Every Tuesday and Thursday, Evie attends her speech therapy sessions in downtown Redmond. These appointments last 40 minutes – not enough time to do anything other than grab a Starbucks then head straight back again – so Henry and I always just sit in the waiting room together. Waiting.
Twice a week, my hungry little man tends to spend this time alternating between flirting outrageously with the receptionist (she’s a fellow Brit, so I approve wholeheartedly), and standing in front of me, ever so subtly clearing his throat, bouncing on his toes, and looking pointedly at the snack pack.
A couple of months ago, without thinking about it, I reached into that pack and handed Henry a packet of these little tidbits:
I say “without thinking about it”, because what I thought he was eating was this:
An easy mistake to make, right? And, whilst I hadn’t intended to expose my boy to peanuts at such a young age, I wasn’t particularly worried when that familiar nut-buttery smell started wafting over from the vicinity of my happily munching munchkin. Henry is a gannet. He will eat anything and everything – from baby rice, to chicken korma, to limes dipped in Mexican salsa – and has never suffered any ill effect.
He didn’t keel over and start gasping for air, so in my naivety, I let him polish off the bag before it was time to go and discuss Evie’s “progress” (ahem) with her therapist.
As usual, Henry fell asleep on the way home, so I popped him in his cot and looked forward to an hour and a half of
Facebook time catching up on the housework, as is our norm. When he started whimpering 20 minutes later, I tutted and waited for him to settle back down. Some time after that, grumpily muttering “For God’s sake, half an hour is not enough!”, I stomped up the stairs to be met with the heart-stopping sight of a nursery recently decorated by Dexter.
OK, maybe not that bad, but I can attest to the fact that dark brown baby vomit, sprayed all over the walls, bedding and carpet of a tiny child’s bedroom does make for a disturbingly macabre scene in the half light of a late afternoon.
Poor, poor Henry! He clung to me, while I stripped him and his bed, and then he vomited some more. We came downstairs and snuggled on the sofa with Evie, before he heaved up what was left in his tiny tummy. Unable to leave him long enough to get to my laptop, I called Damyan in a panic:
Me: Can you Google “Peanut allergy symptoms” for me? I can’t move!
D: Erm….OK. Let’s see….”Vomiting, lethargy…”
Me: Oh my God, I’ve killed Henry!!! What should I do? I can’t drive, he won’t stop puking, he might choke!
Meanwhile, having emptied his belly of all solids, Henry proceeded to spit up bile and some unknown-but-quite-disturbing bright yellow fluid. My husband drove home to escort us to the Urgent Care clinic at the bottom of our road, and we nervously sat in yet another waiting room as Henry made the most miraculous (and embarrassing) recovery. After 2 hours of non-stop barfing, heaving and pitiful whimpering, I guess his body had well and truly purged itself of that peanutty poison. That little monkey celebrated his newfound freedom from those wretched retches by chasing his sister round the room, pulling terribly important cables from the walls, and gleefully waving “Hi!” to anyone that looked in his direction.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to be told that this didn’t really look like a peanut allergy. That it was more likely a tummy upset that had clearly run its course. That the peanut thing was probably an unhappy coincidence, but it might be wise to avoid those particular cookies in future. The super sympathetic nurse (nope, we never even laid eyes on a doctor, so full of vim and vigour was my little lad) also noted that a “true” allergy would most likely present with a rash, fever and/or breathing difficulties. As Henry had no other symptoms, we could rest easy.
So you can imagine my surprise when, no more than a month later, the exact same thing happened again. Despite those reassurances, I had been trying to keep Henry away from nuts, just in case. I wasn’t exactly reading labels, or hassling restaurants for their lists of ingredients, but nor was I freely distributing the PBJ sandwiches. And yet, here we were again. Exactly the same pattern, almost to the minute. 2 hours of non-stop vomiting, retching and misery, followed by a long, clammy nap in my arms.
But, as far as I was aware, he hadn’t had any nuts this time. What could it be? As I mentioned, my boy loves his grub – we don’t call him Hungry Henry for nothing! He’s constantly clearing his throat, peering longingly into the fridge, or begging at the side of innocent strangers in Starbucks….and as a result, he spends the day snacking on and stealing all sorts of crap! But on this day, I was pretty sure I knew exactly where I’d been and what he’d eaten. It didn’t make any sense.
Until I posted this on Facebook:
As I lay in bed late at night, still trying to work it all out, a text message arrived from a friend we’d had coffee with that day. “OMG, I’ve just realised. Henry had a tiny piece of my granola bar. It had peanuts in it. I’m SO sorry!“.
Now, maybe I could understand that a whole bag of rich, sugary, peanut cookies might upset a little one’s tummy. But a tiny corner of a healthy snack bar? I don’t think so!
Yesterday, Henry had his 15-month “well child” check with his lovely pediatrician, Dr Fab (not really, but we love her, so henceforth shall she be known). I discussed everything with her, and also that we’d been told at Urgent Care that it definitely wasn’t an allergy. Her response was “Oh, I’m afraid that actually this is classic peanut allergy. And the thing about peanut allergy, in particular, is that it tends to get worse with every subsequent exposure. So, I’m going to go ahead and get you an Epi-pen…”.
And so on and so forth.
It seems that we were just exceptionally lucky. Apparently there is a lot of research ongoing that suggests that breastfed babies are less susceptible to severe allergic reactions – all of a sudden, I’m feeling very grateful that I’ve found it so hard to figure out when or how to stop nursing my ginormous toddler! But this isn’t a time for complacency – next time, we might very well be much more unlucky. I’ll admit to sitting with a lump in my throat, tears pricking my eyes, as the practice nurse trained me on the use of an Epi-pen, and explained to me when I would need to use it. There is something quite terrifying about sitting with a super healthy, 24 lb toddler squirming in your lap, while you discuss what it might look like if he suddenly goes into respiratory failure.
Still, nothing breaks such a somber mood more than a screeching fire alarm suddenly going off right over your head, and doctors and nurses hastily ushering you from the (possibly burning) building.
Oh, and of course this helps to lighten the spirit a little, too.
Apparently, somebody’s pre-schooler punched the alarm button (not mine, I hasten to add – not this time, at least). Mind you, that kid and his mom ended up getting quite the dressing down from those boys in uniform. Maybe it’s time to start coaching Evie….
In the meantime, off we go to the Allergy and Asthma Clinic with my tiny little ticking time-bomb. Of all the things he could be sensitive to, peanuts somehow seems like one of the scariest. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most well-known, with many schools having either a “nut ban” policy, or at least an allergen free zone in the dining area. So, here’s hoping that we won’t spend the rest of our lives on a knife-edge, and that that blasted Epi-pen remains in a dark corner of my handbag, never to see the light of day.
Kind of ironic, really. I’d love to buy him a “No Nuts” T-shirt, but given his recent orchiectomy surgery, that somehow seems a little too cruel.