The thing about allergies as complex as “M”s are, is that they are so unpredictable. My overreacting husband, who I often roll my eyes at when he’s actively searching for signs and symptoms of a reaction during and after every meal or activity, was on the money this time.

Early on in the evening we took the kids to dinner at Boulder Creek. The site of one of his very first reactions to dairy. I noted during the meal that this was probably the first time we had come back to this restaurant since. We were taking a huge gamble.

We were vigilant parents though, as we always are these days. We made the waiter aware, although got the raised eyebrows while I ate a buttered roll as I ordered creamed spinach and a house salad with ranch dressing to go with my prime rib. The husband also ordered a chicken sandwich with cheese but we strongly noted that “M”s food could not touch dairy. We even went so far as to detail the first incident to the waiter and he promised us that he would wash his hands and fill the drinks himself, making sure there was no cross contamination with butter or any dairy. “A” ordered her favorite macaroni & cheese which we never have in the house and sat clear on the other side of the table. We stressed hand hygiene and no cross contamination, leaving baby wipes on the table to wipe her mouth. My nephew, God Bless his Soul said he wanted to remain Dairy-Free for “M” and ordered the same meal as him of Chicken Tenders and Fries.

I’m sure there are many raised eyebrows reading this as well as gasping that our family could sit at a dinner table with so much dairy with allergies as severe as “M”s. One of the most important things we try to do is to maintain as normal a life for our family. We don’t want “M” to feel disabled by his allergies. We want “M” to be able to sit at a table with his friends and dairy…be smart…and be okay. We’ve done this many times. If we’re vigilant and we always are, he doesn’t notice that his meal is any different than his friends. He just knows he’s at a party or a table and sitting with his friends for a meal.

In this case, we were more than vigilant. My husband was the first to spot the spill of now set-in cheese on his fries and quickly returned the order with notes to the chef to please avoid any contact with dairy. We each had our own drinks to avoid cross contamination.  “M” sat squarely in between his parents completely oblivious to the near miss. Yes, there was a little pouting when his meal suddenly disappeared but he was easily distracted with my iPhone. Thank God for iPhone. The other kids happily ate their meals, wiped their mouths and washed their hands over and over again. We even dared to let them order their complimentary ice cream scoops and breathed a sigh of relief when “M” didn’t think anything of it and continued to happily play with the iPhone.

We breathed another HUGE sigh of relief as we left the establishment, an entire meal wrought with anxiety, but decided maybe we weren’t quite ready for Boulder Creek with him.  We are still navigating this allergy lifestyle and continue to struggle with finding the right meal choices that can satisfy the entire family. As mentioned before, “A” loves her mac & cheese and so do I occasionally. While we don’t allow any dairy in our home, we allow her this luxury meal outside of the home.  As important as it is for “M” to be dairy-free, we didn’t want “A” to be denied because of her brother’s allergies.

As we drove home, we periodically glanced back at him and was thrilled to see that we had once again gotten lucky. He was smiling, laughing and playing with his sister and cousin.  It was early and still light enough for a detour to the park. We enjoyed a short visit where the kids ran around, hit the slides and had a turn in the swings before the mosquitoes came biting. Not a fan of them, the husband decided it was time to head home, bathe the kids and settle them in for the night.

While one child bathed, “M” was patiently waiting his turn, watching TV with his cousin while I went to check my email. A few minutes later I heard my husband beckoning me urgently to the living room.  As I crossed the threshold into the room, I immediately saw some swelling and redness on his face, and upon closer examination hives. We took quick inventory of possible causes as we strategized what course of action we should take. This time I decided to give him a bath in case this was a contact reaction while my husband prepared the medication. It was then as I stripped him that I uncovered hives covering his entire body and I gave him a really really fast shower. Wrapping him quickly in the towel, securing his arms, we attempted to give him Benadryl by syringe to no success. We got rewarded with it spit back in our faces and screams of “NO MEDICINE!” I quickly cleaned him up and tried to calm him down as my husband went to Plan B, our trusty mix with juice. I opted for no lotion despite his very dry skin.  If this was a contact reaction, I didn’t want it absorbing further into his system, but I struggled with this decision as obviously the itching was very much bothering him now. He was now scratching all over like a monkey, tugging and rubbing at his ears.  My husband had placed a quick call into our amazing Pediatrician who wanted Ora-Pred in him at once, but once the rubbing and tugging of the ears began, I panicked. I imagined internal swelling and told my husband we were going to the ER. I simply couldn’t wait the 20 minutes and since he was being non-cooperative with taking his medication, I couldn’t risk it. I wanted to be safe and not sorry. So we went with my husband driving over 80 mph in a 55 zone, hazard lights blinking and everyone’s seat belt on tight. Our adrenaline was pumping. Even with the car lights on, I could barely see my son and I could only hope and pray the medication was having some sort of effect.

When we arrived at the ER door, you could see the recognition on “M”s face.   He pleaded with us, ” I much better mama, please go home, please go home.” There’s just something so heartbreaking about that.   Once in the light, I was dismayed to see that the hives had worsened. The staff was once again amazing. Immediately recognized by the triage — you know its bad when they recognize you and know the history — we were escorted right in and treated immediately. I loved our nurse who told me I made the right call. He had been hospitalized before for Allergic reactions, it was not over-reacting given the history. I loved the staff who remembered how terrified he was the previous visits and made every effort to comfort him. The doctor showed him her stethoscope and otoscope. Let him touch it. He flinched every time they touched him but let them. He even waved to some of the doctors and nurses he knew and said “Hi!”

He was such a different boy this time. Don’t get me wrong, he was still terrified but cautious on his own terms. He even drank more of the medication concoction as a bribe with promises of no IV medications or shots. He was trying so hard to be brave which made our hearts just melt. My husband was trying hard to reign in his emotions. He engaged “M” in some role playing with the Batman and Transformer figures I found in the diaper bag.

As luck would have it, after his hives got worse, it got a lot better. Enough for us to be sent home on steroids and a wish not to see us again anytime soon. As rude as that may sound, it was a very nice sentiment.

The lesson learned here is that “M”s reactions are complex and we have to be reactive and proactive about his care.  We were thrilled to be able to keep our promise of no IV medication or shots.

The picture above is “M” at the Bronx Zoo, not being crippled by his allergies.