Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Little Too Much Excitement (All's Well That Ends Well)

We spent several hours on Christmas Eve wondering if we should be taking Younger Daughter (age 15) to the ER after she ate half a chocolate cookie that turned out to have ground hazelnuts in it. She is allergic to tree nuts, though she's never had a life-threatening reaction. We were at her grandmother's house in Burnsville prior to our traditional family Christmas Eve dinner at Tucci Benucch at the MOA. The cookies were homemade and unlabeled -- part of a holiday gift my sister-in-law had received; I inspected and sniffed and couldn't detect any hint of nuts, so I told my daughter I thought they were okay for her.

Within seconds her tongue and throat were itching, then a few minutes later her throat felt thick and her mucus-production facilities were going into full drive. She kept saying, "This is bad, this is bad," but also kept assuring us she could breathe with no problems. We found some fast-acting allergy medicine in a kitchen cupboard and had her take it -- and then discovered it was 10 years past its expiration date. Oops. She was clearly uncomfortable but continued to say she was essentially okay and could breathe just fine. After some while it seemed that if anything really bad was going to happen it would already have done so, so we decided to keep our dinner reservation in Bloomington, while continuing to watch her closely.

Soon after we had ordered, her asthma started to kick in and she began to wheeze -- not in an escalating way, but causing her considerable discomfort. Her inhaler, however, was in Northfield. We kept asking her if she wanted to get to an emergency room to get on a nebulizer, but she kept saying no, she just needed her inhaler. We raced through dinner (it was delicious, as always) and then the seven of us piled back into the minivan and zoomed down to Northfield, checking with her every few minutes to see if we should divert to a hospital. No, she kept saying, "I'm okay" -- albeit clearly continuing to feel very uncomfortable. I got increasingly nervous, wondering if we were doing the right thing, as the lights of the south metro faded away behind us and I knew that we were getting farther away from help before we would get closer to it again. But she wasn't getting worse, she kept assuring us. We got to the house, raced in, got her inhaler, and within five minutes she was restored to comfort and didn't need to use it again. Enormous relief all around.

Lessons learned: Always have inhaler when going out of town. Try to have some chewable Benadryl, not 10 years past its expiration date, on hand if trying unfamiliar, unlabeled baked goods. Better yet, don't try unfamiliar, unlabeled baked goods!

I've always been conservative about seeking medical treatment. The watch-and-wait approach comes naturally to me, and we've made few ER visits over the course of 18 years of parenthood and three children. Did we gamble too much? Should I have called 911 as soon as she said her throat felt thick? As it turned out, all was well, but what if it hadn't been? Might the see-how-she's feeling-in-another-minute-or-two approach have been fatal if this had been a life-threatening episode? If there's another such episode, it might be no worse -- or it could be the one that becomes life-threatening. Should we now get her an epi-pen and expect her to carry it always in case of accidental nut exposure? It's hard to know.

But I'm grateful for this happy ending and glad to have been reminded not to minimize the potential risks involved in allergic reactions.


Bleeet said...

That's one scary gamble; nut allergies can be so violent. I'm impressed by how level-headed your daughter remained throughout the whole thing. Panic usually worsens the situation for everyone. It can be so hard to maintain an even temperament under such duress.

Penny said...

I knew she'd never had worse than a seriously itchy mouth before, so although I know allergies can escalate, and although I knew she'd probably consumed more of the allergen than in most previous exposures, I will still figuring the odds were that it wouldn't get out of hand. But that's partly the human sense of optimism/invulnerability speaking, and that's a scary thing when it's your child's safety. Thanks for writing.

Penny said...

Make that "was figuring"...

Rob Hardy said...

I have a slight bee allergy. I swell up and itch terribly, but am in no mortal danger. As a kid, I got stung by a bee at camp and was rushed to the hospital and given an extremely painful shot that I didn't need and that made my arm sore for months. And when Will was three months old, he woke up with a high fever on New Year's Day and was rushed in an ambulance to United and Children's for a spinal tap when, in fact, all he had was a case of the flu. So: it's really hard to find the right balance between under- and over-reacting. I'm glad the balance was in your favor!