no, i'm not ok; parents of food allergiCs and the lives we live
Copyright 2019 by Aleasa Word
After 14 years of dealing with life-threatening food allergies with my child, some would think I'm used to it. They may think it's the norm and we've found our rhythm. The truth is when you live with food allergies whether they are yours or your child's you never get to a place where there isn't a concern.
In recent news, an 11-year-old boy passed away from a suspected airborne allergy to fish. When news like this hits, the allergic community grieves and then our own fears creep back up again. Airborne allergies are supposed to be rare. As I've mentioned before the word "rare" does not mean they don't happen at all. So what if you have that rare child or you are that rare person? I've experienced that rare with someone in my own life and it is one of the scariest things you've ever seen. One minute cooking I was fish and the next this person's entire body began to break out in hives that looked like a movie where they slow the speed and as they crept up all over her body. Fortunately, in our case, we had epinephrine handy due to other allergies that had been previously diagnosed. To tell the truth, though, it was like a scene from a bad movie that was in slow motion the entire time. The disbelief, the actions to resolve it, the call to 911 and the subsequent visit to the hospital all played slowly even though it was all in less than a half hour's time.
Once that episode was over we experienced several more over the years for various reasons. To have a highly allergic child is not fun and no, I'm not always ok. My family isn't always ok and neither are the families of many others who live this way. When you have life-threatening allergies is a constant juggling act. It's like the math equation you can't solve. There's always a variable that jumps into play that you can't control or understand but you instead must react and work with what you have in minutes to make sure life is not compromised. Over and over we have to explain ourselves to others, unlike many other conditions. If I told you I had diabetes, you'd know oh ok I can't offer this person this or that and I know this person probably has some sort of insulin has to do XYZ. Because food allergies are different for every person, our realities can be different on a daily basis; however, the result of exposure is the same...ANAPHYLAXIS.
We do have norms each day. We do have moments when we can relax; however, in the back of our minds, there are always questions and extra checks we have to do even when we don't verbalize them. When people ask if everything is ok, we often say "yes everything is fine." If we didn't, we'd be deemed the dreaded helicopter parent who no one believes. As our children age out and many go to college with the same allergies we were sure they'd grow out of the concern is still there. Young people want to be what society considers "normal" and they want to do "normal' things without worrying about bringing attention to their allergies. They can't! They have to be mindful and hope they can find at least one or two trusted people who will help look out for them. The good thing about the increase in food allergies is that for many now college age kids food allergies are the norm so they get it more than older people do. They know it is an issue but there are those who still think it's funny to see a person's reaction when they break out into hives as play games with their unknowing college associate's life via pranks that are dangerous.
So the next time you ask a parent of a food allergic child (or even the children themselves) are they ok, know that deep beneath the surface of the "yes, I'm fine" there is a place where concern lives perpetually.