Something Good

My biggest dread is G having an allergic reaction.  All sorts of bad scenarios run through my head.  None of them good.  When I think too much about what could happen, my reality does a little slip to the side and my heart thuds in my chest.  But what if reality really wasn’t all bad.  Can something positive come out of such a dreadful situation?  I think so.  I’ll tell you what happened.

It was Saturday lunchtime and G was eating leftovers from a restaurant he had been at the night before.  After eating some he started sneezing and his nose started running.  He said “I think something’s wrong”.  We asked him if he thought he was having a reaction and he said he wasn’t sure.

The last time G had a reaction, he was a preschooler and in the hospital.  They had given him the wrong food on his food tray.  His first symptoms were a very runny nose.  He was too young to now remember this event, but his dad and I remember it very clearly.

So on Saturday when his nose started to run for no reason and he said his throat was beginning to itch we knew the signs were all there that he was having a reaction to the food.

I read very recently a discussion on the AllergicLiving web site about the importance of not waiting to give an Epipen or other epinephrine injection.  The progression of a reaction is so unpredictable that a person can seem fine one minute and be going into shock the next.  There are too many tragedies that may have been prevented with quicker use of an Epipen.  Antihistamines like Benedryl are good but they are not a substitute for epinephrine.

All this was swimming around in my head as G said he was feeling weird.  I told him that I thought he should have his Epipen and he agreed without hesitation.  I asked him if he would like to do it himself or if he would like me to do it.  He asked that I do it.  I sat him down in a chair, he was very scared, not knowing what to expect from the injection.

The fear of injecting or using the Epipen can cause people to be reluctant to use it.  If you’ve never experienced the injection there is a huge fear of the unknown.  How much will it hurt?  The needle is huge! It must be excruciating.

With G sitting in the chair I put the Epipen against his thigh and gave it a firm shove (no I didn’t take a swinging stab like most people think!) and G’s reaction was “Oh”.  He was totally surprised that it didn’t really hurt.  He said it was like someone giving you a friendly shove in the arm.

So what happened next?  G’s symptoms cleared very quickly.  We went to the hospital so he could be monitored for a while.  He hated the affect of the epinephrine which made him fidgety and as he said “wanting to run but not being able to figure out how”!  The bad side effect is that when he came down from the adrenaline rush he started to feel the spot on his thigh where I had injected him.  That’s when it started to hurt a bit like a bruise.  As he would tell you, it was totally worth it!

Obviously the best part of this story is the outcome, but here’s where more good comes in, I don’t just mean G’s reversal of symptoms. The ‘something positive’ I mentioned before, coming from what happened is more than that.  G is no longer scared of using an Epipen.  He can now recognize his allergic reaction symptoms and he knows that hesitating is a waste of valuable time.  First hand experience of using an Epipen is not a lesson plan I would ever recommend if you don’t actually need to use it, but for G the experience was a lesson he will never forget and will probably save his life in the future.


Hand Washing?

hand washing

Who invented hand washing?  Not the ‘was playing in the mud’ hand washing, but the hand washing that happens when your hands look clean but apparently are not.  I’m all for this hand washing, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t around when I was young.  Some things were better ‘back in my day’, but not this.  I think we only washed our hands when they appeared grimy.  In the 1912 home I first lived in, the room with the toilet didn’t even have a wash basin and I’m pretty sure I didn’t make the trek to the next room to wash my hands. I know you’re thinking “Ew, gross!”, but that’s how it was.  Wipe your hands on your Wranglers and you’re good to go!

I’m fastidious now.  I have to be.  Having a child with food allergies means I wash my hands so often throughout the day that a casual observer might think I have OCD.  When cooking dinner it’s not uncommon for me to wash my hands 10-20 times.  I wash them between every task.  With all this hand washing you’d think that I never get colds, well at least I think I should never get a cold, yet I seem to pick up the same number as everyone else.  No justice.

Hand washing is also really important for the food allergic child at school; not just their own hands, but their class mates as well.  That is, it’s helpful if their class mates wash their own hands too.  In primary grades this really helps accidental exposure to an allergen.  In case it’s been a while since your squeaky clean children were young I just want to remind everyone that kids are messy when eating, really messy.  Yogurt splotches on the table, dropped cheese stepped on, crusts left in desks, jam on cheeks, butter on fingers.

In most kindergarten classes students wash their hands before snack.  At our request, the students in G’s class also washed their hands when snack was finished.  This might sound like a huge rigmarole, but since the kindies finished their snacks at different times, there wasn’t a line up at the sink and it was a routine that was established on the first day so for the class it was normal.  As part of this they also learned about being considerate of others and helping keep G safe.

This dual hand washing was established in each of G’s classes throughout his primary grades and by the time he was in grade 4, so many of the children had been in his class before that most of them continued this washing after eating all the way through elementary school.

If you have a young food allergic child, I recommend talking to your child’s teacher about the possibility of including this routine.  It’s not as big a hassle as it might seem (if the classroom has a sink) and kid’s hands can be sticky after eating so it helps keep the classroom and the supplies clean as an added bonus!

Hand washing is such a simple thing that has so many benefits for your own health and the health of others.  It helps stop the spread of all sorts of things.  Who ever came up with the idea of frequent hand washing was on to something.  We all know now that a good hand wipe on our jeans just isn’t good enough.


Classroom Letter Home

Adults do not like being told what to do yet we constantly boss our children: put your shoes on, brush your teeth, no chips before dinner, no more screen time.  Imagine sitting watching TV and your spouse/partner comes in, shuts off the set and says “That’s enough TV! Go outside and get some fresh air!”.  HA! No, we do not like being told what to do!

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I think this is particularly important to keep in mind at this time of year.

With back to school comes the plethora of notices home from the school and classroom.  There is the student information forms, the media/internet permission forms, the insurance forms (does anyone buy this insurance? Just in case your child loses “dominant arm below the elbow and left leg above the knee, parent receives $6000”).  Lost in all of these papers may be the letter which tells the classroom families about a food allergic child in the class.

Often times this is written by the classroom teacher, but I have always appreciated having input with the wording of the form that goes home.  I believe it more beneficial to be positive with the letter rather than negative.  Like I said, adults do not like being given directives.  It can get people’s backs up and a first reaction can be to push back.  Things like saying “Don’t bring nuts to school” are negative and are often read in a negative frame of mind.  I have found it more helpful to explain my son’s allergy situation and ask the families for their help with keeping the classroom a safe place.

Which sounds better:
– Keep off the grass
– Help keep our park beautiful, please avoid the grass.

Either way, it’s inevitable that some clod will traipse across the grass, but we can not control the actions of others no matter how much we want to.

It’s the same with the allergy letter home to classroom families.  Be negative and you risk a negative reaction.  Be positive and you are more likely to get people on your side.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter we sent home to families when G was in grade two:

A boy in our class, G, has severe allergies and cannot be exposed to dairy, egg or peanut.  Please be sensitive when sending lunches and snacks containing these foods. G has his own desk and we are very careful to wash hands before and after eating.
    Some alternative foods to consider might include fruit, fruit-leather, fruit cups, crackers, cookies (without peanuts), rice cakes, veggie sticks, sesame snacks and sandwiches (without peanut butter or dairy products like cheese, mayonnaise etc.).   We are not banning any foods from our classroom, but we would like everyone to be aware of the risks to G when foods may be spilled or left around the classroom or hands left unwashed after eating.
    Please feel free to talk to me for more input on this, or if you wish, you can also speak with his Mum, ________, before school, or by phone at ###-####, for ideas of food that would work well.  I certainly appreciate the kindness and consideration that I know you will show G to ensure that he can attend school safely.
    Thanks so much for your support on this,

It was signed by the teacher.  A letter similar to this was sent home every September to the classroom families G was with in elementary school.  We were happy with they way it worked for us.  I know that classes ban peanuts and that works for some people.  We chose to rely on the kindness and understanding of other parents.  Happily, over the years very few clods chose to walk across the grass.  Most went out of their way to accommodate G and we avoided the unpleasant push back that can come from trying to tell adults what they can and can not do.  Now, leave my TV alone.

Back to School Shopping

School Supplies

Labour Day weekend is spent labouring over back to school preparations.  The first step is rummaging through the old back pack that was dumped on the floor at the end of June and has been stepped on and kicked around, but not opened since.  It’s with trepidation that I stick my hand in to the bottom of G’s cavernous backpack.  I hope to find pencils or pens to reuse but usually I find unwrapped sticky candies or petrified carrot sticks.

Once the bag is sorted, step two involves searching the art cupboard for any and all items that can be called school supplies in the futile attempt to avoid a trip to Staples.  Leaving school supplies shopping until Labour Day is ridiculous but I do it every year.  Staples is crowded and picked over, Walmart is worse… way worse.   As I sit writing this, I’m avoiding this inevitable shopping trip that the boys love and I, well, don’t.

The back to school shopping I never avoid is the one to the drugstore.  Back to school purchases for us don’t just include erasers and duo tangs, we always buy a new supply of Epipens.  Yes plural, we buy more than one at a time.  The shelf life of the epinephrine is about a year, 18 months if you’re lucky (expiry date is clearly marked).  Every September we buy a new supply.  First, the school requires one specifically for G to be left in the office.  Second, G gets a fresh one to carry with him.  This year he’ll get a new Alleject to replace the one he lost.  The third one I buy is for us to have at home.  If there are any we already have that have not expired, they get kept in strategic places (car, my Mum’s house, etc.).  The ones that have long expired we use for practice on unsuspecting oranges.

I find it really shocking how many parents do not supply an Epipen to their child’s school.  If a child is anaphylactic to an allergen, they need epinephrine immediately.  Waiting for an ambulance to arrive is not fast enough.  It also blows me away that kids do not carry their injectors with them.  It’s so easy and less cumbersome than ever before.  The length of time it takes to break open someone’s locker and search for an epipen may be the difference between … well you catch my drift.  I don’t want to get all ‘Debbie Downer’ but, really, what have you got to lose?

I know that at $125 each the auto-injectors aren’t cheap.  Get them with a prescription, which will help if you have a medical plan, ask your doctor or school principal if there are programs available to help with the cost.  Back to school shopping can be an expensive time: new princess backpack, set of smelly pens, sushi shaped erasers, but the most vital and valuable is life saving medicine.  All the binders, notebooks and calculators are useless if your child doesn’t have an Epipen when they need it.


Camp Food

Third year in a row for G going off to camp.  The food has greatly improved over the  years and this year I think I’ve done quite well for him.  To be honest after the first year there was no where to go but up!  I sent him off with frozen meals that he was to heat up in the microwave that the camp provided.  I didn’t find out until he got home that the microwave was gerbil powered and poor G was never able to properly defrost his meals.  He chipped away at the partially thawed stuff around the edges.  What an unappetizing way to eat stew and potatoes.  Oh well, he was in no danger of starving, the tuck shop kept him well fed with gummy candies.

The following year I planned with this inadequate microwave in mind.  The meals were partially thawed beforehand if not frozen at all and I delivered the food two extra times during the week rather than just once.  I was confident he’d be able to have a warm dinner.  Not so, apparently that year he didn’t even bother to use the microwave.  Too hungry and couldn’t be bothered to wait to heat it so he ate the food fridge cold. All I can think of is, yuck!  He didn’t complain but there must be a better way.

This year I have planned his dinners to be eaten warm or cold.  Rather than casseroles and stews I have made meals of barbecued sausages with roasted potatoes and teriyaki chicken with fried rice along with salads.  They are all fresh, not frozen.  He can avoid the microwave and hopefully the meals will taste good – no congealed gravy to turn your stomach.

I’m going up tomorrow to collect the dirty containers and drop off the new food.  Hopefully the containers will be empty and I don’t just mean the bags of cookies and marshmallows.


Lego Holmes

photo by Paul Hudson


Teenaged boys are the worst searchers for things.

G : ‘Muuuum, I can’t find my shoes’

Me: ‘Did you look in the storage room?’

G: (tone of voice exasperated implying that this was a stupid question) ‘Yes! I looked everywhere!’

I walk into the storage room, lift a jacket off the floor and the shoes are underneath.

I’m thinking of charging for my searching skills.  Fees would be based on how quickly I find the lost item.  If I find it in less that a minute then I’d charge at least $20.  If I have to spend longer then the fee might be a bit less.  Item held until payment made.

So why does this rant about my teenaged son and his lack of searching skills appear on this blog?  He lost his new Allerject!  Not only was it expensive, but it’s a pretty cool device.  I’m not replacing it.  He’s welcome to spend the hundred odd dollars to buy a new one but we have about 5 regular epipens lying around that he’s welcome to use.  I also have not done a full top to bottom search of the house for it.  I’ve resisted.  I’m hoping that having to go back to carrying the bulky epipen might make him think a bit more, take care a bit more with his belongings.  This of course is wishful thinking.  As a growing teenaged boy he has lost many things including his mind which probably won’t be found until he’s 25.


Food Allergy Chaperon

school bus

Chaperon – from the Old French word chaperone meaning hood or cowl, a protection.  Later used in English to describe the matron that accompanies the unwed lady in public.  Well I’m not sure about the matron part, but by our current definition of chaperon, I’ve been one many times.  Having a food allergic child means a lot of class volunteering, especially chaperoning.  Field trip after field trip, ever vigilant for that peanut butter sandwich to come out of a ski jacket pocket at the museum or the giant bag of Cheetos to be shared at the beach.  Working on-call has allowed me the flexibility to go on most trips and G hasn’t minded at all.  For some reason I don’t yet embarrass him.  This is amazing considering he’s 14.  It’s I who feels that maybe it’s time to let him face the random snacking perils of the field trip without my eagle eye.

Besides, not many field trips happen in grade 8, or so I thought!  The last week of May G brought out a crumpled wad from his backpack.  It was pages and pages of consent forms, schedules, packing lists(!) etc. for trips that the kids would go on during the last two weeks of school.  Two weeks of field trips!  Are you kidding!  Well, now it was time for me to take a step back and decide how much I could let go.  First trip was taking the city bus downtown to the Maritime Museum.  Send G with a bag lunch and I could avoid that one.  Next trip was a day at a fellow student’s cottage water skiing and swimming.  I could have sent him off with a bag lunch for that too but water skiing!  I’m in!  Next one to avoid was the walk to the beach.  Normally I love the beach, but chaperoning 14 year olds isn’t exactly a relaxing day in the sun – besides, it called for rain!  For the field trip to Chinatown and lunch at a Chinese restaurant the teacher spoke with me and we arranged that she would speak to the restaurant and G could have plain white rice and I’d provide something else he could eat there.  So once again I did not have to go, but there was a desperate call out for more adults to go (no one had volunteered – I think many adults are uneasy around large hoards of teens!) so I went along on that one but I really didn’t need to be there for G specifically.

Then came the overnight camping trip – hmm.  G’s been to camp for the past two summers but that has been very thoroughly planned and worked out with the camp ahead of time.  This was a bit more loosey-goosey.  The good part was that kids were asked to bring their own food which fit in well with what we would have to do anyway.  To go or not to go?  I really wanted to give G some freedom and it didn’t sound very appealing – bad weather forecast, 3 hour hike in the rain, helping 14 year olds cook over a camp stove, sleep in very rustic cabins, more rain.  I know my husband would have gone if I had been unsure, but I swallowed hard and decided I would not go.  G could handle it on his own.  Even when a call went out requesting more parent volunteers, I held fast and didn’t go.  He survived on muffins and marshmallows and returned unscathed.

School trips can’t happen without chaperons and with parents’ work schedules it’s often difficult for teachers to get adults to volunteer their time.  Our family has definitely done its bit and this year it felt good to be able to not be the volunteer.  G is maturing and becoming more self reliant.  It’s time for me to release him from the protective chaperone cloak he’s been under.


How to Wear an Allerject


Yay!  Got an Allerject for G.  It’s the new epinephrine auto-injector (mentioned before) produced in Canada by Sanofi.  Not sure if this product won any sort of design award, but it should.  Best redesign of a product … ever!  No, really, wouldn’t you rather carry around something in your trouser’s front pocket that looked like a small phone rather than a … banana.  I know I would and I’m not a teenaged boy.

A well promoted feature of the Allerject is that it talks to you helping you use it like the defibrillators that have been installed in rec. centers and other public buildings.  A voice gives you very clear prompts every step of the way.  This really is useful, especially for the first time user, but it was the unobtrusive shape of it that sold us.

How to wear the Allerject – limitless options for the progressive dresser.  I’m not using ‘Hipster’ to describe G’s style because the term is a bit limiting ; )


Allerject in pocketCasual : iPhone in one pocket, Allerject in the other.


Allerject in pocketPreppy : Spot the Allerject … nope, that’s the iPhone; it’s the other pocket.  These pants even have a small secondary pocket inside the main one.  People think it’s for small change, but it’s actually for the Allerject so everyone can discretely carry one.  No, really… betcha didn’t know JoeFresh was so allergy friendly!


Allerject in sleeveJames Dean, but a bit healthier.


Allerject fits in pocketOut for Dinner : Slips easily into a breast pocket.

Love, love love this new product.  Even if you don’t carry an auto-injector, spread the word and, you never know, a teenage boy may thank you.



How to carry an Epipen


Is that an epipen in your pocket or are you just glad to see me.  Seriously, what fourteen year old kid wants to walk around with this in his pocket!?  Since he started kindergarten G has worn a specially designed belt from Medic Alert that carries his epipen.

Medic Alert Epibelt

It’s a great belt and he has never minded carrying it.  I highly recommend it and it’s worth the expense.  The problem is now he wants to wear belts for fashion not just function.  So how to carry the epipen?

I searched on line for epipen carriers and found many really nice ones – for women.  In other words small feminine purses.  G is a progressive dresser, but the only ‘purse’ he likes to carry is his sporran.  Actually his epipen fits nicely into his sporran but that’s not always a practical option.

I was so happy when I came across KozyEpi.  A perfect option for G’s needs.   He can clip it onto his belt loop and forget about it.  It comes in many colors and patterns and some styles fit asthma inhalers as well.


The REAL solution would be to have an auto-injector that didn’t look like a… well  that wasn’t so bulky.  I’m sure many people have thought this, but now two brothers have taken the idea and run with it.  Their brilliant new product is the Allerject (Auvi-Q in the US).  Check it out through the link.  It’s fantastic.  Not only is this auto-injector smaller than an iPhone, but it TALKS to you!  It gives voice prompts to the user.   What a great idea.  Not everyone knows how to use an auto-injector.  For a limited time you can order a free trainer from the Allerject web site.

Allerject trainer

I’m going out to see if I can find an Allerject.  So easy to discreetly slip into a pocket.  No excuse for not having one at all times. No more need for fashion to take a backseat. No more need for bawdy Mae West quotes…. Which one will make G most happy?

G’s Withdrawal

Rice MilkPoor G.  I don’t say this very often and he’s not a ‘woe is me ‘ kind of guy, but this time I really mean poor G.   With all his food restrictions and times when he could not have the mouth watering treats others were having he does not complain.  He accepts it and doesn’t dwell on what he can not have.  I really admire this about him and now I am pushing his good nature to the limit.  I have taken away the one food product he loves and consumes in mass quantities.  He went through withdrawal and I had to watch him go trough the DTs (depressed teenager).  I have taken away his soy milk.

Here’s why… Soy is very rich in phytoestrogens which may or may not alter the testosterone and estrogen levels in men and may cause ED (when I started to mention this to G he ran away covering his ears and yelling LA LA LA LA LA as I laughed at his discomfort because I am a sensitive mother).  I have not read the studies but I have asked a lot of questions.  I have asked dieticians, doctors and nurses about G’s consumption of soy milk and the possible effect of the phytoestrogens.  None had an answer for me, none knew what effect soy may or may not have on hormone dependent development.  So over the years I have always wondered, if menopausal women drink soy for the phytoestrogens then what could the possible effects be on a growing boy. G is thirteen and growing so fast I swear if he stands still you can see his bones stretching.  Along with this concern is the fact that G was drinking about 2L of soy milk in a day and a half.  That’s a lot of soy!

What alternatives are left?  There’s rice milk – tastes like drinking a watery bowl of rice.  There’s Tao – a potato based milk alternative but we can’t find it anymore.  There’s hemp milk – but it’s not fortified (not even with THC) so what’s the point of drinking it?  New to the market is coconut milk but you have to really like coconut to drink it.  So that leaves almond milk.  Of all the nuts G is allergic to, almond is not one of them.  Almond milk is vitamin fortified and a good source of calcium.

Almonds milk it is.  G is not too happy about it.  He’s drinking more water, which is a good thing and cheaper.  To ease the sting of having his favourite drink (actually favourite consumable period) taken away, I have been buying chocolate and vanilla almond milk as well as the regular (the regular is really bland but better to cook with).

So it’s water, almond milk and the occasional glass of juice for now and I really mean it when I say ‘poor G’.  I know he’s not happy about it, but until I get some answers about phytoestrogens and development I think it’s best to avoid massive consumption of soy.  He’ll probably thank me when he’s 25 and doesn’t have to buy a bra.