Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Susan Weissman, M.Ed.
Susan Weissman M.Ed.

Feed My Child at Your Own Risk

When a child can die from food the focus must remain on living

When you have a child with food allergies there are two types of food accidents. The first is that you can let your child eat the wrong food. The second is that someone else might give your child the wrong food without your knowledge. Sometimes I find myself playing a masochistic game in which I try to decide which scenario would be worse.

Last summer my family was at a beach house barbecue with two other families. We milled about from screened porch to yard while the sun hovered low and rosy over the trees. The adults lounged in the luxury of full plates and excited and distracted children.

Then my son Eden did something he had never done: He asked one of the fathers if he could please, "Have another piece of garlic bread." It was the first time he asked anyone—anyone at all save his parents or his teacher—for food. And he ate the bread without telling us.

Now that platter of garlic bread on the dining room table had been slathered with butter. An hour earlier, I watched the hostess while chatting with her. Moreover, during the making of said garlic bread the hostess had given me a hunk of the baguette she used (I read the label twice) so I could make "safe" bread for Eden by slicing it and adding olive oil. The rest of his "safe" bread was on a plate set aside in a corner of their kitchen. The father who helped Eden reach the bread was aware that Eden had multiple anaphylactic food allergies and was sympathetic. (In fact, after the fact, that father sounded so heartfelt in his apologies that I've since wished I had been the one.) He didn't understand about the different breads.

Of course Eden approached me a few bites into his bread and told me that his throat felt really itchy and he thought it was from my bread. My husband and I did a body check and Eden had two small hives on his arm. After calming and reassuring him, he drank a glass of ice water, which made his throat feel better. Then Eden told me, "I don't think I need Benadryl."

"Okay," I agreed, with my hand within inches of a full bottle and our two Epipens. He promised to stay in the same room with me and tell me about any more reaction. The hives receded completely and Eden reported feeling "Okay. I really think I'm okay." Okay.

But by the time we got home Eden didn't feel as okay. He began sniffling and blowing his nose. I went down the almighty checklist of anaphylactic symptoms: No other respiratory issues, no more skin issues, no swelling and certainly no feelings of mental distress. I gave him a dose of Benadryl as a preventative measure. But the next day Eden woke up with a head full of mucous and a "pressing all over my head." Snuffling and blowing, pulling tissue after tissue, and then, if anything, more Benadryl made him feel "stuffier." I wondered if I should have medicated him at all. (I also noted Eden had had very mild symptoms relative to his last "dairy accident" six months earlier and allowed myself to be a little happy about it.)

A larger, unanswered question looms. It's one that I've asked in my new food allergy memoir, Feeding Eden.

I'm going to guess that almost all parents think about the worst-the what if?—at least once in a while. And so I've even asked myself what would be worse—if Eden ate deadly food on my watch or, with good or careless intentions, on someone else's? Would it matter? My answer growls back at me with bared teeth for daring to ask: "No, no, no, you idiot! How could it matter whether you spend the rest of your life trying to forgive a friend or Drew or a stranger or yourself?" And still the same animal purrs into my ear in the dark hours: "Wait! Shhh. Now just think it. Think it." And then I do. My sweet boy could in a moment be gone because and only because he opened his mouth to eat. How can I think it?

I believe that instead of dwelling on the "What if" allergy parents need to channel their concern towards always being prepared with medications and emergency plans. But since writing that passage and since the barbeque that Eden has neatly coined "The Garlic Bread Barbecue" I've learned something. I've learned how hard it is to be that friend or stranger, to be the outsider without my deeper knowledge and my own history of both making mistakes and forgiving yourself. Food allergies challenge everyone involved. And as allergy parents there is no "better or worse" type of accident so long as we are prepared to carry our children safely through to the one.

About the Author
Susan Weissman, M.Ed.

Susan Weissman, M.Ed., is the author of the new memoir Feeding Eden and an expert in raising a family with food allergies.

More from Susan Weissman M.Ed.
More from Psychology Today
More from Susan Weissman M.Ed.
More from Psychology Today