An Accident – No Longer A Slave To Fear

 

An Accident - No Longer A Slave To Fear | thisgratefulmama.comToday I am choosing to tell this story, not out of self-pity or for attention, but for two very important reasons: First, to raise awareness of Epi-Pen safety, and second, to share how God was faithful, and how His presence gave tangible peace and help in a situation that was very scary for our family. Here goes…

Yesterday was a normal summer day.

The kids and I got up, ate breakfast and took a walk to the park.

Upon returning, we got ready and a neighbor invited our son to join them for the afternoon. The girls and I ran errands and came home for naps.

30 minutes into rest time, I found our 4-year-old sunshine girl on the floor, surrounded by books. We headed downstairs to read the books in the library bag.

We read every single one.

When finished, she asked if there were more books in the bag. Standing, I told her we read them all and walked to the kitchen to start cleaning.

She dropped from the couch to the floor and looked in the bag. I washed one dish. I heard a strangely loud plastic ‘click’ and looked at her.

I couldn’t see what she was doing. She was looking down at something behind the bag on the floor. It was such a strange noise, I asked her if she had broken something.

At my voice, she looked up – her eyes wide, as big as quarters. At her shocked, fearful look I ran.

In her hand was the Epi-Pen Jr. we carry everywhere for our son’s food allergies. It was out of its case, the blue safety cap was on the floor, and the orange end was pressed into her pointer finger.

The blood made it clear it had been activated and injected into her tiny finger.

As I lifted her, clasping her finger in my hand, tears and sobs flowed freely. She cried so hard she was nearly hyperventilating – in fear, in pain, and in shock at a curious moment turned horribly wrong.

A thousand things raced through my mind as I grabbed an entire stack of napkins off of the kitchen table. I cradled her in my arms while applying pressure to her finger.

Did she have epinephrine in her system? Was it too much? Did the needle damage her finger? How could I have been so stupid to leave it in the bag where she could reach it? How could this happen with me 10 feet away?

NOW WHAT?

Familiar words flashed through my head.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. The LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
-Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Deep breath. Thank you, Jesus.

I quickly prayed, Lord just HELP us.

I pressed my forehead to hers and spoke softly, asking her to take deep breaths with me. Needing to hold her, I needed her to be calm enough to call the doctor and have them hear me.

Though her eyes remained wet and fearful, she was able to calm down enough so I could call her doctor. I hoped they would to see her in the clinic.

The nurse quickly asked a doctor what our next steps were. Take her to Children’s Hospital. Now.

Not as I’d hoped. Fear threatened. So many What IFs?

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble
– Psalm 46:1 (NIV)

I called my mom. She left immediately to come watch the baby.

Then I took a deep breath and called my husband. You guys, I am so thankful to be married to him – he was calm and kind when he did not have to be. He immediately left work to meet me at the emergency room.

As I spoke, explaining to others what happened, she got more and more upset. I kept it as brief as possible, but needed to give enough information to be clear. She could not calm down. We snuggled for a bit and looked at her finger – still bleeding but slower.

Now I could see the wound went THROUGH her finger – in the underside of the joint at the end of her pointer finger and out the top. 

I began to be concerned about damage to her finger along with epinephrine that could be in her system.

We covered it with a band aid. Still holding her, we prayed, thanking God for being with us and asking for His peace and comfort.

I reassured her that she would be ok and that she was not in trouble. 

She told me it hurt. And that she was scared.

My mom arrived. While I grabbed my purse and phone, my mom prayed with our daughter and made sure I was OK to drive. I was, so my mom stayed with the baby and we left.

In the car, I took some deep breaths. The words from a worship song came to mind:

I’m no longer a slave to fear – I am a child of God.
(No Longer Slaves, Bethel Music)

I recalled how God has worked in my life when it comes to fear over the past few years. This is it. In moments like this I either move forward in faith, demonstrating changed character, or revert to old habits.

I prayed for strength and peace so I could help our daughter calm down and be the mom she needed right now. I prayed that even in this situation, as fear rose up, that it would not paralyze me.

There was no time for that. She needed me.

The Holy Spirit did not disappoint – His presence and peace washed over me. 

Sunshine girl was still very upset in the car. Unable to hug her while driving, I needed to calm her down with words. I couldn’t use the radio because I wanted to be sure I could hear her clearly if anything changed.

I asked her to sing me a song. I often ask her to sing to keep her busy, or to calm her down.

She would not.

So I sang to her – off key, strained, but as happy-sounding as I could manage. I sang her favorite songs from church and BSF. Worship is a powerful thing in fearful circumstances – there is not a lot of room for fear when praising God. I felt calmer, stronger, with each off-key word.

Jesus Loves Me This I Know…Holy, Holy, Holy…Joy to the World…she began whispering the words with me. So I kept going. The Bible Is A Treasure Book…Good Morning God…

Now that she was calm, I tried asking a few questions about what happened.

I asked her if she knew it was the Epi-Pen. She did not. We usually keep them in a black case. This particular pen was ‘extra’ from school, kept in the bag we use for activities, so we never forget to have one with us. (We’ll need a different plan going forward)

I asked what she thought was going to happen. She said she wanted to know what the orange part does and began choking back tears. (I’m grateful it was not closer to her face)

I asked if it surprised her. She closed her eyes and nodded yes.

I asked if it hurt. Fresh tears. Yes. 

I choked back my own tears as I considered how she was just a little girl being curious and then a needle shot through her finger. How it was scary and hurt so bad and how she was also afraid of being in trouble.

I asked if it hurt now. Surprisingly, she smiled and said her finger felt like ‘nothing‘. Upon further questioning, ‘nothing’ meant numb. While glad it didn’t hurt, numb might not be a good thing…

We rounded the corner to the hospital.

I am grateful my husband beat us there. By phone he told me exactly where to go. As we rounded the corner from the parking ramp to the emergency department, his face was kind and concerned – no judgement.

He took our daughter from my tired arms and we walked in together. His presence was a relief, encouraging and strengthening.

They handed us masks because of the recent measles outbreak. We sat with a triage nurse. This was all familiar – I remembered being here before with our son for an asthma event.

Our daughter’s vitals were good. Heart rate wasn’t too fast. Some relief set in.

She was shy but cooperative with the nurse, her bloodshot eyes peeking out over her Mickey Mouse mask.

The nurse asked questions. We answered.

And we waited.

In the room, sunshine girl wanted to sit on the bed and was thrilled to hear she could pick a princess movie.

She sat alone one the bed. She watched carefully, curious about everything the nurse and doctor did. If this child does not go into the medical profession, I will be shocked. She is brave, remarkably calm, curious and excited by every doctor visit. No matter what they ask of her – shots, looking at her injured finger, you name it – she will do it as long as she knows it has a purpose.

For the remainder of the visit – the only time she got upset was when I asked the doctor if we could dispose of the Epi-Pen at the hospital. The sight of it evoked obvious memories of pain and fear.

The doctor examined her finger and asked us all kinds of questions, starting with ‘I’m assuming this was an accident?’ I told him what happened, shoving down the mom-guilt for another day.

Long story short, her X-rays showed no fragments of needle or bone, and it appeared the needle went between the finger bones, through the joint. She could bend it with pain.

The doctor cleaned it up.

The working assumption is epinephrine injected after the needle passed through her finger, leaving behind a doozy of a puncture wound. It was both interesting and scary to learn that if epinephrine is injected in a high dose into the joint, it can cause blood vessels to constrict so much that blood flow is cut off to the finger. This constriction can be so severe, it can lead to necrosis and tissue death.

Eek.

The doctor reassured us this was not the case and sent us home with instructions to use bacitracin and band aids on the wound, give Motrin for pain, and watch for signs of infection.

As we left, the doctor mentioned these injuries are actually very common. I guess we weren’t unique.

Sunshine girl was actually pretty peppy as we left the hospital.  She was more thrilled to wear her Hello Kitty sticker and to bring home printouts of her x-rays to show people her bones.

Here is a photo of all of us in our lovely masks.

An Accident - No Longer A Slave To Fear | thisgratefulmama.com

A few lessons from this story:

  1. Accidents can happen even when a child is being supervised and in the same room with a parent
  2. Epi Pens are life-saving devices but can be quickly activated in the hands of a child with dangerous consequences
  3. While it is important Epi-Pens be accessible to adults – a purse or bag can be accessed by a child – I need to think through where ours will be located at home so we don’t forget it but have it in a safe place
  4. Children’s Hospital in St. Paul has amazing staff who were efficient, kind, and made our daughter and us feel comfortable and well cared for
  5. We have amazing family and friends who showed up and prayed for us when we needed them
  6. God is not distant – His presence and help is real and tangible and He is faithful
  7. God’s word is alive, powerful and active, giving peace and comfort in real-life circumstances
  8. How we respond in a scary circumstance may determine how our child responds
  9. God has made our sunshine girl to be amazingly calm and fascinated in medical situations

We are so very grateful.

An Accident 1 Accident 3 An Accident - No Longer A Slave To Fear | thisgratefulmama.com

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DO These 10 Things When Your Child is Diagnosed With A Food Allergy

We discovered our son’s peanut and cashew allergies at 15 months through allergy testing. He was tested for allergies because after we switched him to dairy at a year, he became ill, and lost weight. We switched to rice milk and were sent to a nutritionist. Along with increasing intake of beans, lentils and meats, the nutritionist recommended trying nuts as a healthy fat and protein source.

Since we were already doing allergy testing for dairy and soy, we decided to also test for nuts. When the testing came back with no measurable dairy or soy allergy, and instead an allergy to cashews and peanuts, I was shocked. He had never eaten either of those foods.

After a year of struggling with severe infant reflux, we had some  indication that certain foods might be a problem. I was prepared to find a food allergy that causes stomach upset, nasal congestion, or skin eczema, but I was NOT prepared to find a potentially life-threatening, anaphylaxis inducing allergy.

It is by the grace and mercy of a loving God that we learned of his allergy through testing instead of a trip to the ER. Words cannot express my gratitude.

With the diagnosis came a prescription for an Epi-Pen. We were instructed that a nut-free home was a ‘good idea’. We were directed to a few websites for ‘tips’ and told to follow-up with an allergist for skin testing when our son turned 3. The pharmacist showed me how to use the Epi-Pen and recommended doing training with all family and caregivers.

Apparently after some web research and Epi-Pen training, we were equipped to keep our son safe.

It was like as long as we had an Epi-Pen, we’d all be OK…

But I didn’t feel equipped.

Truth is, if your child has a potentially life-threatening food allergy, there is a lot you need to know because you NEVER want to use that Epi-Pen! 

After doing some research on our own and conversations with doctors and nurses, we got our feet underneath us. From those efforts, here are some tips for parents who have a child diagnosed with a food allergy.

DO These 10 Things When Your Child is Diagnosed With A Food Allergy

1. Choose your sources carefully

DO not do a random google search for ‘peanut allergy’. While some helpful information will come up, there are countless stories of extreme reactions that will scare you out of your boots. A little fear is healthy, but you do not need to read every food allergy horror story out there. When looking online, choose reputable associations and websites known to have accurate medical information.

The Food Allergy Research & Education (formerly FAAN) has helpful information for parents, schools, and kids, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has similar information, as well as journal articles on current scientific research. Your state may also have an association dedicated to food allergies; here is the link to the MN Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of MN (AFAA) Facebook page .  Some blogs may give you a more personal view of other’s experiences, but you may have to be selective. Here is a list of 16 great food allergy blogs, I’m a fan of The Nut-Free Mom.

2. Request a consult with an Allergist

We waited (in error) to go to the allergist until my son was 3 based on the pediatrician’s recommendations. If diagnosed in the pediatrician’s office, don’t wait to see the allergist. The wealth of information the allergist provided was worth whatever copay is required. Most insurance plans cover the appointment and we didn’t even need a referral to go to ours. Allergists are experts in their field, and can give you a realistic and full picture of your child’s specific allergies.

3. Do Epi-Pen training with family and caregivers

After our son was diagnosed, we trained our entire family how to use the Epi-Pen. Every prescription comes with a training pen, and it took just 15 minutes. It gave us the chance to explain what anaphylaxis looks like, and why it happens. We were able to clarify what nuts he was allergic to, and that even though allergic peanuts and cashews, we avoid ALL peanuts and tree nuts.  It brought greater awareness of the risks of foods for him. Now no one gives our son food before asking one of us, or reading a food label.  In writing this, I realize we are overdue for an Epi-Pen review session. Oh and don’t forget to register your Epi-Pens here and they will send you a free travel bag to carry them in.

4. Master food labels and teach family and caregivers 

Reading food labels on EVERYTHING is not natural to many. I have some food allergies myself, so I was accustomed to reading food labels, and my husband had some practice too. However, my food allergies make me feel sick and are not life threatening. I needed to be much more diligent to read the label before EVERY purchase. Some of our family had never dealt with food allergies of any kind. Reading food labels is not always easy for them, and I don’t expect them to do it perfectly. When in doubt, read the label together or pick something else. Never assume anything is safe if you didn’t read the label. My son’s grandparents, aunts and uncles have made his safety priority and when in doubt, they call me and read the label with me on the phone or in person, or ask me to bring something for him.

Don’t forget to read labels on ‘Safe’ foods, even if purchased before. We have unknowingly purchased potentially nut-contaminated foods by buying what we have before and wrongly assumed to be ‘safe’. Companies change manufacturers and bring on new products often, so it is possible for their ‘safe’ status to change depending on the other products being made using the same equipment. To be safe, just read everything, every time. There will always be food to eat, regardless of your allergy, but it may not always be the same stuff.

5. Tell people

While you don’t want a food allergy to define your child, a life threatening allergy should not be a taboo discussion. And actually, even an allergy causing fairly mild symptoms is worth mentioning, because you don’t want your child to feel sick when it is avoidable! If your child is going to spend time at someone else’s house or you are having people over, a quick heads up is important. Not only will your child be safer, and your mind be calmer, but you can save others from feeling bad because the food they brought or have on hand may not be safe for your child. It can be a brief mention, allowing you to offer to bring something, and for them to ask for tips on safe foods. With nuts, I tell people that fresh fruits and vegetables are the best bet; they are healthy and not processed on equipment with nuts. As your child gets older, they can take on this responsibility.

6. Clear your home of allergens

Let me be clear: choosing to eliminate an allergen from your home is a personal choice for every household. In our case, we made our home nut-free because we want our son to be able to eat everything we have on hand and never worry about getting sick in our home. We avoid all nuts and products processed on equipment with nuts. Don’t forget that some non-food items may contain a food allergen. Watch out for lotions and soaps which may contain things like oatmeal, nut oils, soy or other allergens.

7. Deal with your emotions

There were two main emotions I felt about my son’s food allergy. Sadness and fear.

It’s just food, right? I felt silly that I was devastated by our son’s allergy diagnosis. Yes, I love peanuts but that is not the problem. How will it feel to him when he understands he can NEVER eat any? I don’t want him to have ANY food allergy, let alone a life threatening one. I want him to be able to eat a peanut butter sandwich and not have to worry about reading a food label before he eats. I want him to be able to eat all birthday cake and not worry about whether he will be safe at a birthday party. I want him to be care-free about food, especially as a child. BUT, I NEVER want him to have a reaction even more.

The fear associated with a child’s food allergy is a very real, and powerful fear. It can be paralyzing. Initially, I dealt with this fear by controlling the situations and foods he encountered. Long term, this isn’t going to work. He will go to school, friend’s houses, and birthday parties WITHOUT me. The only way I can truly deal with the very real and present fear for his safety is through regular and focused prayer, and trust that the Lord will protect him. HE will, but that doesn’t mean it gets easier.

One thing that helped me sort through my emotions was this book. The writer is a mom who shares openly about her experience and emotions that surround her child’s severe allergies. There were helpful ideas for how to handle allergies and how to handle other children in the home who do NOT have those same allergies. It gave me some much-needed perspective.

8. Consider a Medical Alert bracelet

Whether the allergy is life-threatening or not, a medical alert bracelet can serve as a reminder to you, your child, and any caregiver. This may be helpful especially when your child is small and not able to make their own safe food decisions. IF (I pray it never does) a reaction occurred, a medical alert bracelet is a great way to notify medical personnel of the allergy if you were not present. I have been looking for a kid-friendly bracelet, and will be purchasing this one for my son, with the peanut and tree nut identifiers.

9. Educate your child

It is our job as parents to educate ourselves, caregivers and our children until they are able to advocate for themselves. When we found out, it was our job. When he turned 3, we started actively trying to help him understand that there are some foods that are not safe to eat (even though others eat them, and you can buy them at the store). When shopping, we walk by the bulk nuts and talk about what they are and why we don’t eat them. I ask him, “Do we eat nuts”, and he says “No”. Although he thinks it is a game, I know the awareness will help in the long run. Despite all our discussions, the most effective thing that helped him understand WHAT allergies are is a Sid the Science Kid (on PBS) episode about seasonal and food allergies. He watched it twice on DVR, and told me all about what an allergy was and how some people are allergic to things other than nuts. I’m not sure where to find the full episode online, but PBS does play reruns…

10. Let them be a kid

While awareness is important, I want him to be a kid. He will have a lifetime of vigilance since most do not outgrow nut allergies. By making our home nut-free, he can be relaxed at home.

I never want him to feel left out because of his allergy. When we go somewhere new, I always bring a variety of nut-free snacks or pack a lunch to be sure food isn’t an issue. Eating out, desserts are the biggest problem; we never order it because it is rare to find ANY that are safe. If we are with others who order dessert, no one in our family participates. If we are somewhere with other kids (birthday party, playdate) and they have a ‘treat’, I always have something small and sweet (lollipop, teddy graham, grapes) to give him, and try to plan ahead so if possible, I can bring something that looks similar.  

We have spent time finding good alternative products so he can have the same ‘kid’ food experiences non-allergic kids have. Find non-diary ice cream for dairy allergies, non-nut butters for nut allergies, and vegan products for egg allergies. Try local places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and even Target, and look online. Check out my recent post on three of my favorite nut-free options.

 

Do These 10 Things When Your Child is Diagnosed With A Food Allergy

 

If you’re new to this, I hope this post points you in the right direction! For us, now that we have educated ourselves, the biggest challenge is making the right people aware so that he is safe outside of our home. If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them!