Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Just Keep Breathing

Four years ago we discovered our middle child had a life-threatening allergy. We discovered this the way most parents do: you feed your tiny, defenseless child a food that may or may not be dangerous to them and wait to see if there is a severe reaction.

We had a suspicion that he was allergic to peanuts after being on an airplane where they were served. Our baby started to break out in all manner of weird hives. Hives were not unusual for him, except that these new hives didn't look like the hives he would get from new clothes, or immunizations, or fever, or disposable diapers, or anything else we had experienced. So we suspected. And then we spent a harrowing day in the ER while our child continued to blow up and look like a prize fighter. They told us they could not confirm a diagnosis, but that they too suspected a nut allergy and we should see a specialist.

So we went to a pediatric allergist. That day our sweet 2-year-old was put through a torture test of pricks and intense itching to confirm for us that yes, our child was allergic to nuts of all kinds, and peanuts, and that we would now be trained in how to use an EpiPen incase he stopped breathing. BREATHING. It's universally acknowledged that breathing is an essential part of staying alive. It's a horribly frightening thing to realize that your kid could find himself unable to breathe just by eating (another universally acknowledged way to stay alive.) Suddenly the world seems like a much more dangerous place.

So we educated ourselves. I spent months learning about nut allergies and teaching the people around my child how to look for such poisons in our foods. I remember seeing a Mr. Peanut commercial around that time and thinking, how are they allowed to sell that stuff on TV?! I was incredulous. The day we cleaned out the pantry of all nut products our oldest kid cried, as much for our loss of food selections as for his brother's potential consequences. It took us a long time to become habitual in managing this allergy for a toddler. Jack was not allowed to eat any food brought into the house by concerned friends. No one was allowed to prepare food for him who didn't understand the danger of cross contamination. No cookie exchanges during the holidays. We inspected every item that came in the house for Halloween or Easter or Valentines Day. Pitch-ins at social events became a huge inconvenience; either we packed him a separate meal and still had to watch him like a hawk, or just didn't go. A preschool that was nut-free became our top priority. Suddenly I realized how much food was a central part of gatherings. We couldn't even go the the playground without a well meaning adult offering our kid a snack. It was life altering.

But today, we don't feel the consequences of his allergy in the same way. Four years later, it's just part of our lives, the way managing diabetes becomes part of your life. It's old hat and just the way we roll. Which gives me hope, because this week, that same adorable child was struggling to breathe, again.

This time it wasn't due to foods, but just a function of his lungs. Our precious boy has asthma. We've run into this before, in much smaller ways: the cold air in winter making him short of breath while playing outside, running around the yard in summer when the allergy count is high, but never anything as wicked as this. This time, he was struggling to breathe, and could not catch his breath. His entire body was working to take in just enough air. Off to the ER we went. And thank heaven we did. He was in need of some major intervention. After a full night and day, lived in the every-two-hour increments of breathing treatments, he was back to normal, breathing like the rest of us. Something I take for granted every day.

It's terrible to watch your child struggling to simply exist. Especially with nothing at hand to help. I am so grateful we now have the tools to help our kid when he is in distress. The doctors and nurses and therapists who helped us negotiate this were incredibly kind. I am grateful to them and their willingness to keep telling this exhausted mom what we can do to make things better again. I felt confident leaving the hospital that we would not need to be back soon. And Jack is the same happy-go-lucky kid he has always been.

So now we are working to find our way through this diagnosis too, until it becomes just the way we live. And we will. Because that's our choice. We will forget what it was like before the asthma diagnosis and this will just become our new normal. Just like we have forgotten the ways peanut butter was a large part of our life. We will do this because we are fighters, and our kid is a miracle.

We will choose to find a way to just keep breathing.