My husband had just headed to the convenience store two minutes up the road and I was settling down, ready for a peaceful end to a long day.
My three year old son, Joshua, shuffled into my bedroom, climbed onto the bed and snuggled up next to me. I opened YouTube to catch up on one of our favorite channels when he said, “Mommy, my mouth is hurting.”
Whenever I hear this line I tend to overreact. A hurt mouth is a huge cause for concern when we have discovered three allergies through the course of introducing foods to Joshua. All were surprising and most undetectable at first.
We honestly had no idea. He had eaten some peanut butter crackers around nine or ten months old and eaten the chicken at Chic-Fil-A without any troubling signs. I nor Ben have any allergies and thought nothing of offering him a bite of a peanut butter sandwich.
It was Memorial Day, Joshua had just turned 1. His face began swelling immediately. He cried. Vomited. We jumped into the car so fast and sped to the urgent care in town praying it wasn’t as severe as it looked. His face was nearly unrecognizable.
The swelling was already receding in the eight minute drive to the emergency room so we opted to purchase a bottle of Benadryl from the pharmacy and let him sleep it off.
Okay, peanuts. Let’s avoid those.
Next was lentils.
I had bought a bag of split peas to make a batch of soup (don’t judge me, I love it and I don’t care what it looks like!) and also a bag of lentils to try those out, too.
Josh loved pinto beans and I thought lentils would be a great source of vitamins for him as well.
He did love the lentils. Until the tell-tale signs of an allergic reaction began spreading across his face.
This one did not seem as severe as the peanuts. He didn’t cry or vomit and the swelling was more subtle. I gave him the Benadryl and felt my grey hair inch closer to the surface of my scalp.
And then there were cashews.
When we were staying with family, Josh walked into the room with that swollen face I had come to dread. The problem, now, is I didn’t know what he had ingested. We found that some of the younger children had gotten into shelled peanuts and our best conclusion was he had found one on the ground and eaten it.
We had epi-pens now, but didn’t see a cause to use them. Benadryl to the rescue yet again.
When we got home I discovered what he’d really eaten.
They were out of chocolate Almond milk at H-E-B but they did have Almond & Cashew milk. Great! I thought. Josh hasn’t been allergic to tree nuts, just legumes, I’ll just get this one.
It seemed he barely touched the liquid to his lips before they doubled in size and the inside of his mouth was dotted with white blisters.
I remembered, now, the cashew dessert Ben’s aunt had prepared while we were visiting and realized Josh had surely eaten some.
I cried this time. About 3% of babies develop a peanut allergy but it is extremely rare to have 3 severe food allergies. I began to understand I was wading into dangerous waters far more serious than peanuts and lentils. I resolved to not introduce any new nuts or legumes and stick to what I knew was safe.
And then there were four.
The night I was describing before is the night we had to add chickpeas to the list. And this one was really a kicker. We’ve eaten chickpeas countless times in Josh’s three years of life. In salads, as hummus, simply warmed with butter. There had been no indication of an allergy.
Until Josh said to me, “Mommy, my mouth is hurting.”
I immediately had him open his mouth and stick out his tongue so I could examine it. I didn’t see any swelling or blisters, but could clearly tell my child was unwell.
He was becoming more panicky, now. “Mommy, it hurts. My mouth hurts!”
Ben had taken the car that I had the Benadryl in it from my forgetting to bring it inside. I called him and tried to relay the need for him to come home as fast as he could without conveying too much panic. I yanked out the epi-pen ready to use it if the situation warranted.
But I heard an engine rev and a spray of gravel.
That’s about the moment Josh vomited all over the entry rug.
“Mommy, I just want to go lay down in my bed.”
“I know, baby. Drink this first,” I said, snatching the Benadryl from Ben’s hand and measuring out the dose. He complied and reached out his tired arms for me to hold him.
I did. I cuddled him for the next hour monitoring his breathing and welts, so reluctant to let him go to bed alone with this issue I knew so little about that was just getting worse.
There is no real uplifting message here for you guys about the lessons I’ve learned through this experience.
I have no idea if I’m doing things right or wrong. I have no idea how to be comfortable allowing him in other people’s care. Tears stream down my face as I think about how small a mistake or unknown possibility has to occur to produce a tragedy.
I’ll tell you this, I will be reading. I will be learning and researching in order to do what I can to help and protect him without shielding him from all life’s possibilities.
And, ultimately, I know he is in God’s hands and I trust the prayers of protection I pray over him will have to be enough to cover what my humanity cannot.
If you know anyone with food allergies or have a child of your own suffering with them, I welcome your knowledge and experience as I wade through this trial by fire with my precious son.