I stopped home at lunch today to check on Shakes the Dog. Cee Cee, as she is also known, had a seizure last night. She needed a noontime game of fetch and some fresh water. We both did.
While I chucked the tennis ball in the yard, the phone rang. It was the allergist calling with the results from the kids' latest blood work. Two weeks ago, I took them to Yale for their annual allergy testing. Sean was a trooper, hollering like a monkey and realizing that if he made himself laugh while three large vials of blood were being drawn, then it didn't seem to hurt as much.
Nolan on the other hand...
Nolan screamed more than he has ever screamed in his life when that needle dug under his skin. He screamed at the tech, "Take it out! Take it out!" His body was rigid, held tight by my arms weighting him down in my lap. He was so distressed the tech couldn't get the vein, and so she had to wiggle the needle under his skin for more than a minute before she could tap into it and get the blood flowing. This only fueled Nolan's hysterics. He was beside himself, spit flying as he screamed at the tech.
Sean tried to make him laugh. "At least they're just sucking your blood and not your eyeball into that thing!" he said. Nolan wasn't laughing.
"I don't think anything is going to cheer him up, Mom," Sean said loudly in my ear.
"Good job trying, anyway," I yelled back over the screams.
By this time Nolan was purple and sweaty, slippery with tears and shaking from fear. The tech was done, and Nolan almost threw up from crying so much. I quickly gave him and his brother Dum Dums before we headed off to Target for some new toys as a reward for being put through that ordeal. During the course of the next 30 minutes, Nolan randomly broke down, shaking and shivering. My heart was broken for him. I hated to put him through that. But we had to find out where he stands as far as food allergies are concerned. After all, his brother hasn't been very lucky in that department.
So this afternoon, I stood in my sunny backyard, strappy skinny black heels sinking into the earth as I tossed the ball to Cee Cee. "Lay it on me," I said to the doctor. "Let's start with Sean."
Bad news. All of his levels are up. Way up. In some cases there is a 100-fold increase in his sensitivity to certain allergens. Peanuts, tree nuts, and nearly all shellfish are lethal to Sean. And I don't exaggerate. He can't ingest these foods. He can't even go near a smoking nut cart in New York City. This crap is poison to his little body, period. Fortunately, he is still negative on the less lethal but more hard to manage food allergies such as wheat, dairy, soy and eggs. It's a major silver lining. Most kids start outgrowing food allergies by six years old. Sean's prognosis seems to be that he'll be allergic as an adult, too.
Nolan? For all of his blood, sweat and tears, Nolan isn't allergic to anything. Not a single thing. I'm thrilled for him. But it's not like we're going to run out and celebrate with Reese's peanut butter cups and shrimp.
Before hanging up, the doctor wanted to know if I had any questions.
I sighed. "I guess I just wish there was a guarantee he'd be safe--and not turn into a paranoid lunatic about food. I feel like I walk a really fine line in educating him about his allergy without making him completely freaked out and fearful."
"Just keep doing what you're doing. So far, he seems to have a good handle on what he's dealing with and sense of humor about it, too."
"Yeah." I didn't sound convinced. I had stopped throwing the ball to the dog. Thanking the good doctor, I said goodbye and sat on my deck stairs for a few minutes, feeling the sun on my arms.
So later tonight, while Sean snoozed in his bed and Nolan whimpered for me to snuggle with him "just one more little last time, Mommy," I laid my head on Nolan's pillow and answered all the questions to the MedicAlert service rep I was talking to on the phone. It's high time to reactivate Sean's account, in light of his increased sensitivity and the fact that he's spending most of summer vacation in day camp.
Nolan twirled my hair in his little fingers, and Sean's breathing was steady and deep, so reassuring against the clanging of the sailboat masts a few blocks away. The rep and I discussed what would be engraved on the two sportsband bracelets Sean had picked out.
"So, we'll have it read 'Anaphylaxis to peanuts, treenuts, shellfish. Call 911'," the operator said. "Correct?"
"The thing is," the operator went on to say, "I answer a lot of the emergency calls that come in, and some people honestly don't know what they're dealing with. It's not their fault. They just don't even know what an epi-pen is. So if we say, 'treat with epi-pen', they'll lose precious minutes trying to figure out what it is, how to use it, and neglect to call 911. Worse, they might use the epi but never follow up with a 911 call, which can be just as bad as not treating him at all."
"I know." I've been to the hospital twice with Sean. Believe me, I know.
"So, do you agree the inscription on the bracelet should say that? Should we confirm it, or would you like to change it?"
Nolan fell asleep, fingers in my hair. I could hear the operator clicking away on the keyboard.
"Okay, you're all set. Two bracelets will be shipped out within the next 72 hours or so. You should have them in 7 to 10 business days."
Sigh. Lots of sighs today.
I went to the kitchen. I really need to do yoga tonight, which of course means I instead grabbed some of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra from the freezer and scraped the bottom of the pint. Working my spoon (and eating my feelings), I thought of all the ways you can protect your children in life--and all the ways you can't. We can kiss skinned knees and other boo-boos, we can arm them with epi-pens and knowledge, but we can't always stop things from happening. Usually, we can just do our best to lessen the likelihood of any harm coming to our children, provide antidotes if needed, and pray and hope for the best.
At the end of the day, Sean's allergies are a real challenge. But so are other things. When he's a fragile 15-year-old with a raging hormonal/ego cocktail swirling in his head and body, I won't be able to protect him from all the emotional monsoons that might come his way. But I can do my best to stave off the worst of it--starting now. Just like with his allergies, I can begin now to lay a foundation of self-confidence and understanding for Sean and his brother. Maybe Sean's sweet six year old wisdom will carry over into the rest of his years, and he will approach life like he does his allergies: He will have handle on it and even have a sense of humor about it. Maybe these allergies are his greatest teacher. As for me, I learn from my children.