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  • Writer's pictureSarah Nantel


That was our first experience with anaphylactic shock.

I still remember the moment - “ma’am, you have to stand back”, the sound of the blaring alarm, the rushing in of more and more doctors and nurses, the wailing of my one year old son. My husband and I standing in complete shock. This can’t be happening. This only happens on TV and in movies, right?!

That was our first experience with anaphylactic shock.

On a warm summer night, we gave our son a bite of salmon. He has had fish before. Immediately, he threw up. We put him on the floor and he started playing. He seemed happy. But slowly, his lips started to swell. After a few minutes of debate, we got into the car to make the 20 minute drive to Children’s Hospital. I sat in the back with him and played peek-a-boo, he still seemed happy. But then the swelling got worse. A lot worse. Ten minutes into the drive, he could barely open his eyes. Then he started breathing rapidly. Then he started wheezing. The admitting nurse took one look at him and immediately ushered us to the back. Alarms sounded as doctors and nurses ran in. My precious little boy was wrestled from my arms. We were asked if we gave him the Epi-Pen. No, we didn’t. We didn’t have an Epi-Pen! No one in our families has food allergies! We didn’t think this could happen!

I spent the next days and weeks reading up on everything I possibly could on food allergies. We were put on the priority list for allergy testing, and my son tested positive for fish, peanuts and tree nuts - 3 of the top 8 food allergens. We bought Epi-Pens, we stopped going out to eat, we cleaned out our pantry, I joined numerous food allergy forums, I printed out Allergy Action Plans and pinned it everywhere. I cried. A lot.

Slowly, we adapted. We went back to living a “normal” life. But now, “normal” means always sitting opposite my son at a restaurant so I can scan his face more clearly for signs of an allergic reaction, it means waiting in the car in -20C weather at a drop-off birthday party so that I can get to him quickly if anything were to happen, it means planning our vacations and trips on Google map carefully so that we are never eating anywhere far from a major hospital, and it means staying up at night having nightmares about him going off to college, getting drunk at a party and reaching into a bowl of peanuts.

Perhaps it’s such a cliché; yet, through it all, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned to put aside my own inhibitions and talk to strangers so that I can make sure the food doesn’t contain the allergens. I’ve learned to laugh more - especially when my chubby child loudly proclaimed, in the middle of a large dinner with his hands on his hips, that “fish is our friends. WE DON’T EAT FISH!” I’ve learned that like everything in life, it’s your attitude that matters most - my son knows he is different from other kids, but he is completely unbothered by it and believes it’s not a big deal since everyone is different in his/her own way.

But most unexpectedly, I’ve learned that children can be so kind and considerate - my son’s best friend, a little boy who is barely four, loves peanut butter sandwiches; but if he knows they are getting together later that day, he will not eat one, regardless of how many times his mom (and I) tell him that it’s fine as long as he washes his hands and face afterwards.

It all makes me grateful and fills me with hope - that together, we can endeavour to keep my little guy safe. So for all those parents out there just starting on this unexpected journey - trust me, it is hard, but it will get better.

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