. Her stories and essays have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort. Email Melissa at writermsface@yahoo.com.

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2 Responses to “Consuming With Caution”

  1. Melissa, great article. I work in a food-allergy free preschool and nuts are the #1 concern. It is amazing how many people are unaware of the hidden dangers in food.

  2. Melissa says:

    Thank you, Linda. I thought I recognized your name. Aren’t you the co-creator of NYMB on Family? I am so excited to be part of that anthology!

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