Photo by Rebecca Gould Photography

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Single (Plain) Orange M & M

Until recently, the only M & M Susan had ever eaten nearly killed her.
She was thirteen months old, and it was Halloween day.

I had a large bowl of candy I was planning to give out – all chocolate, and my favorites – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I cringe now), Twix, and M & Ms.  In advance of the festivities, I decided to let her try her first real chocolate (she'd had chocolate frosting, but never chocolate candy).  

I started with a single plain M & M.  
I still remember – it was orange.

Even as a toddler, Susan was always good about trying new things – but she wasn’t quite sure what to do with the slippery bright orange disk as she pushed it around on her highchair tray.  (Prior to the orange M & M, the only food Susan ever rejected was a lima bean – and I couldn’t blame her!)

I kept signing to Susan that she should eat the M & M, making "yummy" sounds and then eventually I popped a matching orange candy in my mouth.  Susan followed suit…but even once she had it in her mouth, she still wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it.  Thinking back, Susan probably wondered why I was encouraging her to eat something that looked more like a toy than food!

Gamely, she held the M & M in her mouth, drooling orange.  Eventually, as it melted, she moved it around in her mouth until the drool became an orangey-chocolate mix.  

And then, just as Susan started to look delighted -- a sugar-hitting-tastebuds kind of look -- she started coughing, and turned bright red.  As I fumbled to release Susan from the highchair -- thinking frantically "Heimlich -- get it out...turn her upside down...get it outgetitoutgetitout" food allergies were the furthest thing from my mind.

At some point during my struggle to free Susan from the highchair, the M & M landed on the floor -- a slimy, still-somewhat orange gob of melty chocolate.  I still remember seeing the M & M on the floor and distantly wondering how it could be that Susan was still...choking.  It all happened so fast, but I remember clearly that in the aftermath, I was struck by the incongruence of the M & M lying there on the floor while Susan coughing, gagging...choking.

I cannot recount what all I did or in what order, but I do know that I yelled frantically for help (even though I was home alone with Susan).   When I think back to that day, I am struck by what I now believe is knowledge that something was very wrong.  

What I do know is that eventually Susan, who was by then bright red, blotchy, and crying pitifully, managed to expel a large, thick phlegmy glob of...mucus.  

  (And...odd...for she hadn't been sick.  Where had all that thick, sticky mucus come from?)

Even then, before I knew anything about food allergies, something didn't seem right.  Even then, after the emergency seemed to have passed, Susan was still miserable.  

Shaking, I held her in my arms as she cried, sticking her hand into her mouth and writhing around.  
(Eventually, later, she had diarrhea that made her scream.)

I couldn't figure it out, but I didn't like it.
Something just didn't seem right.

I called our pediatrician. 

Susan is our first child, and while I wouldn't describe myself as an anxious parent, I am sure I called (our now former) pediatrician more than once about something that was...nothing.

I spoke to a nurse, who informed me that "a lot of kids are sick."
She agreed to ask the doctor to call me, who said essentially the same thing:
     There is a stomach virus making the rounds.
     Keep her in.
     No trick-or-treating -- she's so young, she'll never know she didn't go.

I remember trying to explain that really, Susan had not vomited...but I lacked the ability to articulate the horror of it clearly, and Susan's (now former) pediatrician was confident in his diagnosis.

Against a backdrop of reassurance that Susan had merely vomited, I asked the dreaded question that was just barely fully formed in my mind...
"Could she be allergic to chocolate?"

At the time, I could imagine no horror worse.
  Little did I know.

Our (now former) pediatrician assured me that food allergies were not very common, and stressed that chocolate allergies were "really very rare."  

As I thanked my (now former) pediatrician for calling, I was aware of the little voice in the back of my head -- this wasn't vomit.  
This didn't SEEM like a stomach bug.  
(Something wasn't right...)

As the years wore on, Susan became the queen of terrible random gagging, choking episodes that eventually led to vomiting, or at least to something our (now former) pediatrician called vomiting.  Our (now former) pediatrician assured me that I did not need to worry, citing a "weak gag reflux" and explaining that Susan would "grow out" of her "tendency to vomit" as she got older.

Looking back, I wish I could say I just knew Susan had food allergies, but the truth is that...I didn't.

While my momstinct told me something wasn't right, I simply did not have enough experience to know that I was likely witnessing anaphylactic reaction after anaphylactic reaction...and that we were...incredibly...dodging bullet after bullet.

Even now, it chills me when I think about how fortunate we are, as we navigated Susan's early life without a food allergy diagnosis, without epinephrine...

While I will never know for certain what happened that Halloween day when Susan was thirteen months old, I now believe (and will likely always believe) that that was her first anaphylactic reaction to...peanut.
(And to think I was terrified when I thought she might be allergic to chocolate...)

It never occurred to me that Susan could have had such a terrible reaction to a single plain M & M as the result of a peanut allergy, but I now know that plain M & M's can be highly cross-contaminated with peanut protein...and so, in my mind, it will always be a single (plain) orange M & M that nearly took Susan's life when she was thirteen months old.

And so, when Susan turned 13 one day after Dr. Bajowala cleared her to begin eating potentially cross-contaminated foods (one food at a time, one per day), there was no better way for Susan to usher in being 13 than eating the very same food that nearly killed her when she was thirteen months old -- M & M's.  This time, thanks to PRROTECT and her continued OIT treatment with Dr. Bajowala, instead of suffering anaphylaxis after the first one, Susan ate more than we could count -- Plain, Krispy, Mega, Mini, Mint and Pretzel!  (She liked them all, of course!)

So proud of the grit, determination and bravery it took for her to get to this point!

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