There are over a million people in the United States with a peanut allergy. We have gone from a country 15 years ago where people scoffed at this type of allergy to now a universal acceptance that kids, and adults, can die very quickly from anaphylactic shock if not treated immediately. Even five or six years ago, parents in our pre-school found it hard to refrain from sending peanut butter sandwiches or other nut snacks in the lunch because they thought the other kids were just being “difficult” or spoiled.
The son of close friends of ours has a peanut allergy and recently had a close encounter. He was at a school event and a clown passed out hard candy to all the kindergarten kids. The boy knows he is deathly allergic to peanuts but had no idea there could be peanut residue in the candy. He was immediately on the ground unable to breathe. Luckily, his mom was at the event, had her EPI-PEN ready and got to him quickly. He was fine but spent the night at the hospital. All the parents there got a quick view of what happens if you don’t take a peanut allergy seriously.
Last night, we got the bad news that our son is allergic to peanuts and cashews, the two most common nut allergies. My son has always avoided nuts, especially peanuts. We always thought it was in solidarity to his friend, but the very strong aversion was a big signal to the allergist. After tests for just five nuts, he called off further testing and gave his verdict: No nuts. Ever. Anywhere. He said we should avoid all products that don’t guarantee they weren’t made in a facility without nuts, and to ask whether there could be any nuts at every restaurant meal. He was stern and categorical. While my son tested okay for macadamias and brazil nuts, the allergist said we’d be far better off with a no nuts plan entirely “before tragedy strikes,” as he put it.
We then went into the drill on the EPI-PEN. Give the shot in the thigh immediately and then call 911 for an ambulance as soon as possible. It’s that serious. The EPI-PEN can help, but may only delay the real reaction. We tried to put a happy face on all this, but the tone was very serious.
News of any life-threatening condition for a child is always heartbreaking. You do everything you can to protect them and there’s nothing you can really do. In the scheme of things the news could be worse, however life doesn’t work that way. There is no bargain that says that we can accept a deadly peanut allergy today and buy insurance against a broken leg, appendicitis, a lost love, or dreaded cancer tomorrow. This is just bad news, in a discrete package and affects no other good or bad luck going forward.
In the car on the way home, my son was heroic. After all, he’d been telling us for years he was allergic to nuts. Vindication is sweet for an 8 year old boy. When we got home and after I locked up the house, however, I found him at the kitchen counter with his head in his hands, crying. His bowl of Halloween candy was in front of him. He had picked out about a third of the candy that contained nuts. All his favorites, from Snickers to Crunch Bars, from M&Ms to Butterfingers, they are all now off-limits. I’m sure he was wishing that he had eaten more the night before, before he had gotten this final sentence. As he cried, I held him in my arms like I still do when he falls down on the sidewalk and kissed his head and rubbed his back. There was nothing I could say though. No “It will be all right,” or “It will only hurt for a little while,” that would make him feel better. This is loss, pure and simple, one of many of the coming years. You can offer up ice cream or pizza as some recompense, but nothing can ever make up for the loss of an Almond Joy or a tablespoon of Nutella. But like any real loss, it can’t be replaced by anything else like it.