Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Enemy

Nothing freaks me out more than seeing a pistachio. It didn't used to be this way. They were my friends. I ate them by the bag full, as I cracked their shells apart. It was, without question, my favorite nut. Never did I think that I would have to give them up. Until the day that I found out that my daughter is exceptionally allergic to them. (If you have never heard that story, you may read about it here.)

That was the day that I gave them up. Because if I were to consume them, even out of her presence, and if I were to kiss her or touch her... she could still die. She is that allergic to them. When dining at a restaurant, I will often wince when I see them an ingredient on a menu. The only time that I have had one, in the past 4 years, was at my cousin's wedding when I was served a pistachio-crusted chicken. I attended the wedding by myself and was away from my kids for the weekend. So I went crazy. Actually, I ate about three bites. It wasn't very good.

Lately, I have been on edge about all things related to nuts especially when my daughter is not with me. The recent death of little Amaria Johnson, a Virginia first grader, has rocked the allergy community. She died after eating a peanut that a classmate had given to her on the playground. There are two stories about why she was not given the medications that would have saved her life; she had a known peanut allergy but for whatever reason, the school did not allow her to keep her Epi Pen in their office. They were also supposed to administer Benadryl, as an emergency precaution. And they did not. She died of an anaphylactic reaction that led to cardiac arrest within minutes.

My daughter, Ella, is also in the first grade. After hearing about this tragic event I immediately drafted a letter to the faculty of her school. Even though I go over her "allergy protocol" at the beginning of each school year with whomever her teacher is, I wanted to remind them, again, of what needs to be done if she were to have an allergic reaction. Her school is "nut free" in that they request that parents do not allow their children to bring nuts to school. In spite of this general rule, kids still bring PB & J's to lunch from time to time. When they do, they are asked to consume their sandwiches at a separate table. This has not been a problem for us because our daughter does not seem to have an anaphylactic or airborne issue with peanut butter, even though she is allergic to peanuts. There are other nut allergic kids in the school, but I do not know what their particular situations are. Our school is small, less than 90 kids from TK-6 grades. It is a tight community and everyone always seems to look out for each other. The reason it is only "nut free" and not NUT FREE is because the school is a part of a larger facility that hosts many different functions. It is a religious day school and is part of a Jewish Synagog that is part of a much larger community. The spaces are shared for a variety of events, seminars and classes. It would be impossible for them to monitor every single situation where someone could bring food into the Temple. Long story short, nut contamination is possible but I trust the staff at her school to watch over our daughter and make sure she stays out of harm's way. Her friends have also proven to be marvelous advocates for her, which is another great line of defense.

Last week, I arrived to pick her up and discovered a trail of empty pistachio shells, leading toward the play yard. Naturally, you can imagine the panic that I felt. When I saw Ella she was surrounded by a couple of friends and all at once they told me, "You are not going to believe what happened today! Sasha brought pistachios for her morning snack and then she shared them with Zoe!" Sharing food is absolutely not allowed at school. But I know how things go doing morning recess, kids are running in a million different directions and it would be quite easy for a teacher to miss such a transaction.

I went home and wrote another letter to the Head of the School. At this point, I felt a little like a pain in the ass but it had to be done. The school policies are clear on the issue, nuts are not allowed. But legally, it is a bit of a grey area because the facility is shared. The Head of School got back to me right away (she is amazing and I adore her) and she had spoken to the first grade teacher about the incident. Because I had just sent them all a letter the week prior, the nut issue was very much in their minds. The teacher eventually saw what the little girl was eating, confiscated the contraband and asked both girls to go to the restroom to wash their hands. I do not know if the girl's parents were informed or not. After a few years of doing this blog, I have learned that it is best to let the schools handle these situations when possible. And I trust that they did. I feel like I would be overstepping my boundaries to e-mail the parents directly, especially because I do not know them that well. By the way, Ella is not the only child in her class of 16 that has deadly nut allergies.

As if all of this was not enough to add to my new crop of grey hairs, we had another little run in with our "enemy" at my nephew's birthday party. My sister had ordered a cous cous salad from a restaurant that we all love and it was made with pistachios! So once again, I went into "freak out" mode. The salad had been packaged with several things that my daughter would normally love to eat... fruit salad, steamed brussels sprouts, rice. I promptly told her that she could not get anything from the kitchen and that I had to select the foods for her to eat. And then I told my family that if they ate the offending dish, to please wash their hands and to NOT kiss Ella. Clearly, they must all think that I am the true nut. But honestly, you have to do what you have to do when it comes to keeping a child safe. I don't really care what people think about me. All I care is that my daughter makes it through life, without dying prematurely because of some stupid mistake.

Hopefully, we are done running into our little green friend, at least for a while. The year has barely begun and this is already too much.

I wish nothing but safety and good health for all of you in the allergy community. Check those Epi pens to make sure they are up to date. And make sure you have enough Benadryl or generic antihistamine to take down a horse. Better safe, than sorry!

If you have not done so already, please take a moment to sign this petition...

It is impossible to know when a first reaction will occur. This bill will protect kids who have known food allergies and those who may not know, yet.


Anonymous said...

I can relate to how you feel about the pistachios. They scare me now and I loved them as a kid. It's the nut that my daughter reacted to and how we found out about her allergies. Pistachios, cashews, peanuts are high on the list for her. The only nut I have eaten is almonds ( and that's only if I will be away from her for some point. If the school has a policy, how can they even think of sending in the actual nut. Wow, scary!!. Actually, the first week, of school a kid in the class brought in a sandwich with Nutella (she's also allergic to hazelnuts). Her teacher told me when he saw that, he made sure the boy wasn't near her and told him/parents not to bring it again.

I actually contacted my senators and asked them to support the Epipen legislation, heard back from one and yes he is supporting it.


kjs said...

I am sorry you had such a scare. I understand your worries all too well as my daughter is severely allergic to milk, eggs, cashews, and pistachios. The attitude in the United States towards children with severe food allergies really upsets and frightens me. I no longer live in the US, but living in Rome has it's own allergy-related challenges. Luckily people here take very seriously anything having to do with children's health and happiness. I really hope things change in the US. Certainly legislation is a good start...but something must be done about the hearts and minds of the public. Thank you for blogging about your experience. No doubt this will help. If you are interested in our experiences abroad, I blog about food allergies and other (more common) parenting challenges at All best wishes to you and your family.

Heidi Miller said...


Thank you for your very kind comments and support. This blog has been such a wonderful addition to our lives because we are able to connect to people all over the world. Looking forward to reading your blog, as well!

Enjoy Italia! Such a beautiful and spirited place to be. I have been there many times and love it!



Robert Boyle said...

Scares me to read this again. By sharing your experience I believe that you help many people with this problem..... good

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