Friday, September 4, 2009

Lessons Learned from a School Scare

School has only been in session for 2 weeks but I've already had my first official food allergy scare of the year. Here's what happened: on Tuesday my daughter was eating in the cafeteria with her class--though not at the peanut-free table. She decided to try and sit with the other kids and didn't know that so many of them had PB&J with them that day. Also, at least one kid was opening up a bag of nuts nearby.

The smell of peanut butter repels my daughter but she has been able to sit near people eating it many times in the past so she was surprised when she started to feel kind of sick. Thinking that if she moved, she'd feel better, she did so. It didn't help, so she sought out a cafeteria supervisor and asked to go the nurse. As the nurse watched, the initial nausea progressed to hives on her forehead; the skin above her eyebrow also began to swell. The nurse administered Benadryl immediately, then called me. I am fortunate to be close to the school, so I (literally) ran over there expecting the worse. However, the hives and swelling were abating by that time. I sat and watched her for 15 minutes and she kept improving, so no Epi Pen was required. Also, we determined that she hadn't ingested any peanuts or tree nuts and it's doubtful that she touched them in any significant way--she told me she had put her place mat down on the table before eating.

Facial hives and swelling were the first symptoms of my daughter's first, life-threatening allergic reaction so I was pretty well spooked until I saw that she was doing better. Had the swelling continued to progress, I would have given her the Epi Pen shot and called 911--luckily, she was so much better she got to return to class.

I like to learn something from these experiences and so I learned that: we have a good plan in place that worked. The nurse did everything she was supposed to do, as did my daughter. As I've discussed in posts prior to the beginning of the school year, having a clear emergency plan at school and discussing it with your child is crucial. Our experience certainly proves that.

Second, I learned that my daughter is more sensitive to peanuts/tree nuts in the environment than I previously had believed. Ingestion is still the worst case scenario but I compare her lunch table situation to my cat allergy. Put me in a large room with one cat and I'll be OK for an hour or two. Put me in a small room with 5 cats and cat hair everywhere and I'll have wheezing in 5 minutes. Obviously, she was just too surrounded--in the air and on surfaces, most likely.

Why wasn't she at a peanut-free table? Well, they have one, but we had decided to try and let her sit with the class on the days she stays for lunch. (Her school is a bit retro with regards to lunch: it encourages kids who are in walking distance to go home for lunch.) The school was built in the 1950s and has no official lunch room--the gym and multi-purpose rooms are used. So while other kids with food allergies (many in fact) attend her school, the set-up is a bit different from other schools that have dedicated lunch rooms.

I realized that even though she is mature for her age and understands her allergy, that's only part of the story. It's the peanut-free table for her from now on--clearly, she needs it. A lot of people think that segregating allergic kids at a peanut-free table is bad for their development, but I witnessed my daughter's discomfort and fear about her reaction and I can tell you that I know she'd rather sit at a peanut-free table than experience that again. And the good news is that her classmates are very accepting--some will even bring nut-free foods so that they can sit with her.

For anyone who questions whether or not they should approach their school about a nut-free table, please know that it's a good thing. Schools don't want the day interrupted by kids having to be rushed to the nurse or the hospital; they don't want kids to suffer, either.

We are lucky everything worked out the way that it did and know that while our intentions were good about having my daughter "integrate" in the lunchroom, right now she's just too sensitive with her allergies.


9to5to9 said...

How scary! But also how reassuring. It took a near-emergency for us last year - my then-5-year-old had a reaction from eating a cereal bar that had no peanut warning whatsoever - for me to also realize that we have a system that works like clockwork.

I agree with you on the peanut-free table. Two years, two schools, two different districts and that system has really worked for us. The staff at most schools realizes that food allergies are real, and they don't want our kids to get sick any more than we do.

Pam said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm so glad that she was ok! I learn from you! : )

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for the specifics. you are really helping me to do the best job possible keeping my own daughter safe. so happy and thankful to hear that she was even able to go back to class!
why oh why do so many others have to bring pb&j for lunch!!!!????and packages of nuts? ARGGG!

Jean said...

Thanks for sharing the details of this frightening lunch experience. It's helpful to visualize a scenario and to know how to respond to it. I'm glad your daughter's reactions did not get worse. On another note, I like the idea of bringing a placemat.

Jane Anne said...

It was good to read this story. I am extremely thankful your daughter was okay. This was a good reminder to me that I just don't know what could happen if my son sat next to other kids eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He started Kindergarten on Tuesday and has been eating a peanut free table for 2 days. It is so nerve wracking for me.

Kristen said...

That is so scary, I am glad your daughter was ok. Did you ever think to ask your school for a peanut free classroom and lunchroom in regards to your daughters class? I did that this year and my school agreed to it. The emotional aspect of having severe food allergies can be daunting for children and being able to relax at lunch and socialize among friends has been great for my child.
Lastly my school places brown paper on the whole table and thats been quite helpful as well , not just for cross contamination but a visual for aids in cafeteria that child at that table has severe allergies.

Jenny said...

Kristen, I like the idea of the paper-covered table. I don't know if my school would go for it--they have a shortage of lunch supervisors as it is. Still, I can bring it up.

My daughter's classroom is nut-free as far as snacks and treats go but the lunchroom is not. I know that will not change for many reasons out of my control, so we cope as best we can.

Thanks for your suggestions!

Anonymous said...

My sons school has a "nut" table. If anyone brings any nut products for lunch they need to sit at the nut table. It means the food is being isolated not the kid.