You'd think that being an allergy writer means I'm hyper-aware of allergens... and you'd be correct. I am extremely aware of all the risks, I am an expert level label-reader, and I take pride in educating others in how to properly live life while keeping those with food allergies safe. And yet, I made the mistake of a lifetime with my son.
Over the Christmas holidays, we were on vacation in the United States. The road trip to Florida is always a challenge -- we have to find safe places to eat along the way that we trust, and know that our son's tree nut and peanut allergies can be accommodated (nobody wants to eat McDonald's non-stop). In one restaurant, I asked what nuts they have in the establishment and was assured there were absolutely no nuts or peanuts on the premises. I said, "There's a brownie on the menu, and often those have nuts in them. Do yours?" And the answer was, "Oh, walnuts." And I said, "It says those brownies are deep-fried... so your fryer oil is contaminated with nuts, which means my son can't eat anything fried."
It's this kind of next-level awareness allergy parents have to have. My son couldn't eat anything he wanted to eat there, and had I not pried, we'd have put him at risk.
We'd rented a condo so we could cook the majority of our meals ourselves, knowing that made-from-scratch food is always the safest option. For our Christmas Eve dinner, I roasted two beautiful little chickens, made delicious mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables, but decided to buy a pre-bought dessert.
Both my husband and I read the label; I'm not sure how we both missed the information. I chose to buy a cake that was made on equipment that processes tree nuts, because I felt the risk was minimal. (That is, of course, a risk many will not take ever, and each time we make those kinds of choices, we're taking risks.) In any case, when we started to eat the cake, I knew immediately there were nuts in the topping. My son had already devoured the sugary streusel from his piece of cake, and I could feel the blood drain from my head.
"There are nuts in this. Does anyone taste nuts?", I asked my family.
My son's huge eyes got even wider and he started to whimper.
"Did I eat nuts? AM I GOING TO DIE?"
I had to stay calm, while everything in my body was losing control, because I didn't want to scare my son more than I already had. My husband went into protection mode, reassuring our son he was okay, that everything was going to be fine. Our daughter did the same. And I took off running to find the packaging.
Sure enough, there it was: "Contains wheat, dairy, and walnuts." Walnuts, oh my god. How did this happen? How did we both miss this? What was going to happen to my son? Where was that hospital someone told me about?
We watched our son for any sign of reaction and... there was none. Not a hive, not a cough, not anything. Nothing.
Now, at his last skin test, he tested negative for the tree nut panel, but we are waiting for his oral food challenge in the spring before he's allowed to eat tree nuts, of course. Something like should never have happened, especially when I'm so careful. But here he was, completely fine, and when my body stopped shaking, and the bile went back down to my stomach, I felt the heavy relief settle over me.
Mistakes happen. If it's possible for the parents of an allergic child to make a mistake like this, then anyone could. This reminded me to be ever-diligent, and to double- and triple-check every single label. It reminded me to be extremely cautious in restaurants, and always speak up and ask questions.
I'm still recovering from the shock and guilt that I could even let it happen, so I thought I'd share it with you all so you know that we all make mistakes. And to remind myself that we are so lucky our son is fine.
My wish for you all is that 2016 is a healthy and safe one for you.