“She’ll probably grow out of it”
I’ve always been a voracious reader, so when I became a new mom at 22, I quickly amassed a comprehensive library of child development literature and books about infant and toddler health. Everyone knows that you don’t feed kiddos nuts until they are at least 18 months old, to make sure they don’t choke, aren’t allergic, etc. So at 18 months I put baby A into her high chair, lathered up her toast with a little peanut butter, and we went for it! A few hives after only a disgusted lick of the PB later, we were at the Doctor’s office being told “keep her away from nuts for now, but she’ll probably grow out of it.”
Fast forward a few years later. Baby A was 4 years old (not a baby anymore!), we were living in Germany on an Army base, and road tripping to “middle of nowhere” Poland to attend the wedding of our College buddy to his Polish wife in her hometown. As the honored out of town guests that we were, we were invited to her parents’ home for a pre-wedding reception. I spent the evening chasing after A’s sister 1 year old K trying to keep her out of trouble, since of course ours were literally the ONLY children there. A sampled some food from the huge Polish spread, and then stopped abruptly.
Right away I knew something was off, when A came over to me making a strange chicken sound in her throat, and my first thought was that she was choking. I encouraged her to drink some water, thinking she hadn’t swallowed a bit of food all the way. I looked down into her hand and saw the culprit….NUTS on some sort of chocolate dessert. Peanuts, to be exact. I had my confirmation about 10 seconds later when hives started spreading from around her mouth to EVERYWHERE, and she projectile vomited what seemed like a trillion peanuts (but really couldn’t have been more than a couple) all over the poor Bride’s parents house.
“I can keep her airway open”
At that point, other people seemed more concerned with cleaning up the pukage than my daughters condition, but I was feeling very hopeful that she had gotten it all out of her system, and that would be the end of it. I tried to help clean up as best I could, and some of the other American’s were making a big deal out of the fact that we used up an entire roll of paper towels to cleanup, when that is like a months’ worth for a Polish family, or something equally insipid while I was dealing with a crisis. Did I mention that almost every single adult besides me at the house was drunk? Yeah, fun times trying to get people to listen to you when they are utterly trashed. At one point I asked A’s father if we should take her to a hospital. He said “No, let’s just watch her. I can keep her airway open.” Yep, 6 months as a teenage Army medic certainly gives you the same credentials as an MD, absolutely….and no, when the airway closes, about all you can do is a trach….which I’m sorry but a drunk Army signal officer who had a 5 minute stint as a medic is NOT going to be doing to our 4yo daughter…yeesh!
Soon after the night ended with us driving the 40 minutes from the Bride’s parents house to our hotel in the town where the wedding was to be held the next day. We got back to the room, and A and K’s father went down to “socialize” with the Bride’s polish brother and other relatives. I was alone in a hotel room with my 1yo and very very sick still, 4 yo. She was coughing quite a bit, still had hives on her face, and was wheezing sporadically. After about 1/2 hour of this, I decided we HAD to get medicine of some sort. Even with my limited food allergy knowledge, I knew we needed Benadryl.
It took me about an hour to track down my husband, since I couldn’t really leave the kids in the hotel room for more than a minute, and I didn’t know where he had gone. I tried talking to the front desk guy about the option for an ambulance if A took a scary turn with her breathing, and he told me in very halting English that “sometimes ambulance come 1 hour, sometimes not come. Never know.” I ended up literally knocking on random hotel doors at 11pm at night. What I wouldn’t have given for a freaking Wal-mart! The key thing about this day back in 2005, was that Poland is not like Germany. Of all the people we dealt with in Poland, almost no one but the bride and her little brother spoke any English whatsoever. We were full on in the country, in a FOREIGN country.
I finally located A’s dad by following the sound of very loud American voices, and was very insistent that we needed to find an open pharmacy. We loaded everyone into the car, and set off. It felt like a wild goose chase, and it pretty much was. We must have driven for an hour, and finally we found a place. The bride’s brother had come with us in the car, because we needed his Polish skills badly. Him and A’s dad went into the pharmacy and were gone close to forever. After all of that, they came back to the car with some sort of drops in a little glass bottle. We had to figure out the dosing etc, and they translated as “allergy drops.” I basically think it was like a Zyrtec or Claritin type of thing. 64 drops was what we had to give her. That was FUN. Anyway, back to the hotel, and after about an hour the puffiness had gone down, the wheezing was better, and we got some much needed sleep.
The Wedding Morning came and we were dressed up at the church on time. The chapel was AMAZING and full of gorgeous scenes that reminded one of the Sistine Chapel. During the full Catholic wedding high mass, (which goes FOREVER btw), A’s eyes starting swelling shut and the hives were head to toe down her body. She was really uncomfortable, so I took her and her sister outside to walk around the very ancient cemetery and kill time. We got through it, but I missed the whole wedding and it was NOT fun watching her suffer. The drops helped a tiny bit, but only took it down a notch.
“Eat, drink, dance, repeat”
Later on at the reception, I was a basket case. All the food they served (and served, and served, and served if you know Polish weddings) was suspect. I couldn’t identify items as meat or bread, much less know what had nuts in it at all. We had no other food, but I barely let her eat much besides crackers and cheese because I was so scared she would have a secondary exposure on top of her first one. After the first meal, she was really too sick to stay down at the reception to dance eat drink, dance eat drink, repeat, so we went up to the prison box, er, hotel room, and I tried to put the kiddos to bed. After a couple hours of very sick kiddo, and getting worse, I decided the only option at this stage was the hospital. I didn’t feel safe leaving A alone in the room, as sick as she was, so I poked my head out the window to look down into the back patio where I could hear the drunken wedding attendees partying it up. Some were smoking, so I yelled to them to please find A’s Dad. The American sister of the groom saw me, understood me, and assured me she would find him. 30 minutes later and still no husband, so I started hollering out the window again. I finally saw him, and got his attention. Apparently drunk groom’s sister had never said a word to him, and in her drunken state didn’t remember that she had even spoken to a crazy screaming woman who was yelling out the window. I was beyond irritated.
A’s dad grabbed the brother of the Bride again, and we set out around 2am to find a hospital. The fun and awesome thing about where we were in Poland is that there is not just a general ER. There are smaller, more specialized units, each having one thing that they do. We found one hospital, but it turned out that they only handled broken legs and head injuries. Found another, waited to be seen, only to have them look at her tell us “yes, she is having an allergic reaction, but unfortunately we don’t treat children.” 2 more ridiculous stops later, and we finally found a children’s hospital type place. Went in, looked around, and could NOT FIND A SOUL!!! It was like the apocalypse had come, and no one was left! At this stage I was frustrated, puzzled, scared, and freaking exhausted! Finally the bride’s brother started opening doors and found a nurse sleeping in an exam room. She got up from her slumber, went to find a DR for us, and FINALLY poor A was seen.
At that point, it went by fast. They gave her a big ole shot of something in her butt cheek, a breathing treatment, and seriously that kid was as good as new. She was herself again, and like a million times better! I was so happy I could have cried. I was so grateful we had finally found help, and SO PISSED that I had let her father convince me to wait over 28 hours to do so. The hospital staff were awesome, but could not speak even a lick of English. Because of the issues with foreign health insurance, the non-digitized Polish medical records and billing system, and the fact that none of us could understand each other, they didn’t have us pay or provide any insurance info. “Tell all of your friends that Polish people are very nice to Americans,” is what the Bride’s brother translated that the hospital staff said to us. I hugged them and effusively thanked them repeatedly, and then we left. At that stage it was almost 5am, A’s drunk father had sobered up, and the wedding festivities had pretty much wrapped up at the hotel. It was a crazy weekend, not fun for me or my kiddos in the slightest.
If we had been in America, we would have headed straight to the ER when it happened and they would have nipped it in the bud. We have learned since then that she is SEVERELY allergic to peanuts (and also shellfish), and we have been epi-pen carrying folks since that day. Why the Dr’s we originally saw when A first had her reaction to PB at 18 months old did not prescribe her an epi-pen then and there is still a mystery to me; it’s common sense folks! If you or your child has EVER had a bad reaction to a food or insect sting, you should from that point on never be without an epi-pen and Benadryl, no excuses. My kids carry them with them wherever they go, I keep them in my purse, and school, after-school care, extended family, and any other who is around them knows where they are, how to use them, and is prepared to do so. I’m thankful for each day I have with my kiddos, and that we were very lucky that our experience in Poland wasn’t any worse. Kids die each year around the world from something that is benign to the rest of us, like a peanut or sliver of almond. Scary stuff, and education/awareness is the answer!
(My little PA (Peanut Allergy) Girl in Germany)
Please feel free to leave me feedback about my blog, and please take my poll below to let me know what topics YOU would like to hear me blog about!