My 7 year old daugther has an incredibly severe allergy to peanuts. It is so severe that if she gets any peanut residue or oils on her skin she has an anaphylactic reaction where her throat swells shut, her body breaks out in hives and she cannot breathe. It's absolutely horrifying.
It took us awhile to figure it out. When she was 7 months old, she broke out in really bad hives. She had other weird things occasionally. When she was 15 months old, her daycare called me and told me that she was wheezing pretty bad (which was common - she has asthma). I went to pick her up and they were standing outside with her waiting for me. They asked if I wanted to call an ambulance, and I said "no, it wasn't any big deal." I got her in the car and drove away, she started gasping for breath like I had never heard before. The doctors office was caddy-corner to the school, but the hospital was another 4-5 miles, and a lot of traffic, away. I made a split second decision to go to the doctors office. I rushed in and they got the doctor who knew immediately what was going on - they ripped her clothes off and she was covered in hives. They quickly gave her an epipen and she responded well. They had to do some other things to her - breathing treatments and benedryl and the like, but she was fine. They did an allergy skin test on her a few weeks later which showed she was severely allergic to peanuts. Actually, she had an anaphylactic reaction to the allergy test. It was horrible.
Fast forward to when she was 3. I am eating lunch at my desk and I get a call from the preschool saying that my daugther is having trouble breathing and they think she was exposed to peanuts. A parent had brought in Peanut butter cups as a goody bag treat and one of the children had gotten into the bag. As I'm trying to ask them questions - 911 emergency breaks in and the line goes dead. The preschool is less than a block away from my work. As I'm running to the car, I can hear the sirens and I know they are for my daugther. I have never before and never since felt dread like I did at that moment. I can still feel the panic to this day. I got in my car and started driving - there was a TON of traffic and I just couldn't get to the preschool fast enough. I got out of my car (left it running on the street in the middle of traffic) and started running. A fireman intercepted me, figuring I was the mother - who else leaves a car running in the street and is running towards sirens. He told me to get back in my car and that my daugther was with the paramedics and she was in good hands. It took a bit, but I listened and went and got my car and drove it to the preschool. When I walked in, my daugther was screaming her head off - which was the best sound I could have heard. She was absolutely terrified because there were quite a few big men in the room, she had been given a shot and she recently was unable to breathe. After a visit to the ER - and some good drugs - she was pronounced ok.
Ever since that day - I have been pretty paranoid about peanuts. I've tried my hardest not to let my daugther become overly freaked out. But, I want her to know it's real and I want her to have some fear (because it CAN kill her.) Birthday parties are always hard - because she usually cannot have the cake. Kids in her class bring in bakery treats and she cannot have them - it used to be the school would call me and I would make a run to get Krispy Kreme donuts. I've wised up over the years and the teacher has a stash of Hohos and Twinkies - provided by me. That way, if something is brought in unexpectedly - there are treats for my daughter and the other peanut allergic kid in the class.
There are quite a few limitations on what we can do: No chinese food. No trips to ice cream stores. We have to be extremely careful at movie theatres for people with peanut candy bars sitting next to her, she has to eat at a special peanut-free table at school. We have to call in advance to certain airlines and make sure they make the flight peanut-free.
I thought all was well and good until we went to the High School Musical Concert a few weeks ago. She was with my best friend while I ran to the concession stand and there was someone with a candy bar in front of her and I guess she totally started freaking out. She was absolutely terrified. When I got back - she was practically hyperventilating. I told her it was fine (the place was huge and the candy bar wasn't a peanut one.) I was able to calm her down quickly - but it just about broke my heart. How scary it must be to be 7 years old with a life and death allergy. She hasn't had a reaction in 3 years because we are so careful. Her friends with peanut allergies have had some reactions - but she has not. I don't want her living in fear all of the time, but I do want her to be careful. I'm not sure we're achieving that balance. I guess it is better to be a little extra fearful then to take unnecessary chances. But, I hate to see her in so much fear.
As a parent you tell kids to look both ways before crossing the street. But, if they've been hit by a car a couple of times - they don't even want to consider crossing that street.
Anyway, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter are all hard holidays. So much unsafe chocolate and baked goods. Some people are so amazingly sweet, kind and generous. They will go out of their way to make sure that my daughter has something safe to eat. And some people are amazingly crass and inconsiderate - telling us we are making it up and even sneaking nuts in food to show us that we are wrong and overly cautious. Those are the most dangerous people. Until you have seen your child turning blue, gasping for breath covered in hives you just don't know how severe it can be.
I do count myself lucky however, there are so so many worse things to be inflicted with. Peanut allergy - we can live with it.